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As IMGs, English isn’t usually our first or even second language. And while being multilingual has its own perks, it also means taking at least one standardized test to demonstrate our proficiency in the English language before applying to foreign lands. Today, I’ll be comparing the two English language tests that can be taken prior to PLAB; the OET Medicine and the IELTS Academic.


The OET is primarily geared towards healthcare professionals, with 12 versions for different specialties, so the exam assesses communication ability in healthcare settings.

The IELTS is generalized and assesses English communication and writing skills as would be expected at the university level. The test, simply put, may not have any elements of healthcare.

Skills Tested

The OET Medicine tests four skills:

1. Listening (50 minutes)

Three parts: Part A has extracts from consultations between doctors and patients, Part B has extracts from the workplace, e.g., team debriefings, and Part C has 2 presentations from a healthcare professional

2. Speaking (20 minutes)

Includes an interview on professional background and two role plays on profession-specific scenarios

3. Reading (60 minutes)

Three parts: Part A has four short texts on a single topic, Part B has six short texts regarding the workplace, and Part C has two long texts on medical topics

4. Writing (45 minutes)

Includes reading case notes and writing a letter specific to the profession (usually a letter of referral or discharge)

For more details on the specifics of each test, please visit the official OET page that I’ve linked below for ease.

The IELTS Academic tests four skills:

1. Listening (30 minutes)

Includes four recordings, 2 in an everyday social context, 1 in an educational or training context, and 1 about an academic subject

2. Speaking (11-14 minutes)

Three parts: Part 1 includes an introduction and questions about familiar topics like home and work, Part 2 includes talking on a given topic for 2 minutes, Part 3 includes questions discussing the abstract ideas regarding the topic in part 2

3. Academic reading (60 minutes)

Includes three long academic texts from journals, magazines, and textbooks

4. Academic writing (60 minutes)

Two tasks: Task 1 is a formal report on the information (data, stages of a process, or description of an object) presented in a graph, table, chart, or diagram; Task 2 is a formal essay in response to an opinion, argument or problem.

For more details on the specifics of each test, please visit the official IELTS page that I’ve linked below for ease.


The OET is graded from A to E, E being the lowest. The GMC requires a score of at least B in each skill in a single test sitting of the MEDICINE version of the OET.

The IELTS is graded in bands from 1 to 9, with 1 being the lowest. The GMC requires a score of at least 7 in each skill and 7.5 overall in a single test sitting.


Both tests are valid for 2 years from the date of the certificate. The certificate must be valid on the day of the PLAB 1 exam.


The OET can be taken on paper or on a computer. It costs 587 Australian dollars/ 455 US dollars. The IELTS Academic can be taken online or in a test centre, either on paper or on a computer. The cost varies with the country and the test centre. In India, the cost is 14,700 Indian rupees. In Nepal, costs vary between 23000 to 25300 Nepali rupees. Details on the cost can be found on the official IELTS page that I’ve linked below for reference.


As the OET is designed for healthcare professionals, many people tend to find it easier than the IELTS. It is a common reason why many IMGs pursue the OET. However, the rumor that it is easier to pass is exactly that: a rumor. A high level of understanding of the English language is required in either test to apply for the PLAB. The key to ensuring a good grade is to select an exam and practice for it.

Need More Help?

If you have questions about which exam would be best for you, I would be happy to answer them at You can register using this link- Find me as an Ambassador and Follow my profile – Anu Manandhar - to receive regular support and advice.


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