Many healthcare professionals are attempting the Occupational English Test instead of IELTS in order to work in Australia. The OET has several advantages over IELTS, most of all because it relates to the language most healthcare professionals are familiar with.
The OET speaking test for nurses replicates many of the sorts of conversations nurses have in their day-to-day practice. I’ve collected some hints for success which I hope will help you feel more confident in doing the speaking test.
1. The beginning of the test is a 2 minute warm-up which isn’t assessed as such. However, don’t dismiss the importance of this part of the conversation. It gives you a chance to relax a bit, see what the interviewer is like and establish a rapport with the interviewer. Typically, you’ll be asked questions about your details so they can confirm you are the right candidate and in the right exam. You may also be asked where you come from and why you are thinking of moving to Australia to work. These are all questions you can prepare and rehearse before the test. Aim to have 3 or 4 sentences to answer each question. Try to avoid single word answers. For example:
Interviewer: Can you tell me where you are from?
Candidate: Taiwan or
Candidate: I’m from Taipei in Taiwan. It‘s the capital of Taiwan. Actually I live quite close to the centre of the city which is very convenient.
2. The OET speaking test is assessing how good you are at maintaining a conversation and engaging the other person in the conversation. One word or very short answers tend to stop a conversation. Of course, some questions need to be closed questions, e.g.
Interviewer: Can you tell me your date of birth, please?
Candidate: Yes, it’s June 6, 1976.
3. Getting onto the role plays.
You will have a few minutes to read the role play cards before you start. If you are unsure of anything on the card – ask before the role play starts.
You’ll notice that there are usually two issues per role play. One issue often relates to the other issue. For example, in the role play between a school nurse and a teenage student, the behaviour problems possibly triggered by his excessive use of energy drinks and poor diet links with a diagnosis of scurvy caused by his poor diet containing no fruit and vegetables.
Take particular note of your task. There will usually be 4-5 points which need to be covered. That’s around 1 minute each point. You will often need to explain the disease or disorder that the patient is presenting with. Aim to use 3-4 sentences doing this. Think of language such as:
X is a disease which is caused by...
It affects the .....
Some of the symptoms of the disease are...
As you read the role play card, consider the language you will need to use. Are you explaining something, giving instructions on what the patient should do, empathising with the patient, advising the patient on what to do or not do?
4. Starting the role play
Remember that the interviewer will probably try to derail you or get you off topic. If this happens, have some strategies ready, e.g.
Interviewer: tries to get you off topic.
Candidate: ‘OK. That’s a good question. I’ll just finish explaining about x first then I’ll answer that.’
Interviewer: asks something you don’t know the answer to
Candidate: ‘Mm. I’m afraid I don’t know but I will ask someone about that. I’ll get back to you about that. Is that OK?’
Interviewer: asks you something but you don’t know what they mean
Candidate: ‘I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Can you explain it again?’
‘I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Did you mean x or y?’
As this is not a test of your medical or nursing knowledge per se, you can invent information if you are not sure of the correct answer. The most important thing is to work out what language the role play card is asking you to use and use it! For example:
giving advice : It’s a good idea to
You should try to
It’s important to
giving instructions: Make sure you (take the tablet on a full stomach)
Use the eye drops in the morning and the ointment in the evening
asking for information: Can you tell me about
Can you tell me how often
Use non-verbal communication as much as possible. Maintaining eye contact with the interviewer is very important as it shows you are confident. When we are nervous we tend to look away and this makes it difficult for the other person to work out our feelings. Try to keep eye contact as much as possible – you can glance away occasionally but then come back to the eye contact.
When we are thinking, it’s common to look up or down. If you do this for too long, it looks as though you are nervous. If you have to think about something, it’s a good idea to say ‘Mm, I’ll have to think about that.’(you look away while thinking) then
‘ I think it’s.... ‘ or ‘I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask about that’ (looking back).
Nodding your head and making ‘listening noises’ (Mm, Uh huh) shows the interviewer you are listening and considering what s/he is saying.
If you want to ‘buy time’ you can say ‘Ah’ or ‘Um’ (BUT, not too often!). Another alternative is ‘Let me see...’
Smile at the interviewer, especially as you greet the ‘patient’. Starting the role play off is difficult for some people. If this is the case, start with something like:
‘Hello, I’m Anna. I’m one of the community nurses. How can I help you?’ (the role play card will guide you as to your role.)