About the Speaking sub-test
The Speaking sub-test is an individual interview that takes around 20 minutes. It is profession-specific. 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.
Structure: In each interview, your identity and profession are checked by the interviewer 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 before starting.
You are assessed on your performance in the two role-plays only. The whole interview is recorded and it is this audio recording that is assessed: the interviewer is not assessing you.
The interviewer follows a script so that the interview structure is similar for each candidate. He/she also has detailed information to use in each role-play.
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.
In each role-play, you take your professional role (e.g. as a nurse) while the interviewer plays a patient/client or sometimes a patient’s relative or carer. For veterinary science the interviewer 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.
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 his/her patients or clients. The role-plays allow the candidate to take his/her 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.
Preparing for the Speaking sub-test
To help you prepare for the Speaking sub-test, you can:
- Try the Speaking material from the sample test
- Buy more, profession-specific, Speaking practice materials from the OET Bookshop
- Listen to medical and health professionals as they do their work, if you can. Notice what words and phrases they use in dealing with different situations with their patients.
- Look at some of the many free online resources for English-language learners, which can help you develop the general speaking skills involved in a medical context. These include:
What Speaking skills are tested?
Your performance in the two role-plays is assessed against five criteria:
- Overall communicative effectiveness – including how well you are able to maintain meaningful interaction
- Intelligibility – including pronunciation, intonation, stress, rhythm and accent
- Fluency – including the rate (speed) and natural flow of your speech
- Appropriateness – including the use of suitable professional language and the ability to explain in simple terms as necessary; also, how appropriately you use language to communicate with the patient given the scenario of each role-play
- Resources of grammar and expression – including the accuracy and range of the language you use; how effectively and naturally you communicate
How can I improve on each criterion?
Overall communicative effectiveness
- In each role-play, take the initiative, as a professional does
- Talk to the interviewer as you do to a patient
- Don’t expect the patient to lead or to move to the next issue for you – do this yourself
- Deal clearly with the points given on the role card, asking questions and explaining as necessary
- Link what you say clearly to the purpose of the communication (coherence)
- Make sure the patient understands what you are saying and be prepared to explain complicated issues in a simple way
- Remember that you are interacting with your patient, not just explaining to him/her
- Consider each aspect that makes up this criterion: pronunciation, intonation, stress, rhythm and accent
- Note what particular sounds or groups of sounds are different in your language and in English – there may be some sounds in English that are not in your language at all
- Practise common words that use these sounds (e.g. ‘this’, ‘that’ ‘father’, mother’)
- Notice how your pronunciation in your language is different from English – what is an important feature in English may not be so important in your language (and vice versa), e.g. the ends of words often show different meanings in English: ‘cut’, ‘cup’; ‘worry’, ‘worries’, worried’
- Find out and practise the pronunciation in English of common words and phrases you use in your job – although this vocabulary may not be very common, a professional should be able to use the vocabulary for his/her profession
- Work on correct word stress (e.g. ‘temporary’ not ‘temporary’) – this is often much more important to clear communication than pronouncing each individual sound in a word correctly
- Link words together naturally as well (connected speech) – in English there is often no ‘space’ between words in a phrase, e.g., ‘in_about_an_hour’
- Aim to speak at a natural speed for the situation
- Consider problems for the listener if speech is too slow – losing the flow of the argument, feeling frustration while waiting for the speaker to finish
- Consider problems for the listener if speech is too fast – being unable to break up the stream of language into meaningful pieces, feeling overwhelmed
- Aim for even speech (not broken up into fragments) – reduce hesitation or speaking in ‘bursts’ of language
- Do use pauses to make your meaning clear though, e.g. for emphasis or to separate clearly the points you are making
- Try to avoid overuse of sounds (err, um) and words (‘OK’, ‘yes’) to fill gaps while you prepare what to say next
- Practise explaining medical and technical terms and procedures in simple language – remember that the English you know as a professional may be quite different from the English used by patients
- Notice what people say in different situations and copy these phrases (checking what they mean first) – people choose what to say depending on the situation (e.g., formal/informal, speaking to a colleague, child, child’s parent)
- Consider asking questions to check that the patient has understood what you are saying if this seems appropriate to the situation
Resources of grammar and expression
- Demonstrate the accuracy of your spoken English and the range of structures and vocabulary you have
- Show flexibility by using different phrases to communicate the same idea
- Make sure you can form questions correctly – particularly those questions that you often use with patients (‘How long …?’, ‘When …?’)
