Reading A – 3 common trick questions

In this post we will talk about three reasonably common trick questions in Reading A that aim to find the best students. It is very easy to lose marks on these questions when you are rushing because they are very sneaky, but being aware of them can increase your chance of getting them correct.

1. Plural and singular
Text: “Screening mammograms are the best method for detecting breast cancer in the early stages”
Question: “The best method for detecting breast cancer in the early stages is …..?…..”
The text and the question sentences almost look identical, although obviously the order of information has changed. The other thing that has changed is that where the text used the plural verb “are” the answer has the singular verb “is”; therefore, we need to change the words “screening mammograms”, which is plural, into a singular form – the answer is “a screening mammogram”

2. Splitting up acronyms
Text: “25% of Australian adults are obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher”
Question: “Obesity is defined as a …..?….. index of greater or equal to 30”
The answer is obviously to do with body mass index, and as they have used the abbreviation BMI in the text we are allowed to use this for our answer. However, note that the question already has the word “index” written down, so writing “BMI” will be marked wrong, because you are saying “body mass index index”. The answer is therefore “body mass”, and we do not use an abbreviation.

3. Fractions and percentages
Text: “When treated with both a statin and ezetimibe, the rates of STEMI were lowered by 40%”
Question: “Combination lipid-lowering therapy was associated with a two …..?….. reduction in myocardial infarction incidence”
As has been mentioned in previous posts, for all reading you should be comfortable changing between simple fractions and percentages (1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/10). This question type revolves around being comfortable with these. The answer in the text is 40%, but of course we can’t put this in our answer because “two 40%” does not make any sense. Instead, we have to convert this to a fraction – 40% is two-fifths, so the answer would be “fifths”.

26 August 2017


Why we often use the passive voice in healthcare letters

The most simple sentence structure in the English language is:
Noun + verb.
If the noun is doing the action described by the verb, the noun is known as a subject.E.g. The doctor consulted. (“doctor” is the subject of this sentence).

If the action described by the verb is being done to someone or something, the recipient of the action is known as the object. We add this noun after the verb:
E.g. The doctor consulted the patient. (“doctor” is the subject and “patient” is the object).
This sentence structure is:
Subject + verb + object

Using the passive voice allows us to do two useful things in healthcare letters:
1. Focus on the object of a sentence by putting it first.
2. Save space by leaving out the subject (that is, the noun actually doing the action).

The sentence structure in usage #1 is:
Object + Passive verb + subject./span>
E.g. The patient was consulted by the doctor.
This allows us to focus the reader’s attention on the patient, rather than the doctor, by putting them first in the sentence. This is useful in discharge and referral letters, because the patient is the most important focus of the letter.

The sentence structure in usage #2 is:
The patient was consulted.
This is very useful if the person or thing that did the action isn’t as important as the person who received the action. It also allows us to leave out irrelevant information. For example, “the patient was admitted on 27/08/17” is more concise than “the patient was admitted on 27/08/17 by a doctor”. It doesn’t really matter who admitted the patient, so it’s best to leave this information out when doing the OET Writing Test.

Overall, passive voice can be a very useful tool in improving your letter in the OET Writing Test!

26 August 2017

Anna Brzeska

Reading A – choosing tense

An issue that can sometimes be confusing in Reading A is deciding which tense to use when the answers are verbs. This is important, because as grammar is marked even if your verb choice is correct, using the wrong tense will mean you get zero marks for that question. As a general rule, the tense of your answer should be the same as the tense of the verbs around it – if these are present tense, use present tense, and so on. Let’s look at an example:

Text: “Of the injuries requiring operation, 29.8% were to the elbow”

Question: “Of the injuries recorded, more than half were sprains and strains, and elbow injuries accounted for 29.8% of those that …(question)…

Of course, the words in the text that we want are “requiring surgery”, but grammatically this does not fit into the question. We need to change the form of the word “requiring”. Note that the other verbs in this question, “recorded”, “were”, and “accounted” are all past tense. This means that our verb form of “require” should also be past tense. The answer is therefore “required operation“. This is just one quick example of how to use this trick when needing to decide on tense choice.

Reading B – Questions about recommendations

The reading B test has several common question types that are important to practice. One common question type, which usually asks about the final paragraph, is shown below.

“What is the principal recommendation of paragraph 7?”

