Improving OET Reading Skills: Tips for Scanning

improving oet reading

Improving OET Reading skills by scanning is an extremely important skill for your test and also for any sort of reading you have to conduct in general. It involves passing your eyes over a text rapidly in search of specific information which will allow you to find out what you need.

Imagine, for example, that you want to watch TV or go to the cinema, so you pick up a listings guide to see what’s on. Are you going to read the entire guide from 6 am to 10 pm? From Monday to Sunday? From the 1st of the month all the way to the 31st? Of course not, that would be absurd. You will focus on the specific time of the specific day that you are concerned with.

When you do this, you are scanning. You’re eliminating all of the information which does not concern you in order to focus on the information which is most relevant to your needs. Just as you would do this with a TV guide, it is extremely important to do this within the context of OET reading. Many questions in the exam will require the ability to isolate specific bits of information; namely, the ability to scan. In this article, I will share some tips on how you can approach this skill most successfully.

1. Identify exactly what it is that you require

In order to scan effectively, you need to know exactly what it is that you are scanning for. Think about the analogy above. You cannot successfully find a TV programme or movie to watch if you don’t know what time and date you are available to watch it. In the context of OET reading, this means being aware of exactly what information the question requires. Let’s look at this question from reading part A of the OET exam on the topic of fractures, dislocations and sprains. What information do you need to scan for?

“Which parts of a limb may need extra padding?”

It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? You need to find information about the different parts of a limb, so you should expect vocabulary relating to the body, particularly the bones and joints, and you need to find out which of these parts needs extra support or padding. The fact that padding is mentioned should indicate that you are likely to find this information in a text which focuses on treating the fracture, dislocation or sprain. With this clear idea in your mind, you can begin your search for the information you need.

2. Eliminate what you don’t need, quickly!

Scanning is often a process of elimination. By eliminating the texts or the parts of a text you don’t need, you can focus on what you do need much more effectively. For example, with OET reading part A, you have four texts which you have to navigate in order to answer specific information questions such as the following:

“What is the maximum dose of morphine per kilo of a patient’s weight that can be given using the intramuscular (IM) route?”

The first thing you want to be thinking about here is how you can eliminate three of the four texts in order to focus on the specific text you need. This is where the other important skill of scanning comes in, where you read the texts for the main ideas in order to make logical predictions as to what sort of information each text will contain (for more information on skimming, read our previous article on Tips for Skimming).

Once you’ve done this, you want to continue eliminating information you don’t need. To put this into practice, have a look at the following text. Can you see which part of the text is going to help you answer the question above?

improving OET reading skills 

Hopefully, by scanning the text, you found IM mentioned in “Route of administration” and then saw, placed next to it, “a max of 10mg”. The answer, therefore, will be: 10mg. So, by scanning for the information you need, you avoid reading three out of the four texts, and you also avoid reading 90% of the text which contains the answer. This is how you answer questions quickly, which is extremely important, bearing in mind the time-limit for OET reading part A in particular.

3. Expect to encounter paraphrasing

Finding the answers to many of the questions in the OET exam requires the ability to successfully recognise paraphrasing, particularly when it comes to parts B and C of the OET reading exam. It is not enough to scan the texts looking for the exact keywords that are used in the questions; you have to be prepared to recognise synonyms and antonyms of those keywords.

You have to be prepared to recognise different grammatical classes of words or changes in grammatical structure, from passive voice to active voice, for example, or paraphrasing from a verb phrase to a noun phrase. Look at this question from OET reading part B and then scan the text to try to find the answer. How is the information in the question paraphrased in the text?

A preview sample about Right patient and Right Blood Assessments

So, what did you get as the answer? Hopefully, you selected A as this is paraphrased in the text as highlighted below:

improving oet reading

So, to break this down: “check” from the question becomes “ensure” in the text; “existing training” becomes “competency assessment”; “is still valid” becomes “is updated every three years”.

As demonstrated above, we only actually need to isolate one sentence in the above text in order to answer the question successfully. Therefore, if we are able to recognise the use of synonyms and paraphrasing, then we will be able to operate our scanning skills more effectively.

Improving OET Reading Practice:

1. Look at the following question, what information will you need to scan for? What kind of text would you expect to find the information in?

“What condition may develop on the third day after an overdose?”

2. Look at the following text and scan it to find the answer to the above question. How quickly were you able to find the answer? Was the answer paraphrased? In what way?

improving oet reading

3. Look at the following questions and scan the above text to find the answers. Try to do this in no more than two minutes:

• Which condition may lead to acute liver failure?
• For how long may patients remain without symptoms following an overdose?
• What substance can both raise and inhibit the patient’s ability to produce NAPQI?

Underline the parts of the text where you found the answers. What were the examples of paraphrasing?

4. Read and answer the following question. Underline the part of the text where you found the answer.

improving oet reading


1. A, likely serious, condition related to the overdose which will develop if the overdose is not treated for 3 days. The text will likely be focused on the background and risks associated with the overdose.

2. Answer: Renal failure. Paraphrase: “around day three”

3. A) Hepatic necrosis B) (the first) 24 hours C) alcohol

Paraphrasing involved changing the order of the information in the sentences and using synonyms such as “without symptoms” instead of “asymptomatic”.

4. Answer: B found in sentences: “…it will not always be the case that a chaperone is required. It is often a question of using professional judgement to assess an individual situation.”

We hope you found these tips for improving your OET Reading skills helpful! And we invite you to check out our YouTube guides where we discuss the different sections of the OET exam in greater detail.


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