10 Dec, 2019
By now you’ve most likely heard that beginning 3rd August 2019, the updated OET writing criteria will take effect. So, what does this mean for you?
Let me start by saying there is absolutely NO CHANGE to the test whatsoever. This means that you will still be required to write a formal letter. You will still have 5 minutes of reading time and 40 minutes of writing time.
The test will not be any easier and certainly won’t be any more difficult. There will be NO CHANGE to the language proficiency level, NO CHANGE to the writing skills required, and NO CHANGE to the strategies you’ve been learning to successfully pass the writing test. So don’t panic!
What then is being updated?
Basically, the way the test is being assessed. The criteria names will change, as well as how the skills are being assigned in each criterion. There will also be a stronger emphasis on what health professionals – in this case the reader of your letter – want to know. In other words, the purpose of the letter and the language you use that allows the reader to retrieve the information easily, accurately and concisely.
In their current form there are 5 criteria totaling 30 points. These are:
In the upgraded version there will be 6 criteria totaling 38 points. These are:
So again, there is NO CHANGE to what is being assessed. Only the names have been changed and the same skills are assessed only under different criteria.
Let me tell you why the update to the OET writing criteria is happening. OET is determined to keep the writing test fit for purpose. Meaning they are keeping up to date on what is expected from you while you’re working in an English-speaking healthcare environment. Many people were involved in the decision-making process including consultations with a range healthcare professionals. This is what they said about each criterion.
Purpose – must be immediately apparent and clear.
Content – must include the necessary information, and that information must be accurate.
Conciseness and Clarity – means excluding the irrelevant information and only including what is relevant to the reader.
Genre and Style – means the way you write your letter must be suitable for the intended reader.
Organisation and Layout – means your letter must be structured to aid the retrieval of information.
Language – should aid the retrieval of information.
This all means that the skills that make up the old OET writing criteria have now been incorporated into the new. For example, spelling, punctuation and layout which make up presentation features in the current system, will be separated with layout moving to Organisation and Layout and spelling and punctuation moving to Language for obvious reasons.
Purpose gives a quick and precise sense of what is being asked. Purpose should be developed later in your letter (specific instructions). It should appear early in your letter and be immediately identifiable.
NB: This does not mean simply saying “this is a referral letter” but rather providing the reason “why” you are writing to this particular reader.
Content tells the reader what they need to know so they can continue the care of the patient.
Conciseness and Clarity is omitting what the reader doesn’t need to know and summarising the relevant information accurately, efficiently and effectively.
Genre and Style is choosing the appropriate register and tone that is suitable for the reader.
Organisation and Layout is organising your letter in a logical sequence, with appropriate paragraphing and layout.
Language is using suitable, accurate vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation to enhance readability. This is not showing off, but rather selecting vocabulary etc. that best fits the situation and reader.
I hope this has helped clarify any misconceptions you may have had. My advice is to keep practising the way you are now. Focus on who will be reading your letter, what you want that reader to do and why you want that reader to do it.
Keeping this in mind from the outset, will ensure that you have a good understanding of the test itself and help you identify and select the case notes needed and transform those notes into a formal