As we have discussed in previous posts, it is always important to practice the common question types in Reading B because they make up about half of the exam. With recommendation questions, it is always important to choose the answer that is a recommendation – this sounds obvious, but there are a few tricks to look out for. For something to be a “recommendation”, it needs to use words like “should” or “must” in the text – if the sentence doesn’t have this, then it usually a statement, not a recommendation. Let’s look at a sample question.

“For healthy women with no family history of breast cancer, weighing up the relative benefits and harms of breast screening can be difficult. “Whether you think that the possible benefit is worth the risks I think varies between people,” says Barratt. “For an individual, the most likely outcome of going to screening is absolutely nothing will happen at all – no benefit and no harm,” she says. Women should be given enough information to make an informed decision about whether the small chance of a very large benefit – having your life saved – outweighs the risk of being over-diagnosed and false positives. A 2012 study found that few women were aware of over-diagnosis in breast cancer screening. Evaluation of breast screening in light of evolving evidence is also essential, according to Nickson. “The cost effectiveness and the health benefits of large programs should always be continuously reviewed and evaluated. You don’t just set the ship off and let it go.”

What is the main recommendation proposed by this paragraph?
a) breast cancer screening should be a difficult choice for healthy women
b) women with no family history of breast cancer should not be screened
c) breast cancer experts should reach a consensus on the best approach to screening and treatment
d) women should be aware of the relative risks and benefits of breast cancer screening

There are a few tricks here that are common to these question types. Note that all the answers themselves are phrased as recommendations (using “should”), but the statements they correspond to in the text are not all phrased as recommendations. This is the first common trick in recommendation questions. Answers A and B are wrong, because the corresponding statements in the text do not use the word “should”, and so they are not recommendations. The second trick is that the question asks for the “main” recommendation; answers C and D are both given as recommendations in the paragraph, but answer C is only really mentioned briefly at the end, and is not the main topic talked about in this paragraph. Answer C is thus not as good an answer as D, because D is the main topic covered in this paragraph and so the main recommendation.

As we’ve said, getting good at recognising and dealing with the common question types is an important skill for Reading B. If you get a “main/principal recommendation” question, make sure you pick something that is a recommendation, and is the focus of the paragraph.

Improving your OET Listening skills

The listening component of the Occupational English Test can be difficult for some students. This can be due to the difficulty of the topic, the speed of the speakers or the fact that they miss some answers. Here are some tips to help you improve your listening skills.
1. Practice as much as you can!
This seems obvious but it is best tip I can offer. The more you listen, the better you will get at comprehending what is being said, the better you will get at note-taking and the better you get will at answering the questions quickly.

2. Use the preparation time wisely
You have 1 minute before Part A of the listening audio and then another 1 minute preparation time before Part B. This time should be used to look through the paper, underline key words (more on this later) and try to predict what is coming in the conversation.

3. Identify key words
Use the preparation time to underline or highlight specific words in the questions which you will listen out for. This allows you to predict what the speaker will say. Please note that they won’t necessarily use the same words as what is written in the question – they may use synonyms or the question has paraphrased the speaker’s sentence. This makes it all the more worthwhile to identify the key words PRIOR to the audio beginning.

4. Use the pauses BETWEEN questions.
This time is there for you to complete the previous question and read the next question. Again, you should start to predict what you are likely to hear, even before the recording continues.

Starting the Conversation in OET Speaking

More often that not, the roleplayer will ask you to begin the conversation during the speaking exam of the OET. Therefore, it is vital you know how to introduce the situation confidently and – more importantly – appropriately. This will leave the markers with a good first impression from the very beginning.
The key to the introduction is: consider the SETTING of the conversation. I will give examples of appropriate introductions in the various settings.
Community Health Centre / Community Clinic
In this setting, you may assume you have not met the patient before. Therefore, you could introduce yourself and your role:
“Hi, my name is _____ and I am the community nurse here today…”
Then you can ask one of the following:
“What can I do for you today? / “How can I help you?” / “What brings you here today?” / “What seems to be the problem today?”
Hospital Ward / Emergency Department
In this setting, you may know the patient and some details. For example:
“Hi, I’ll be the nurse looking after you. I can see from your notes that _____.”
You could then also ask:
“How are you feeling?” / “What can I do for you?” / “How are you going?”
Home Visit
In this setting, you have arrived with a CLEAR role and purpose. This should be presented in your introduction:
“Hi, my name is _____ and I am the nurse from the local hospital. Today I’m here to discuss/talk about/show you how to….”
These are examples of the three settings you will get – make sure you practice all of these during your preparation for the OET speaking test!

