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Writing sub-test


About the Writing sub-test

The Writing sub-test takes 45 minutes and it is profession-specific. You take this part of OET using materials specifically for your profession. In each test, there is one task set for each profession based on a typical workplace situation and the demands of the profession – a nurse does the task for nursing, a dentist does the task for dentistry, and so on.

The task is to write a letter, usually a referral letter. Sometimes, especially for some professions, a different type of letter is required: e.g. a letter of transfer or discharge, or a letter to advise or inform a patient, carer, or group. Along with the task instructions, you’ll receive stimulus material (case notes and/or other related documentation) which includes information to use in your response.


How is writing ability assessed in OET?

Your performance on the Writing sub-test is marked independently by a minimum of two trained Assessors. Neither Assessor knows what scores the other has given you, or what scores you have achieved on any of the other sub-tests.

Your performance is scored against five criteria and receives a band score for each criterion: Overall Task Fulfilment, Appropriateness of Language, Comprehension of Stimulus, Linguistic Features (grammar and cohesion), and Presentation Features (spelling, punctuation, layout). You can find detailed information about the five criteria in the OET Preparation Support Pack.


Why do I have to wait for 5 minutes before I start writing my answer?

In order to perform to the best of your ability on the Writing task, it is important to understand the task and the case notes and to plan your response. The 5 minutes of reading time at the start of the Writing sub-test are an opportunity for you to do this.

Tasks for the Writing sub-test are designed so that the remaining 40 minutes is enough time for you to write a response of the required length and to check over what you have written. You can consult the task and the case notes at any point during the 40 minutes allocated for writing, not just during the reading time.

Why is the Writing sub-test in this format?

Although work is now mainly done on a computer, most medical professionals still have to prepare letters as part of their regular practice. The writing task, taken directly from the workplace context, requires you to select and organise relevant information and present it in a clear, accurate form that is appropriate for the intended reader. Preparing such a letter with only limited time is a reality for practising professionals.

Do I lose marks in the Writing sub-test for spelling mistakes?

Spelling, along with punctuation and layout, is one of the aspects included under Presentation Features. Presentation Features is one of the five assessment criteria for the Writing sub-test and you can find detailed information about these in the OET Preparation Support Pack. Any spelling mistakes you make will be taken account of in your score for Presentation Features.

What happens if I write too many/too few words in the Writing sub-test?

There is no automatic penalty for writing over or under the word range for the task (180 – 200 words). However, each task is designed to be achievable within that word range. If you have written significantly more, it is likely that you have included irrelevant material or your letter is not well organized. If you have written significantly less, you may have misunderstood the task and/or the case notes, or missed out important information. In either case, your scores for the five assessment criteria for Writing will reflect any weaknesses in those areas.

How should I address the intended reader of the letter?

You should use the title and address details specified in the task instructions.

What layout do I use? Where do I write the date and the address?

A number of different formats are in accepted use by health professionals in different local contexts. There is therefore no single particular format that you have to use in your response in the OET Writing sub-test. It is important that your letter is clearly laid out and appropriate for the particular task, but there is no set OET layout that you have to use.

Can I use abbreviations in the Writing sub-test?

Abbreviations that are commonly accepted in the candidate’s profession and clear to the Assessors may be used in the Writing sub-test, for example “BMI” for body mass index, or units of measurement such as “mg”. Appropriacy of language is one of the five assessment criteria for the Writing sub-test and you can find detailed information about these in the OET Preparation Support Pack.

You should also consider who the intended reader is. If your target reader is a health professional, a number of commonly used abbreviations are likely to be acceptable. However, if you are writing to somebody from a non-health professional background, full word-forms may be preferable. OET Assessors do not refer to any specific lists of abbreviations and OET does not recommend any dictionary or handbook of abbreviations.

Can I use capitals in the Writing sub-test?

Yes, you may use capital letters in the Writing sub-test where appropriate, for example in abbreviations or headings if you use them.

Improving my language proficiency

How can I improve my performance on the Writing sub-test?

Strong candidates are able to adapt their written communication to fit the different scenarios and target readers they might encounter in the test. This involves paying careful attention to the specific case notes in the task you are given on the day. Candidates who use pre-prepared material or who rely on techniques which worked for other tasks tend not to perform to their full potential in the test.

Candidates who make time to check their written work in the test are in a good position to correct avoidable errors. Make a mental checklist of types of error that you tend to make (such as incorrect passive forms or subject-verb agreement) and proofread your work specifically for those.

OET Writing tasks are designed to allow you to draw on your knowledge of language which occurs frequently in health professional contexts. It is therefore worth regularly reviewing common expressions to make sure you can produce them appropriately and accurately. It is also useful to develop an awareness of the specific language mistakes that you, as an individual, tend to make. Then when you check your work, you know what to look out for and you can avoid unnecessary errors.

OET Writing tests the ability to produce a letter that is appropriate for the situation given in the task. It is not necessary to repeat everything from the case notes or to give a chronological account. Be prepared to select and organise the information in a way that informs the reader appropriately and effectively.

Develop a brief checklist of questions to help you analyse a particular task before you start writing. The aim of the questions is to help you prioritise the important points from the case notes and to organise the information effectively in your letter. Questions which candidates find it useful to ask include:

           Who is the intended reader?

           What are the main things I want the reader to do?

           What does the reader need to know?

After you finish writing, re-read what you have written from the target reader’s point of view. Ask yourself whether it is clear what you have to do. If it is not clear, check to see that you have included everything relevant from the case notes, and that the information is organised in a way that makes the

You can find detailed information about Writing assessment and how to prepare for the test in the OET Preparation Support Pack.