- Work on particular areas that will help you convey meaning accurately:
o articles (the, a/an): ‘There’s chance of infection’ for ‘There’s a chance of infection’
o prepositions: ‘I can explain you about asthma’ for ‘I can explain to you about asthma’
o countable/uncountable: ‘not much side effects’ for ‘not many side effects’
- Watch out for common errors e.g.:
o ‘I recommend you that you take this medication twice a day.’
o ‘When it happened?’ for ‘When did it happen?’
o ‘not much painful’ for ‘not very painful’ (adj) or ‘not much pain’ (n)
Taking the test: Dos and don’ts
- Do take time to read through the role card carefully
- Do ask if you are not sure about something – you are not penalised for doing this
- Don’t follow a formula for the role-play that may not be appropriate – e.g. sometimes you do not need to introduce yourself because it is clear you know the patient already
- Do practise with another candidate, friend or colleague beforehand so you know what it feels like
How can I help myself during the Speaking sub-test?
- Bring your identification document and a pen to the interview room
- Make sure you demonstrate what you are capable of, as assessment is of the performance recorded
- Speak loudly and clearly so the assessors can grade your performance fairly using the set criteria
- Talk naturally with the interviewer during the identity check and background information stages of the interview – use this time to settle down and feel comfortable in the test situation
- Read the role card carefully and make any notes you want on the card – you keep the card during the role-play for reference
- Ask the interviewer during the preparation time if you have any questions about what a word/phrase means, how it is pronounced, or how a role-play works
- Use the notes on the role card to guide the role-play:
o What is your role?
o What role is your interviewer playing – patient, parent/son/daughter, carer?
o Where is the conversation taking place?
o What is the current situation?
o How urgent is the situation?
o What background information are you given about the patient and the situation?
o What are you required to do?
o What is the main purpose of the conversation (e.g. explain, find out, reassure, persuade)?
o What other elements of the situation do you know about? (e.g. the patient appears nervous or angry, you don’t have much time)
o What information do you need to give the patient? (Remember, though, this is not a test of your professional skills.)
- Consider how you would act if this was a real situation you met while doing your job
- Be ready to start off the role-play yourself – the interviewer will indicate that preparation time is over but you need to begin the conversation
- Introduce yourself if it is appropriate (but not if it is clear that you know the patient already)
- Focus on the issue described in the role-play information
- Don’t take a full history of the patient unless the notes require this
- Behave as you do as a professional in real life:
o If you don’t understand something the patient says, ask him/her to repeat or explain it
o If you notice a misunderstanding between you and the patient, try to resolve it
o If the patient seems upset or confused, try to find out why
- Don’t worry if the interviewer stops the role-play after about five minutes – it’s time to move on even if you haven’t completed the task
How is the Speaking sub-test assessed?
The Speaking sub-test is scored by experienced assessors who receive ongoing training, monitoring, and feedback on their performance after each administration of the test.
Assessors listen to the audio recording of each interview and give a score from 1 to 6 for each of the five criteria listed above, using a detailed set of level descriptors to guide their decisions. A score of 6 is the highest for each criterion. The assessor gives a set of five scores for each role-play and then decides on a final set of five scores for the overall performance across the two role-plays. The five criteria are equally weighted in the scoring and analysis process.
Each candidate’s recording is graded by two assessors independently. Neither assessor knows the scores the other assessor gives or the scores awarded to the candidate for other sub-tests.
The two separate sets of raw scores for each candidate’s recording are analysed for the whole group of candidates taking the sub-test at the same administration. A multi-faceted Rasch analysis of the data is done using FACETS software (Linacre 1989). This analysis takes account of patterns of assessor behaviour and compensates for assessors whose scores are consistently lenient or severe.
After the initial analysis, any recordings which have misfitting scores (i.e. which do not fit the pattern expected for the analysis) are re-scored by a third assessor (again without any knowledge of the previous scores given) and the statistical analysis is repeated.
So the final score for each candidate’s recording is not a simple mean average of the two (or three) assessors’ raw scores. Instead, it is a ‘fair score’, compensating for particular assessors’ severity or leniency.
Read more about OET assessment procedures