How to Improve Speaking at Home

Most students ask me for tips on how they can improve their speaking when they’re at home, without a Sydney Language Solutions teacher/tutor to practise with. Below are some of my suggestions.

  1. The first and most obvious suggestion is to practise with someone who speaks English at home. Perhaps a family member. Perhaps a friend. Or, even better, a friend or family member who is ALSO doing the Occupational English Test. Get them to practise different tasks with you and give you feedback afterwards about your fluency, the clarity and speed of your speech and about the language you used.
  2. Another way is to practise by yourself. This can involve, for instance, recording yourself speaking! For this exercise, I particularly encourage you to check your speed (tell yourself to SLOW DOWN!) and to check whether or not you say words like “um”, “uh”, “like” or “er” which can affect your fluency. Count how many “um”s you say!
  3. One final suggestion is, indeed of speaking, you can PLAN out the conversation and write down what you would say in the scenario. This can improve both your grammar and your sentence structure. Think of different phrases you can use to reassure patients, to advise patients or to ask clear questions.

Hope these help! Good luck!

The Most Important Thing to Remember about the OET

Whether it is your first time, or your second/third/fourth time, sitting the Occupational English Test can be very nerve-racking. Your palms will sweat, you’ll feel palpitations and your breaths will be shallower. A common feeling is that you’ll feel as if you can’t remember a SINGLE thing medically-related because you’re so nervous.

Luckily for you, the most important thing to remember about the OET is that: The OET does NOT test your medical knowledge. It is simply testing your ENGLISH.

So what does this mean?

For the listening, it means that, even if you don’t know anything about the topic/s being discussed, you can still pass if you listen to the conversation carefully.

For the reading, it also means that if the topic is something you have never read about, you can still pass both parts A and B through careful reading and analysis of the texts. The answers require no prior medical knowledge.

For the writing, it means that when you come across a completely new scenario in the case notes, you can just base your letter on the notes given (obviously).

And finally, for the speaking, it means that you can actually – and a lot of students don’t realise this – make information up! You will not get penalised for incorrect content, as long as you sound confident in what you’re saying.

So there you have it. Don’t stress if you come across a new topic!

Recommended Books for the OET Student

Cambridge English for Nursing (Intermediate Plus) Student’s Book with Audio CDs

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

This book provides a range of exercises to develop both your nursing knowledge as well as your language and communication skills. There are listening activities reflecting everyday nursing scenarios and sections that focus on communication (such as how to give advice), which are important for OET speaking roleplays. The section on abbreviations and acronyms used in healthcare will be useful for OET writing, as well as the online glossary with a pronunciation guide. You can also review your knowledge of common nursing scenarios to prepare for the speaking exam – such as in respiratory care, nursing wound care, etc.

 Cambridge English for Nursing Pre-intermediate Student’s Book with Audio CD

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

Units such as ‘Caring for patients after an operation’ and diabetes management will be vital in preparing for your OET speaking exam as it is a common scenario. This book can also be used review your language skills with listening activities and a focus in every chapter on communication – such as showing empathy during hospital interactions. This is recommended for the nursing student seeking to review their basic nursing skills and techniques, as well as basic medical sciences.

English for Medicine in Higher Education Studies

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

This book is designed for students who plan to take a course in the field of medicine entirely or partly in English. Complete with audio for lecture and seminar excerpts, these are perfect for the OET student studying for the listening component of the exam. I particularly recommend utilising their great tips for note-taking (useful for OET listening) and recognising digressions, and choosing the vital information from the irrelevant information of a text. Students can also use the exercises with figures and diagrams to develop your skills in interpretation of figures, in preparation for the OET reading.

English for Nursing, Academic Skills

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

This book is great for the Nursing student. There are sections on critical thinking in Nursing, a vital skill to incorporate and develop during medical studies, whether in Nursing or Medicine. For the students preparing for the OET in particular, specific chapters of the book focusing on reading and skimming skills may reveal new strategies you can use to tackle your OET reading. The section on ‘Developing Note-Taking Skills’ will assist in both your study and work environments, as well as in the OET, especially in the Listening section. I also particularly recommend this book to develop your understanding of research terminology.

