In addition to the forum, there was a workshop the following day for the next group of OET Premium Preparation Providers. I am proud to say that, with my colleagues at Specialist Language Courses, I am one of the first to have been granted premium provider status. More about this later.
Presenters at the forum reminded us of the importance of effective and safe communication for our patients. Sometimes, in the rush to pass the OET to get on with life and get that all-important job overseas, the purpose of the test can be lost.
Dr Ashraf Ismail, of the Middle East Office of Joint Commission International spoke of the importance of safe communication from the perspective of hospital accreditation. Read instead 'from the perspective of minimising serious incidents caused by poor communication'. A reminder that communication skills are as important as clinical skills to a healthcare professional.
Professor Peter Martin, Professor of Clinical Communication and End-of-Life Care at Deakin University, Australia extended the responsibility of good communication to all healthcare professionals, especially those who work in areas of Medicine where conversations are challenging. And make no mistake about it, talking about dying is not easy for some. Many healthcare professionals whose first language is English struggle to form what they see as the 'right thing to say'. Fortunately, there is a slow movement in the awareness of the need to support healthcare professionals to learn the communication skills they can use to have honest conversations with their patients at the end of life.
Talk which related more closely to the current OET and the updated version included:
Dr Ute Knoch of the Language Testing Research Centre, Melbourne University reported back on the OET Writing Criteria Report which is well worth reading in order to understand some of the changes in the writing sub-test happening from next year.
The post-afternoon tea sessions got down to the nitty-gritty of OET test updates. Pencils were poised to take notes. Had you been able to check out the notes I made, you would have read something like this:
- the OET is being updated next year, so that the candidates sitting the first new test will be in September, 2018
- timeline of notification of specific changes and support will roll out from early 2018
- speaking sub-test will have revised criteria - much of current focus, but criteria expressed more clearly. no change in role play format
- writing, reading and listening will be updated to reflect better the needs of stakeholders
- the OET PPP (Preparation Provider Programme) continues and is recommended to help preparation providers (a) produce high quality resources and (b) transition to updated OET
- the OET website preparation portal is well underway and provides a wealth of information for both candidates and teacher
And, now to the second day. The OET PPP Workshop.
The workshop was a great opportunity for three of us to speak about our experience of doing the PPP to become premium providers. David Wiltshire and Rebecca Bush presented the workshop, which was useful for future 'PPP-ers'...always good to be able to put a face to a name!
Speaking for myself, I felt that doing the PPP gave me a clear insight into what is needed from resource writers and teachers of OET prep courses. If I can add my views here:
- ensuring that materials have a language focus, rather than a clinical focus.
- ...but also producing materials which are near authentic, so that they will be useful in later practice
- understanding the rationales behind the structure of activities
- producing lesson plans which would guide OET teachers who may be new to the test and/or have limited or no medical background
- I was somewhat disappointed in one area, that is the lack of guidance regarding marking criteria and scoring. Dr Gad Lim gave an excellent, albeit too short explanation of how marking changes from test to test. I only wish I had been better at statistics! From what I can gather, the marking levels are set each time a test is presented, as levels of difficulty of the questions change from test to test. Whilst I think I understand all this (and I only think I do), I feel it causes a lot of stress for both candidates and OET teachers who feel they are unable to offer students guidance on their progress. I am not sure that there is a way out, because of the marking format, so I will continue to encourage candidates to ensure that they work on their communication skills forgetting about old habits of counting the number of questions they think they answered correctly.
I attended the OET Forum this year, because I wanted to ensure that I was up-to-date with anything which may affect us in the UK. I was one of the few, if not only, people attending from the UK. I brought with me some questions from our SLC teachers who are teaching OET preparation in some of the NHS Trust hospitals. I'll answer them here:
1. 'Will the OET make the test more international or will it continue to be an Australian test?' Answer: The OET has been used outside of Australia for many years and is accepted in more and more countries around the world now. The test papers themselves are revised continually and will come to reflect a wider variety of Englishes (English accents), as they are reviewed. In fact, because it is a language test, not a clinical test, there are few 'regional' terms which may cause difficulties. An example of this is the term 'bandaid' (used in Australia) and 'plaster' (used in the UK).
2. 'Will candidates wanting to work in the UK have to sit the OET in Australia? Answer: No. There are test venues in the UK already and many more opening. Note that whilst test venues may be in universities or language schools, there may not be a prep course available at the test venue.
3. Is it worth candidates sitting the OET or should they stick with IELTS? Answer: It is personal choice, as both are acceptable for registration purposes. Chris Moore (SLC) produced a helpful pdf comparing the tests. It is well worth a read.
5. Do candidates need to prepare for the OET or should they have enough knowledge from their professional background? Answer: There is a definite need for preparation for the test, as it is a language test, not a clinical test. Candidates should understand the format of the test, including timing of the sub-tests. Candidates who are unsuccessful often discover that they were unaware of the need to have reached an adequate General English level (I recommend at least B2 of the CEFR), before even preparing for the test. Also, the test is a considerable financial investment, so it's best to be as well prepared for the test as possible.