Tips for the Occupational English Test (OET – Medicine)

Take a deep breath. You have been preparing for this every day for the last three years; many of you for your entire lives. The Occupational English Test (OET) was announced on July 9, 2020 as the replacement for Step 2 CS certification for International Medical Graduate’s (IMG’s) by the Educational Commission For Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Aside from being $1100 cheaper and several hours shorter in duration, there is a lot to be thankful for in regards to the OET exam. We as IMG’s are lucky to still have a path towards certification to participate in the 2021 Match and ERAS. With that being said, I am going to pass along my tips for how to succeed on the OET after having taken it on August 7, 2020. 

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Exam Format

The exam will take you roughly 5 hours from start to finish to complete the four sections: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, in that order. The speaking section is quick; it is two scenarios, each five minutes long with an additional 90 seconds for you to familiarize yourself with the scenario and speaking task. The listening section lasts roughly 40 minutes and includes three parts taken all at once. The reading section is broken into 3 parts, and lasts roughly 50 minutes. The final section is writing; it is 40 minutes long with a 5 minute period beforehand to allow you to read the writing task and related information.


First off, it is important to assess your own level of comprehension and articulation in the English language. English is a difficult language to learn, and I challenge anyone who says otherwise to learn another language fluently. For the non-native speakers, I have more information specific to you below. To my native English speakers, I suggest that you do not blow off preparation for this exam. You should absolutely spend time getting acquainted with the formatting of how they expect you to write a letter of referral to other doctors for your patients and to take some time familiarizing yourself with the structure of the other sections. All of this preparatory material is available for free on their website. You will undeniably have an easier time on test day than a non-native speaker, but you should still prepare accordingly.  

“It is imperative that you familiarize yourself with the formatting of the writing section. It is something that I would not have known even as a native English speaker if I had not spent time reviewing the samples beforehand.”

Donald Hathaway III, Contributor, Med Student Edge

Non-Native English Speakers

To the non-native speakers, fear not. You are capable of succeeding on this exam as evidenced by your passing USMLE Step 1 score. Whether you feel confident or not in speaking the language, you are far more capable than you know. After taking the test myself I can attest that there were a few portions that left me thinking, “Wow, this could be tough if I didn’t grow up speaking English.” To you, I highly suggest spending time reviewing the materials posted on the website. It offers a few different scenarios and examples of each of the four sections; however, spending time looking over them is not enough.

It is important that you practice each section under timed conditions to be sure that you will be ready for test day. Also, keep in mind that on test day you will naturally be under a bit more stress, so you need to consider this and how it will affect your time. With practice you will become more and more confident with the material, and that will make all the difference on test day. Find a friend and get practicing; remember as IMG’s we are all in this together and should do everything we can to help one another.

How are you preparing for the OET exam? Share your tips below.

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