OET Exam Preparation: What You Need to Know

Osmosis Team
Published on Oct 6, 2020. Updated on Aug 26, 2022.

Due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus), the United States Medical Licensing Examination, USMLE® program suspended Step 2CS for a period of 12-18 months(starting March 2020). In response to the suspension, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, ECFMG® have devised 5 pathways that will allow qualified IMGs, who have not passed Step 2 CS, to acquire ECFMG certification. All of these 5 pathways require the applicant to attain a satisfactory score on Occupational English Test (OET), an English language proficiency assessment.

Let’s try and answer the most frequently asked questions to clear up some confusion!

What is the OET?

OET is an international English proficiency test that assesses the language communication skills for health-care professionals. OET medicine is designed specifically for physicians: the ECFMG chose this test to determine if a candidate meets the minimum English skills required to practice medicine in the US.

OET assesses English proficiency in different types of communication. The test is divided into four parts: listening, writing, reading, and speaking.

4 parts of test illustrated.

OET: Listening component (50 minutes) 

In this section, the exam assesses your ability to understand spoken language. It is divided into three parts: A, B, and C. You will listen to consultations between physicians and patients (part A), monologues (i.e. one person speaking) and/or dialogues (i.e. 2 people speaking) (parts B and C). With each encounter you will have to fill the answers based on information in the listening exercise.

→ Click here for a sample listening test. 

OET: Writing component (45 minutes) 

In this section, you will be provided a case note and a task, and you are given five minutes to read through them (during those five minutes you are not allowed to use a pen or a pencil). After that, you have 40 minutes to write a letter according to the task. In the writing session, you will be assessed for the following measures: purpose, content, conciseness & clarity, genre & style, organization & layout, and language. The writing part is usually the most challenging, and it is advisable to practice before the actual exam.

→ Click here for a writing sample test.

OET: Reading component (60 minutes)

 In this section you will be provided with texts talking about different healthcare related topics and you will answer questions according to these texts. The reading is divided into three parts A, B and C. Part A is done alone and it is 15 minutes. While parts B and C are taken in tandem, you have 45 minutes to complete both (so make sure you monitor the time carefully). Part B consists of six short-texts of about 100-150 words from a healthcare workplace, where you will get one multiple-choice question with three options about each text. While part C consists of two long-texts of up to 800 words in which each text covers a specific topic and is divided into paragraphs. In Part C you will get eight multiple-choice questions with four options. The good thing about part C questions is that they guide you where to look in the text (i.e. specifying what paragraph in the text the question is about).

→ Click here for a reading sample test.

OET: Speaking component (20 minutes) 

In the speaking section you participate in two role-playing exercises where you take the role of the professional ( i.e. physician) and the interlocutor (the person facilitating this portion of the exam) plays as a patient, a patient’s relative, or a caregiver. 

You start by getting a card that states the setting, the patient’s information, and the task. Once you get the card, you have three minutes to prepare. Then, you have five minutes to perform the role-play. Once you finish the first role-play, you will get a card for the second role-play, repeating the same steps as the first but in a different setting, with a different patient and task. 

2 role plays - 1. a man is presenting something. 2. a woman is writting something down.

What materials do I need to study for the OET?

The most recommended resource to use for OET preparation is the OET official website, which contains a variety of useful services. These include master classes (videos that will help you understand the exam), books, sample tests, writing guides, etc. You can find these resources on the OET’s preparation portal.

Although the materials you use, as well as preparation time, is mainly dependent on your English proficiency. Everyone—even native English speakers—are advised to take assessment tests to familiarize themselves with the format of the exam and make sure they know what to do on exam day. Such assessment exams are also found on the OET official website. In addition, E2 language has an amazing mock test that will be a great help to you to prepare for the OET exam. 

Do I take the OET exam in-person or online?

The OET is available in 45 countries where you can take the exam in-person. You can find the list of countries here.

Although the OET is currently administered in-person, an at-home version of the test is on the horizon, [email protected], which is facilitated via remote proctoring. Please visit the [email protected] page to learn more about the timeline, requirements, and regulations. 

When are OET exam dates scheduled? How often can I take it?

OET is scheduled twice per month (please check the 2020 test dates here, and the 2020 test dates in America’s region here). Remember, if you aim to participate in the 2021 match, you must take the OET before December 31, 2020.