Improve your listening skills in 5 minutes

Many candidates have difficulty finding the time to sit down and spend several hours studying for the OET exam. Fortunately, employing a consistent approach that involves shorter periods of study on a regular basis can be just as useful.


For the listening part of the test, one such approach involves taking advantage of the ABC’s 1-minute podcasts. Follow the steps below, at least twice a week, and you should find that you can improve your listening and note-taking skills significantly.


  1. Listen to the audio of a 1-minute podcast on a health topic from http://www.abc.net.au/health/minutes/ while reading the transcript.
  2. Replay the video, this time writing down the main points in note form (as you would in the exam).
  3. Use the transcript to check the accuracy of your notes.
  4. If you wrote down anything incorrectly, revise the vocabulary used to communicate that point in the video (look up the definition of each word, and write down the words and their definitions in your personal vocabulary list).
  5. Repeat!


This short exercise will allow you to improve your performance in the listening test by:

  • Practicing accurate note-taking,
  • Practicing listening for key words and main points,
  • Learning new vocabulary as you study, and
  • Building up your experience in listening to spoken English on a variety of health topics.


Good luck!


Anna Brzeska, OET Teacher

General FAQs for the OET

In this blog, I will outline some of the general questions that students have asked me regarding the OET as it’s very likely that you will have the same questions.

How should I practice speaking at home?

Practice is key to improving and preparing yourself for the OET. For all the components, I strongly encourage you to practice within the time limits. For speaking in particular, you should be practicing with another person and, if possible, record the conversation so you can listen back to it.

What if I don’t know anything about the topic in the test?

This may happen and it’s important that you do not freak out! Remember the OET is designed as a English test and not a medical knowledge test – this means that, if the you don’t know the topic, just analyse and comprehend the information given to you and you should still be able to complete the task.

Should I use pen or pencil in the exam?

For MOST of the components, it actually doesn’t matter if you use pen or pencil! My best advice is to use whichever writing utensil you feel most COMFORTABLE writing in because you will be using it a LOT on the exam day. However, for reading part B, you will need a pencil to fill in the multiple choice answer sheet.

These are all very common concerns for the OET student – you’re not alone!

Easy, Quick Tips for OET Reading

I often get asked by students how they can improve their reading. I hope these following tips will give you a better grasp of mastering OET reading.


This particularly applies to Part A of the reading. When the clock starts, begin by glancing over the texts and their headings for key words that highlight their content. Seek out words that identify the SETTING, the KEY TOPIC or the TIME of the text.


Apart from completing the practice tests, it is important you get used to medical writing styles. So I strongly encourage students to seek out medical writing from online resources and read them often. This will expose you to the type of language and writing structure that will come up in the exam.


The reading is completed under time pressure and this is often the key thing that stumps students. If you get stuck, don’t be afraid to move on! You can always come back to the question with a clearer head after you’ve completed the rest of the task.


Timing is key in OET reading so make sure you are putting that pressure on yourself and getting used to the time limits! And, as always, PRACTICE.

All the best for your preparation.

Easy, Quick Tips for OET Writing

Many students trip up in the OET writing for the same reasons – all of which can be easily avoided if you follow the following easy, quick tips.


This seems obvious, but it’s remarkable how many students glaze over the task. Make sure you read it CAREFULLY and identify WHO you are writing to, WHAT is the purpose for writing and their ROLE in the patient’s care. Do not assume you are writing to a community nurse, as this is where students commonly make the mistake.


Read through the notes carefully and identify what are the most important issues in the case. This ensures you pick up the most relevant information to include in your letter, rather than blindly writing everything from the notes.


The word count of the task is 180-200 words. This is one of the key marking criteria so I strongly encourage all students to leave at least 1 minute at the end of the task to quickly count their words and ensure they are within the limit. Aiming to stay within the word count also encourages you to choose your relevant information carefully, as discussed in tip #2 above.


This doesn’t need to be said but I will say it anyway. Practicing will not only allow you to hone in these quick tips I’ve mentioned in this blog, but also give you an idea of how much time you are using to do each task.

All the best and I hope you will put these tips into practice.

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