NMC Language Tests: 5 Differences Between IELTS & OET

Are you a nurse looking to apply for your NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) PIN but not sure which English test suits you best? If so, this article is sure to help you decide.

As of November 2017, the NMC is now accepting two language tests as essential evidence of a nurse’s ability to communicate in the English language: IETLS (International English Language Testing System) and OET (Occupational English Test). Both tests require an advanced level of English, and consist of four components: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. However, there are a number of key differences between the two tests, which we will cover below.


1. Non-specific or specialized?

Developed in 1989 by Cambridge ESOL, IETLS is a non-role specific language test, designed for anyone who plans to work or study in an English speaking country such as the UK, USA, Australia etc. The OET, on the other hand, is a language test specific for medical and health professionals who seek to register and practice their profession in an English speaking country. The test is designed to ensure that language competency is assessed in a medical professional context. The OET scores are accepted in various countries including New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and United Kingdom.


2. Relevancy

To understand which tests offers most relevancy to the applicant, it is important to first establish which sector you wish to work in. The best advantage of taking the OET is that, as a healthcare professional, you can make use of your knowledge, specialized vocabulary and experience in a medical environment. For example, for the written test you may be required to write a referral letter for a patient; or for the speaking test you may be asked to interact with a new patient – with the examiner playing the role of the patient. Whereas, IELTS is not profession specific, and since it's taken by students and professionals from all fields, the content is more general and the scenarios chosen may be unfamiliar to you.


3. Scoring

Although both tests require an advanced level of English, the rating scales differ significantly with IETLS implementing a 0-9 band score, and OET applying a basic A - E grade. To pass IELTS a minimum score of 7.0 is required for each band: reading, listening, writing and speaking, however , for OET a pass grade of B is necessary. Another significant difference between the two tests is that with IELTS you are required to re-sit the entire examination if any of the 4 papers are failed, whereas with OET you are able to re-sit any of the four papers individually.


4. Duration & availability

In regard to duration, both tests are relatively similar with OET taking just over 3 hours to complete and IELTS taking 2 hours and 45 minutes. For further duration comparison, below we will breakdown both tests into their four key sections:

  • Listening - 30 minutes for IELTS; 40 - 60 minutes for OET
  • Reading – 60 minutes for IELTS; 60 minutes for OET
  • Writing - 60 minutes for IELTS; 45 minutes for OET
  • Speaking - 15 minutes for IELTS, 20 minutes for OET

When comparing the availability of the 2 tests, the OET can be taken each month in every location it is currently available, whereas the IELTS are held more frequently – usually every week.


5. Cost & locations

When it comes to cost, OET is the more expensive of the two tests. It costs around £349, whereas the IELTS comes in considerably cheaper at £165. Due to its non-specific nature, as expected, the IETLS is the more popular test of the two. Over 940,000 people in 120 countries take the test per year which is recognized by more than 6,000 institutions around the globe (source: New Zealand Nurses Organization). On the other hand, OET can be taken in over 35 countries worldwide. In Europe, the OET is available in countries including Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom.

To find your local test centre, depending on which test you prefer to take, please select the relevant link below:

Just a quick tip: Before you make a decision, we advise researching both tests so that you are able to select the one that suits you best. Also, in preparation for your tests, to familiarise yourself with the style of assessment, there are a variety of sample tests online for both IETLS and OET applicants. And don’t forget, if you require any guidance, Bluerock Healthcare is here to support you along the way by developing your language levels through English courses and assisting you with your application for the NMC PIN.