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How do I accurately and factually write about a patient’s lifestyle?

Healthcare professionals must be able to accurately and factually talk about a patient’s lifestyle. Using the right kinds of language can make a big difference when writing to another nurse, doctor or other healthcare professional. 


During the OET Writing sub-test, you might need to write about a patient’s lifestyle and communicate aspects of it to a colleague. It is important to be as accurate and precise as possible.

In a previous blog article about Speaking, we discussed how to soften your language when speaking to patients. While you don’t need to soften your language to protect the patient from embarrassment, it is necessary to be precise and accurate when reporting a patient’s lifestyle factor.

Writing precisely and being accurate

Let’s take a look at a quick example:

  • Mrs Mendez is a heavy smoker.

You might feel the above sentence is clear. But what if I asked five healthcare professionals how many cigarettes a heavy smoker smokes per day? I am pretty confident that I would get 5 different answers.

Part of the reason for the different meanings of heavy could be geographical. healthcare professionals in countries and regions where smoking is common might think heavy means a higher number of cigarettes compared to regions where smoking is less common.

Perhaps I would get answers between 20-60+ per day. Can you see the problem? For the reader, there is quite a big difference between a patient who smokes 20 cigarettes per day and a patient who smokes 60 per day in terms of the advice they might provide and the treatment they might need to quit smoking.

Write with facts, not adjectives

Instead of using adjectives to describe a patient’s lifestyle factors, it is much better to be factual and use measurements:

  • Mrs Mendez smokes 30 cigarettes per day.

Now there is absolute clarity for the reader.

The same is true for alcohol consumption, drug use and weight. Candidates can often create a meaning quite different from the case notes by describing these lifestyle factors using adjectives. So someone who drinks an occasional glass of alcohol on the weekend becomes a binge drinker in the candidate’s letter.

As a rule, official OET practice and test tasks will provide the measurements for lifestyle factors. It is much better to use the same words provided in the case notes for these lifestyle factors than it is to paraphrase it and potentially change the meaning. Loss of accuracy in meaning will affect your score for the Content criterion.

Here are some more common examples provided by candidates which could be improved by using measurements rather than adjectives alone:

Mr X is an alcoholic Mr X drinks 5 units of alcohol per day
Miss Y is overweight Miss Y is overweight at 80kg
Mr Z was addicted to drugs as a teenager Mr Z regularly used methamphetamines as a teenager

For more information about Writing, make sure you check out the OET Writing Guide. It’s super informative and provides examples and tasks to help you learn about the assessment criteria.

OET Writing Guide