With this news, I’ve had a huge number of requests asking the same questions:
Which test is easier?
Which test is more suitable for me?
This article will show you the similarities and differences between the two English tests and also show you which one is easier and/or more suitable for you.
At the end of the day, they are both English tests. That might seem obvious but it’s also very important because it directly affects the advice I’m going to give you below.
They both test four English skills, namely reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
For both tests, you will be given a score that will determine your current level of English.
Your decision will depend on the main differences between the two tests, therefore, we will focus mostly on the key differences:
Difference # 1- Context
The main difference is the context within which each test is taken.
The IELTS test will test your English within the context of a wide variety of topics. The OET will test your ability within the context of your medical profession. Therefore, if you are a nurse or a doctor, you will be tested on things related to your job.
Many see this as the main reason to take OET instead of IELTS. However, this is not as big a consideration as you might think, which I will discuss below.
Difference # 2- Cost & Availability
IELTS is much cheaper than OET and is available in more places.
There are also more IELTS test dates available than OET.
Difference # 3- Preparation
They are both English tests, so a good level of general English is required, but there are also key differences in ‘test skills’. Therefore, the preparation for each test will be different.
You will have to invest a significant amount of time and effort into preparing for each of them. If you have already invested a large amount of time in one, it may be a bad idea to throw that away and switch to the other.
There are also 3 million IELTS test takers every year and only 25,000 OET takers. This means that there are far more preparation options for IELTS, ranging from a huge number of free options to online courses and private tuition. The range for OET is rather limited.
Difference # 4- Acceptance
IELTS is viewed as the ‘gold standard’ and is accepted everywhere. OET is accepted by a smaller number of bodies and institutions.
IELTS may be a better choice if you are unsure of where you might work or study in the future.
Difference # 5- Retaking the test
One of the most frustrating things about IELTS is that if you fail one of the four skills, you have to take all four again. This is very disappointing for students who struggle with only writing.
An OET candidate can ‘bank’ the higher scores and focus only on the skills they ‘failed’. For me, this is the biggest benefit of OET and one that IELTS should consider introducing.
Edit: Some people have commented that certain boards/institutions require you to take all four modules at the same time, even for OET. I do not want this article to mislead anyone, so please double check with the body you are applying to before making any final decisions.
The GMC has the following information on their site:
For us to accept your OET certificate, it must show:
- that you took the medicine version of the test
- that you got a grade of at least ‘B’ in each testing area (speaking, listening, reading and writing)
- that you got those grades in the same test
- your candidate number
- that you obtained the grades in your most recent sitting of the test
Which test is easier?
Many medical professionals see the introduction of OET as an opportunity because they think it is ‘easier’ than IELTS. This thinking is flawed for many reasons.
First of all, if you think that the authorities in the UK are going to lower the language requirements, you are sorely mistaken. The requirements are there to protect the public from doctors and nurses who are not yet able to clearly communicate in English. This might be frustrating for those hoping to work here, but it’s essential for the maintenance of standards.
Secondly, they are both English tests. If your English level if not up to the required standard, you will not pass either test. Many of my students claim that the IELTS test is unfair, but when I check their writing, it is clear that their grammar and vocabulary are simply not to the required standard.
If your English level is good enough, no test, no matter what it’s called, can hold you back.
In fact, many of my students have performed poorly on the OET when they switch because they have spent so much time preparing for IELTS and not enough time making the switch to OET.
There is no evidence to suggest that one is easier than the other. In order to establish that, someone would have to carry out in-depth research on both tests. Just because your cousin told you her friend did better in one, doesn’t mean that it is actually easier.
A better question to ask is which test is more suitable for you as an individual.
Which test is more suitable?
If money is a factor, the IELTS test is a better choice. You might have to repeat the test a few times before you get the score you need. Doing the OET 3 times will cost you around $1500 USD; around double what IELTS will cost you.
Also, if you have spent a significant amount of time preparing for one, I would think very hard before switching to the other test. Preparation costs money, time and energy.
I would definitely not switch if you think that either the OET or IELTS is ‘unfair’ and that switching will guarantee a ‘pass’. The main reason why people fail is that their English level is simply not to the required standard yet. Doing a different test is not going to solve that problem.
What should I do?
The key here comes from this quote:
Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: ‘Doctors from overseas make a huge contribution to frontline healthcare in this country, and it is more important than ever to make sure that the path for highly-skilled doctors to work in the UK is as straightforward as possible. But it is also vital that those doctors coming to work here have a good standard of English. We have reviewed the OET thoroughly and are confident that, as well as giving more flexibility for doctors keen to work in the UK, it will continue to ensure that only those with a high level of English will reach the required standard. We are giving overseas doctors an alternative way of demonstrating their English skills, but without reducing the high standards we require and that patients would expect.’
It is not an easier test, it is just another option.
Believing that the OET is somehow easier is like someone thinking that running a marathon will be easier in their home city. You might be more familiar with the context, but unless you have the ability, you will still fail.
Focus on improving your general level of English and improving your test skills, no matter which one you choose.