I can't stress enough how important it is for candidates to write each referral letter 'from scratch'. Take a look at two of the marking criteria now:
"Appropriateness of Language
This criterion assesses several features of the task response, including accurate use of appropriate vocabulary and expression, as well as organisation and style. The assessment considers control of genre (letter of referral) and register (level of formality). In all genres, register is polite and relatively formal. The extent to which the response is logically organised in a more-or-less formulaic sequence appropriate to both task and professional context is also a relevant consideration.
Comprehension of Stimulus
This criterion assesses the extent to which the candidate understands the stimulus notes and task requirements. It focuses on the selection and transformation of relevant material from the notes and is thus concerned with adequacy of content (coverage of main points) and accuracy of interpretation of the task instructions."
What does 'more-or-less formulaic sequence' mean?
This means that the letter needs to be in a recognisable letter form. There are some aspects of letter writing which make the final text look like a letter. It needs a correct beginning (setting out address, date and salutation) and a correct ending ('If you need more information...', Yours sincerely and your name and title). The body of the letter also follows a 'formula', e.g. a set of paragraphs which outline the reason for the letter.
Formal letters differ from personal letters in their layout. A personal letter may wander from idea to idea and may use informal language, e.g. 'Hi Jules, Just touching base to keep you up-dated with the plans for our end of year party.....'
Is there a 'one size fits all' template for the OET Writing task?
In a word, 'No'. Look at the underlined part of the second criterion: selection and transformation of relevant material from the notes. Each time candidates approach the writing task, they should decide on the best layout for their letter. Candidates may choose to deal with each issue at a time or place all issues in one paragraph. Every time candidates read the Case Notes, a decision needs to be made about the relevance of information found in them, that is the context of the information in the Case Notes.
So, how do candidates balance using a guide for formal referral letter writing with avoiding copying existing letters?
- keep an idea in mind about what the finished letter will look like in its form. By this I mean, look at a good example of a referral letter. What does a 200 word letter look like?
- think about what a paragraph of around 60-70 words will look like. It will probably contain 3-4 sentences.
- think about the sort of information you would be likely to put in a referral letter, e.g. patient's background, information about the health issue in question, requests you are making. This will differ each time you do a letter writing task.
- What vocabulary do you need in the letter? There may be expressions which are used frequently which you can 'copy' or reuse, e.g. ....presented with..., ...requires review of... etc.
- develop a conclusion sentence which can be reused, e.g. 'If you need more information, please contact me at any time.'
- know how to begin and end the letter. This is a formula which must be followed, i.e. the address and date etc will always be written in the same format.