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Speaking sub-test


About the Speaking sub-test

The Speaking sub-test is delivered individually and takes around 20 minutes. You take this part of OET using materials specifically for your profession – a nurse does role-plays for nursing, a dentist does role-plays for dentistry, and so on. In each role-play, you take your professional role (e.g. as a nurse) while the interlocutor plays a patient/client or sometimes a patient’s relative or carer. For veterinary science the interlocutor is the owner or carer for the animal. Remember that the OET is a test of English-language skills – NOT a test of professional knowledge.

Structure: In each Speaking test, your identity and profession are checked by the interlocutor and there is a short warm-up conversation about your professional background. Then the role-plays are introduced, one by one, and you have 2-3 minutes to prepare for each. The two role-plays take about five minutes each.

Role-plays: You receive information for each role-play on a card, which you keep while you do the role-play. You may write notes on the card if you want. The card explains the situation and what you are required to do. If you have any questions about the content of the role-play or how a role-play works, you can ask them during the preparation time.

The role-plays are based on typical workplace situations and reflect the demands made on the professional in those situations. Different role-plays are used for different candidates at the same test administration. The interlocutor follows a script so that the Speaking test structure is similar for each candidate. The interlocutor also has detailed information to use in each role-play.


How is speaking ability assessed in OET?

The whole Speaking test is recorded and it is this audio recording that is assessed. Your speaking on the Speaking 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 test day Interlocutor plays no role in the assessment of your performance.

OET Assessors’ judgements are targeted and specific, not a general evaluation of candidates’ ability in spoken English. Assessors are trained to focus on how a candidate responds to the particular task on the day, and to apply specific assessment criteria which reflect the demands of communication in the health professional workplace. Candidates who pay attention to the details of the specific role-play task, and who are familiar with the assessment criteria, have a better chance of demonstrating their ability in the key areas. Candidates who use pre-prepared material or who rely on techniques which worked in other circumstances tend not to perform to their full potential in the test.

Your performance on each of the two role-plays is scored against five criteria and receives a band score for each criterion: Overall Communicative Effectiveness, Intelligibility, Fluency, Appropriateness, and Resources of Grammar and Expression. You can find detailed information about the five criteria in the OET Preparation Support Pack.


Can I write on the role-play cards?

Yes, you can make notes on the role-play card if you want, and you can refer to the card at any time during the role-play. You must return the card to the Interlocutor at the end of the role-play.

What if I don’t finish the role-play?

Each role-play is designed to elicit an assessable sample of speech which reflects your speaking ability in a health profession context. It is usual for a role-play to come to a natural end at around the 5-minute mark. If this does not happen, the Interlocutor will signal clearly that it is time to conclude the role-play.

There is no penalty for not completing all the elements on the role card. However, the more elements of the role-play you cover, the more evidence you are likely to give of your ability to communicate in spoken English. Use the preparation time to think about which elements of the role-play might require you to explain something in more detail or to ask the patient for more clarification.

Why is the Speaking sub-test in this format?

An important part of a health professional’s role is the ability to communicate effectively in speech with patients or clients. The role-plays allow the candidate to take a professional role and demonstrate the ability to deal with common workplace situations.

These situations may include elements of tension which are a normal part of the real-life context: for example, anxious or angry patients, patients who misunderstand their situation, limited time in which to explain instructions.

Having two role-plays provides two separate opportunities to demonstrate spoken proficiency: the two scenarios provide a chance to use different kinds of language, so giving a broader view of the candidate’s spoken skills.

Improving my language proficiency

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

For reasons of test security and fairness to candidates, we cannot give qualitative feedback to individual candidates. However, there are patterns in candidate performance which you might find it useful to consider if you are preparing for the test.

Our OET Preparation Support Pack provides detailed information about how the Speaking sub-test is assessed, together with suggestions for improving performance in Speaking generally.

Our test developers and Assessors for the Speaking sub-test have identified a number of areas for improvement which apply to many candidates at each test session. We hope you will find these useful.

·         Many candidates find it useful to record themselves speaking, perhaps asking a friend or colleague to take part in sample role plays from the OET website. You can replay the recording to check your performance: did you communicate effectively at a reasonable speed? were your explanations and plans clear to the patient? did language errors make your message difficult to understand? This process helps identify and prioritise areas to work on.

·         Develop a range of expressions for communicating effectively in common situations, such as explaining, persuading, and reassuring. You can draw on your professional background to choose which expressions to prioritise. Many people find it useful to learn common phrases and expressions as chunks of vocabulary, using repetition to memorise them thoroughly. This reduces the need to think about grammar while speaking, making it easier to use the phrases correctly and naturally.

·         The Speaking sub-test contains three minutes of preparation time before each role play. Candidates who use the full preparation time tend to benefit because it allows them to plan what to say and how to organise it effectively. When you read the candidate card, look carefully at the task instructions and think of language that will help you to carry them out as effectively as possible.

·         The role plays and the assessment criteria are designed to allow you to interact with the patient as you would in your professional context. You can ask questions, listen to the patient’s answers, and ask follow-up questions as appropriate. You can include stages where you check that the patient has understood you, and you can invite him/her to ask questions or give an opinion. There is no penalty for pausing briefly to choose your words the same way you might in a real life consultation.

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