English in Medicine: A Course in Communication Skills

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

English in Medicine is an introductory text for overseas health professionals wanting to review their basic communication skills, perhaps in preparation for the OET exam. It provides insight into a range of clinically relevant tasks, such as taking a detailed patient history, communicating with the patient during the physical examination as well as completing clinical notes. Suitable for health professionals just starting out in an English-speaking environment, there are sample patient-doctor dialogues that the student can listen to, accompanied with the appropriate transcript, which can be used to practice for the OET listening component. In addition, the section on search strategy can be relevant to your other medical studies.

Oxford English for Careers Nursing 1: Student’s Book

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

Short exercises and simple language are the benefits of this book for the student who is beginning their studies in English. The book advances from more general chapters regarding the hospital team and environment, to more specific topics include mental health nursing and managing a patient’s medications. Use the language spot to revise your grammar skills, including prepositions or the passive form. A basic, easy-to-use revision textbook if you’re looking for one to review and prepare for the OET exam.

Oxford English for Careers Nursing 2: Student’s Book

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

This book progresses on from Book 1, with a more detailed focus on areas of Medicine, ranging from Obstetrics to Renal and Psychiatry, suitable for the more advanced student. A more comprehensive revision of essential writing, speaking, listening and reading communication skills is provided to help pass your OET as well as to work as a nurse. Signs and symptoms relevant to each discipline are reviewed and discussed, useful for writing and speaking in the OET. Again, the language spot will assist in revision of grammar and vocabulary.

Professional English in Use Medicine

This book can be bought at slsbooks.com.au

Designed to assist those who wish to improve in their interpretation and fluency of medical journals and textbooks, Professional English in Use Medicine will take you through the various body systems and the relevant terminology that is commonly used in each specialty. Students may also find the sections on history-taking, physical examinations as well as communicating treatment and management to be useful to their studies. For the OET student, this is a concise textbook to review your basic medical terminology as you begin to undertake your studies and work in an English-speaking setting.

FAQs in OET Writing – for Medicine

In my time as an OET teacher at Sydney Language Solutions, I have seen many Medicine students take the OET examination. Here are some questions that Medicine students frequently ask me and I will provide the subsequent answers.

What kind of a letter will I be writing?

You will be writing a referral letter based on the patient’s notes provided.

Who will I be writing to?

Most of the time, you will be writing to a specialist for further management of the patient’s presenting problems. However, perhaps it is also wise to be prepared to write a letter to a nurse or an allied health professional. It is very important to keep in mind WHO you are writing to and what their ROLE in the patient care is.

Do I have to include all the information?

No, you do not have to include all the patient’s information. In fact, you shouldn’t because you may exceed the word limit of 200 words. Choose the most relevant and appropriate findings. If possible, write only positive findings. Try to SUMMARISE and write as CONCISELY as you can.

Are the address, date, subject line and salutation (e.g. Dear Doctor) included in the word count?

No, these sections of the letter do NOT contribute to your word count. The word count begins at the start of your introductory paragraph. However, it is still important to include these elements (address, date, subject line, salutation) because they make your letter LOOK like a letter.

All the best!

Example of a Writing Task OET for students to practice during Christmas holiday

You are a health professional at the Royal North Shore Hospital. Read the case notes and complete the writing task as follows:


Patient: Mr James NaismithOET_Writing

DOB: 25.12.1940



Symptom A, symptom B, symptom C

Examination shows sign A and sign B

Diagnosis: disease A

Prescribe drug A 25mg tid


Reports compliance with therapy A

Symptoms B and C are worse

Examination shows sign C

Increase dosage of drug A 50mg tid


Chronic condition A since 2002

Surgery A in location A – 1996

Episode of acute condition A in 1995, resolved


Father died of disease B at age 65

Social history:

Widower, lives alone in Sydney Retirement Solutions

Quit smoking in 2005

Emergency contact is son who lives in Homebush, mobile: 0555 555 555

Plan: refer to specialist to discuss possibility of therapy A

Using the information in the case notes, write a letter of referral for further investigation and discussion of a new management plan to the specialist Dr Michael Jordan, at 55 Main Street, Newtown.

In your answer:

–          Expand on the relevant notes in complete sentences

–          DO NOT use point form

–          Use letter format

The body of the letter should be approximately 180-200 words

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