Writing

The Writing sub-test (45 minutes) is unique to each profession, based on a typical workplace situation and the demands of the profession. Candidates have to write a letter (which can be referral, transfer or advice) to another health professional, patient or client based on a set of clinical case notes. In other words, you will receive stimulus material (case notes) which includes information based on which you will be writing a letter. The case notes will be followed by a writing task which will have relevant instructions about the recipient and purpose of writing the letter. You have to write a letter as advised in the writing task. The letter may be a referral letter, a letter of transfer or discharge, or a letter to advise or inform a patient or carer.

The first five minutes of the test is reading time. During this time, you can study the task and notes [but not write, underline or make any notes of your own]. For the remaining 40 minutes, you write your response to the task in a printed answer booklet provided, which also has space for rough work.

Use the five minutes 'reading time' efficiently to understand the task requirements. The test is designed to give you enough time to write your answer after you have carefully considered the following questions:

  • What is your role?
  • Who is the recipient?
  • What is the current situation?
  • How urgent is the current situation?
  • What is the main point you must communicate to the reader?
  • What supporting information is it necessary to give to the reader?
  • What background information is necessary for the reader to know?
  • What information is unnecessary for the reader?

Next, consider the best way to present the information relevant to the task:

  • Should the current situation be explained at the start of the letter [e.g. in an emergency situation]?
  • In what sequence can the ideas be presented depending on the urgency of the situation?

The response should consist of approximately 180-200 words.
Candidates are not penalized for exceeding or failing to meet this limit, but the responses that are shorter than 180 words are not likely to contain enough information and answers longer than 200 words often contain superfluous information.

Scores: The Writing sub-test is graded from A (highest) to E (lowest) grade.
Students are assessed against the following criterion

Overall Task Fulfilment
  • Whether the letter is long enough (180-200 words)
  • Whether you have included enough information in the task
Appropriateness of Language
  • Choice of words and phrases (formal) and style of writing
Comprehension of stimulus (case notes)
  • How well you have understood the case notes
  • Whether you have included relevant information from the case notes
  • Whether you have skipped the irrelevant or superfluous information
  • How well the letter is organized into meaningful paragraphs
Control of linguistic features
  • Use correct tenses to convey the time relationships clearly
  • Use apt sentence structure (subject-verb agreement)
  • Use of cohesive devices or connectors to link the ideas together in a logical fashion
Control of presentation features
  • Layout of the letter including placement of date, address, subject, titles etc.
  • How accurate your spellings and punctuation are

Tips and Strategies

Overall task fulfillment – including whether the response is between180-200 words and whether enough information has been included for the task/recipient.

Tips to improve this criterion

  • Get sufficient practice in writing within the word limit. The task is designed so that the word limit is enough to fulfill the task and gives the assessors an appropriate sample of writing to assess.
  • Always read the instructions carefully and then identify what information to include for a particular task. Do not include information that the intended reader already knows [e.g., if you are replying to a colleague who previously referred the patient to you].

Appropriateness of language – including the use of suitable words, phrases and style of language; and how the information has been organized.

Tips to improve this criterion

  • Organise the information clearly – remember, the sequence of information in the case notes may not be the most appropriate sequence of information for the letter.
  • Highlight the main purpose of the letter at the beginning of the letter in the introductory paragraph. (For example, ongoing care and support, home visits to provide assistance, urgent assessment and further management etc. )
  • Consider using dates and other time references [E.g. Three months later, last week, a year ago] to give a clear sequence of events where needed. Which way of presenting the information makes it clear and helpful for the target reader?
  • Stick to the relatively formal tone that all professional letters are written in.
  • Maintain a neutral, professional tone appropriate to this kind of written communication. Informal language, slang, contractions, and SMS texting style are not suitable.
  • Give the correct salutation: if the recipient's name and title are provided, use them.
  • Show awareness of the audience by choosing appropriate words and phrases: if writing to another professional, medical terms and abbreviations may be appropriate; if writing to a parent or someone who is not a health professional, use non-medical terms and explain carefully.

Comprehension of stimulus – including whether you understand the case-notes and select relevant case-notes to include in your response

Tips to improve this criterion

  • Demonstrate that you have understood the case notes thoroughly selecting the details that are relevant for the recipient of the letter. Your purpose of writing the letter should be clear- do not just provide a general summary of the case notes in the letter.
  • Show the connections between information in the case notes if these can be made; however, do not add information that is not given in the notes [e.g., a suggested diagnosis], particularly if the reason for the letter is to get an expert opinion.

Control of linguistic features [grammar and cohesion] – including how effectively you communicate using the grammatical structures and cohesive devices of English.

Tips to improve this criterion

  • Make sure you demonstrate a range of language structures to show that you can use language accurately and flexibility in your writing.
  • Use complex sentences as well as simple ones, where appropriate.
  • Split a long sentence into two or three sentences if you feel you are losing control of it.
  • Review areas of grammar to ensure they convey intended meaning accurately
  • Use connecting words and phrases ['connectives'] to link ideas together clearly [e.g., however, therefore, subsequently, consequently, nevertheless, etc.].

Control of presentation features [spelling, punctuation, and layout]

Tips to improve this criterion

  • Take care of the placement of commas and full stops.
  • Leave a blank line between paragraphs to show the overall structure of the letter.
  • Remember that some of the words you write are also in the case notes – check that the spelling used is the same.
  • Be consistent with spelling: alternative spelling conventions [e.g. American or British English] are acceptable as long as the use is consistent.
  • Do not use symbols as abbreviations in formal letters.
  • Use a clear layout to avoid any miscommunications.
  • Write legibly in a way that the handwriting does not confuse the reader over spelling and meaning, and the assessor can grade the response fairly using the set criteria.

Helpful Hints

  • Use the 5-minute reading time effectively. You should read the information carefully and plan an answer which meets the needs of the reader.
  • When preparing for the test, practice writing the tasks within the word limit so that you know when you have written enough in your own handwriting.
  • A very important aspect of OET writing is the selection of relevant case-notes. Think carefully about the particular task. What does the reader need to know, and in what order of importance? What is the outcome that you want to achieve, i.e. what do you want the reader to do with the information?
  • Do not forget to get adequate time-limited practice that will help you to learn how to manage your time within the 40-minute timeframe.
  • Cross out anything you do not want the assessor to read, such as drafts or mistakes.
  • Always proof-read your letter to check for any mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling. While practicing the letters, one way to proof-read the letter is to read out loud. This is especially helpful for spotting run-on sentences, but you might also hear other problems that you may not see when reading silently. Alternatively, you could read through once (backward, sentence by sentence) to check for fragments; and read again forward to ensure that subject-verb agreement.