Which One is Better for Nurses - IELTS or OET?

Establishing a successful nursing career abroad often involves proving your English language proficiency through standardized tests.

Among the options available, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Occupational English Test (OET) are the two most recognized exams for healthcare professionals. 

Both tests are widely accepted by regulatory bodies, employers, and educational institutions. However, each has distinct features tailored to different aspects of language proficiency.

This comparison will explore which test—IELTS or OET—is better suited for nurses, considering factors such as test content, relevance to the healthcare field, scoring systems, and overall utility in professional contexts.

Understanding these differences can help nurses choose the exam that best aligns with their career goals and linguistic strengths.

Test Content and Relevance to Nursing

When choosing between IELTS and OET, one of the most critical factors for nurses is the relevance of the test content to their professional field.

Understanding how each exam aligns with the daily responsibilities and language use of nurses can significantly impact both preparation and performance.

IELTS: General English Proficiency

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is designed to assess general English language proficiency across a wide range of contexts.

The test is divided into four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.

  • Listening - The listening section includes a variety of recordings, such as conversations, monologues, and lectures, on diverse topics. While useful for overall language development, the content is not specific to healthcare.

  • Reading - The reading section involves passages from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. These texts cover various subjects and require skills like skimming, scanning, and understanding detailed information, but they are not tailored to medical or healthcare contexts.

  • Writing - In the writing section, candidates complete two tasks. The first involves describing visual information (graphs, charts, or diagrams), and the second requires writing an essay on a general topic. These tasks do not focus on healthcare-specific writing.

  • Speaking - The speaking section includes a face-to-face interview with an examiner, involving general conversation, a short speech, and a discussion. The topics are broad and not related to nursing or medical scenarios.

OET: Healthcare-Specific English

OET (Occupational English Test) is explicitly designed for healthcare professionals, including nurses. The test content reflects real-life tasks and scenarios that nurses are likely to encounter in their professional practice.

Like IELTS, OET has four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking, but each is tailored to the healthcare environment.


  • Listening - The listening section includes consultations and presentations that are directly relevant to healthcare settings. Candidates listen to patient interactions, medical briefings, and healthcare lectures, making the content highly pertinent to nursing.

  • Reading - The reading section comprises texts sourced from medical journals, guidelines, and articles related to healthcare. Nurses are tested on their ability to understand and interpret texts they are likely to encounter in their work.

  • Writing - In the writing section, candidates are required to write a letter, such as a referral letter, discharge letter, or a letter to inform or advise a patient. This task mirrors the type of writing nurses perform regularly, ensuring the skills tested are directly applicable to their job.

  • Speaking - The speaking section involves role-plays based on typical nurse-patient interactions. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to communicate effectively in various scenarios, such as explaining medical procedures, providing patient care instructions, and responding to patient concerns. This practical approach helps nurses showcase their ability to use English in their specific professional context.


Relevance and Practicality

For nurses, the OET's focus on healthcare-specific language use makes it particularly relevant and practical. The test not only evaluates their general English proficiency but also their ability to communicate effectively in medical settings. This targeted approach helps ensure that the language skills assessed are those needed most in their professional roles.

In contrast, while IELTS is a comprehensive test of general English skills and widely recognized, its broader focus may require nurses to prepare for topics and tasks that are less directly applicable to their daily work. 

This makes OET a more appealing option for those seeking to demonstrate their language proficiency in a way that directly correlates with their nursing duties.
As evident, the OET's healthcare-specific content makes it highly relevant for nurses, providing a practical and targeted assessment of the English skills necessary for their profession.

This relevance can make preparation more focused and applicable, ultimately benefiting nurses in their career advancement and daily professional interactions.

Scoring Systems and Performance Assessment

Understanding the scoring systems and performance assessment methods of IELTS and OET is crucial for nurses aiming to achieve the best results.

Each test evaluates language proficiency differently, which can influence preparation strategies and test outcomes.

IELTS: Band Scores Reflecting General Proficiency

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) uses a band score system to evaluate overall English language proficiency.

Each of the four sections - Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking - is scored individually on a scale from 0 to 9.

The individual scores are then averaged to produce an overall band score, which can be reported in whole or half bands (e.g., 6.5, 7.0).