There is no limit on how many times you can take the test, but this of course is subject to availability, as the seats are usually limited. 

How do I get started booking an OET?

To begin the application for OET medicine, you must pre-register at the ECFMG landing page at the OET website. In the pre-registration, you will enter your information, preferred test date(s), and the country and city where you wish to take the test. Once you have completed the pre-registration, the OET will send you emails about the available test locations and dates, materials you may need to help you prepare for the tests, and instructions on the next steps to book your exam venue and date.

You can also book your exam directly before filling the pre-registration form from the OET website if you find a suitable venue and date. But you have to make sure that the exam you book is OET Medicine. Additionally, if you book it directly, you still have to complete the pre-registration form, to let the ECFMG know that you are taking the OET medicine to complete your certification.

Ace your clerkships with clinical practice videos on Osmosis. Watch now button.

Can I repeat only a specific part of the OET (e.g. the speaking component)? 

No. According to the ECFMG, the minimum required score of 350 in all test measures (e.g., speaking, listening, reading and writing) must be achieved in one test administration. Therefore, if you do not get the minimum score in one or more components of the test, you have to retake all of the OET components( speaking, listening, reading and writing) and achieve the minimum score in each one, all in a single test administration.

How do OET exam scores work, and what do I need to pass? 

For ECFMG certification, IMGs are required to score a minimum of 350 (Grade B) on each of the four components of the OET exam (i.e. listening, reading, writing, and speaking). If your scores are below the minimum requirement in either component, you will have to take the test again, which means all the four parts.

On what date can I expect my OET results?

The OET exam results will be available to you 14 business days after the test date. It is important to give your consent to the OET for releasing the results to ECFMG in order to avoid any delays in the process of ECFMG certification.

After I'm done with the OET exam, how long does it take to get my ECFMG certification?

There is no exact answer to that but it usually takes 10–14 business days to get ECFMG certified once the results of OET are out, given your other components of pathway applications are complete and validated.

Will program directors be able to see that I got certified via OET instead of USMLE® Step 2 CS?

Yes, the program directors will be able to see that a candidate is ECFMG certified via one of the pathways, therefore they will be aware that you took the OET exam and not USMLE Step 2 CS.

If I matched, do I have to complete Step 2 CS when it is reinstated? 

No. If you match into a GME program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) for the 2021–2022 Match based on one of the pathways and successfully complete one year of training, your ECFMG certificate will be permanent and you will not have to take USMLE Step 2 CS later on.

If I passed the OET but did not match, will I have to take Step 2 CS when it is reinstated to match in the future?

As of now, the OET exam is only validated for the applicants applying through one of the five pathways in the Match 2020–2021. If you do not match or fail to enter a U.S. GME program accredited by the ACGME for the 2021-2022 Match, your ECFMG certificate will expire. The ECFMG, however, is working on long-term goals and will come up with a decision soon.

I failed my initial attempt at Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS). If I obtain Certification through one of the pathways, will ECFMG still report my failed attempt to programs?

Yes, if you request and pay for a USMLE® transcript to be sent to programs. The USMLE transcript is required by many ACGME-accredited residency programs as part of the ERAS application process. It contains your examination history on Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), Step 2 CS, and, if taken, Step 3. All attempts at USMLE® Steps and Step Components (passed, failed, incomplete, etc.) will be included, regardless of whether you meet the clinical skills requirement for ECFMG Certification through one of the pathways.

We hope this FAQ has helped give you a better understanding of the Occupational English Test. We wish you the best of luck with this exam!

About Authors:

Qirat Jawed

Qirat Jawed is an ECFMG-certified international medical graduate, who is a USMLE Question Writer at Osmosis. Qirat graduated from Dow Medical College, DUHS, Karachi, Pakistan in 2019 and is applying for a residency in Internal Medicine this year. She hopes to stay near the East coast (mainly New Jersey) with her husband. In her free time, Qirat enjoys cooking, spending time with family and friends, and sometimes play badminton with her new friends in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Hamzah Qandil

Hamzah Qandil is a Medical Doctor graduated in 2019 from Jordan University Of Science and Technology. He is currently a Medical Question Writer at Osmosis. Hamzah is passionate about surgery, and is applying this year for General Surgery residency in the United States. In his free time, Hamzah enjoys playing or watching soccer, reading, and traveling whenever possible.


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