  • Listening and Reading - These sections are scored based on the number of correct answers. There are 40 questions in each section, and each correct answer is worth one mark. The raw scores are then converted to band scores according to a predetermined conversion table.

  • Writing and Speaking - These sections are assessed by trained examiners using specific criteria. For Writing, the criteria include task achievement, coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. For Speaking, the criteria include fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation.

IELTS scores reflect general English language abilities and are not tailored to specific professions. The scores provide a broad measure of language proficiency, which can be used for various academic and professional purposes.

OET: Profession-Specific Proficiency Assessment

OET (Occupational English Test) employs a grading system specifically designed for healthcare professionals, including nurses.

Each of the four sections - Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking - is scored from A to E, with A being the highest and E the lowest.

The grades reflect the candidate's ability to communicate effectively in healthcare settings.

  • Listening and Reading - These sections are scored based on the number of correct answers, similar to IELTS. However, the content of the questions is healthcare-specific, and the scoring reflects the ability to understand medical terminology and contexts.

  • Writing - This section is assessed by trained examiners who are healthcare professionals. The criteria include the purpose of the letter, content relevance, conciseness and clarity, genre and style, organization and layout, and language accuracy. The focus is on the ability to write professional healthcare documents.

  • Speaking - The speaking section involves role-playing scenarios typical of healthcare environments. Trained examiners assess performance based on linguistic criteria (intelligibility, fluency, appropriateness of language) and clinical communication criteria (relationship-building, understanding and incorporating patient perspectives, providing structure, information-gathering, and information-giving).

The OET scoring system is designed to measure the specific language skills needed in healthcare, ensuring that the test results are highly relevant to professional practice.

Comparison and Practical Implications

For nurses, the OET scoring system offers a significant advantage due to its focus on healthcare-specific language use. The test assesses not only general English proficiency but also the ability to perform key professional tasks in English.

This targeted assessment is more indicative of a nurse’s readiness to work in an English-speaking healthcare environment. IELTS, while comprehensive, does not provide this level of specificity. Its scores reflect general language abilities but do not differentiate between general and professional language skills.

This can make it harder for nursing regulatory bodies and employers to gauge a candidate’s readiness for clinical practice based solely on IELTS scores. Similarly, preparation strategies for IELTS and OET differ due to the nature of their scoring systems.

For IELTS, candidates must focus on general English skills and practice a variety of topics that may not be directly related to healthcare. In contrast, OET preparation involves studying healthcare-specific language and scenarios, which can be more directly applicable and practical for nurses.

All in all, the OET’s scoring system and performance assessment are tailored to evaluate the professional language skills of healthcare workers, making it particularly relevant and useful for nurses.

This profession-specific focus helps ensure that nurses are equipped with the necessary language proficiency to excel in their roles, providing a clear advantage over the more general assessment approach of IELTS.


Choosing between IELTS and OET is a critical decision for nurses aiming to demonstrate their English language proficiency for professional purposes. While both tests are widely accepted, OET offers distinct advantages tailored to the healthcare field.

Its healthcare-specific content and scenarios make it highly relevant for nurses, providing a practical assessment of the language skills they use daily. 

Additionally, the targeted scoring system of OET accurately reflects a nurse's ability to communicate in professional settings, making it a more appropriate choice for those in the healthcare industry.

Although IELTS is a comprehensive test of general English proficiency and is recognized globally, its broader focus can make it less directly applicable to the specific linguistic demands of nursing.

Ultimately, for nurses seeking to validate their English skills in a way that aligns closely with their professional duties, OET stands out as the superior option.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Which is best for nurses, OET or IELTS?

OET is generally better for nurses as it is specifically designed for healthcare professionals, with content and scenarios relevant to their field.

Q2. Which English test is best for nurses?

OET is the best English test for nurses because it assesses the language skills needed in healthcare settings.

Q3. Can I work as a nurse in the UK without IELTS or OET?

No, you typically need to pass either IELTS or OET to meet the English language requirements for nursing registration in the UK.

Q4. What is 7.5 IELTS equivalent to in OET?

A 7.5 in IELTS is approximately equivalent to a B grade in OET.

Q5. Is IELTS or OET easier for nurses?

OET is often considered easier for nurses because it tests English in healthcare-specific contexts, which are more familiar and relevant to their professional experience.