OET writing: The complete guide

At Swoosh English we care deeply about our students and we want nothing more than for you to achieve your goals. Writing in English under exam conditions is always a challenge, and the OET Writing Test is no exception. However, there is no need to worry. By breaking down the challenge into several achievable tasks, you will soon see a great improvement in your writing quality and in your confidence. This OET writing complete guide provides you the OET writing tips you need to become an expert letter writer, and, as a result, be able to pass the test with the score you need.

Content Page:

  1. What is the OET Writing Test?
  2. Simulation versus reality.
  3. Analysing the Case Notes.
  4. Planning your letter.
  5. Formatting the letter.
  6. The introduction.
  7. The main body paragraphs.
  8. Make the reading experience easy for the reader.
  9. OET writing: Avoid common language mistakes.
  10. Be a better learner.
  11. OET checklist – The day of the test.
  12. Swoosh English is here to help you.


How To Pass the Test:


What is the OET Writing Test?

Similar to the Speaking section, the content of the OET Writing test is dependent on which Occupational Health professional you are. You can be a vet, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, or pharmacist and many more besides, but the most common professionals taking the test are nurses and doctors. Whatever health care job you have, you will be provided with a set of case notes that are typical, practical and easily understood by those in your profession. Your task will be to use those notes to write a letter to a fellow professional. The most frequent type of task given is to write a referral letter although the writing of discharge, transfer and even advice letters are also possible.

On the day of the exam, you will be given 5 minutes to read the case notes and then a further 40 minutes to complete the letter. The tone should be professionally formal and informative. The main idea is to communicate what the issue with the patient is and what you want the reader of the letter to do about it. Your professional knowledge can help you analyse the notes, but you are not expected to add any information or knowledge from your own experience. You should only communicate what is relevant in the notes, nothing more.

Simulation versus reality

The OET Writing test is not abstract. It is not a hypothetical situation on a subject that you may never have considered before, as is often the case in exams like IELTS. Although the patient in the case notes is not real, he or she easily could be. The OET examiners have used real conditions and use real information based on real, practical, professional experiences. You aren’t really writing a letter to a fellow professional, but it is as close a simulation to that experience as possible. That means your letter has to be a very close simulation to a professional letter.

On the other hand, you are also writing to an examiner, who, similar to the OET Speaking test, is playing the role of the reader. That means 2 things. Firstly, they expect to see this simulation of a real, professional letter, but, secondly, they also expect you to show them your level of English ability. Therefore, you need to find a balance between displaying both professional and English efficiency.

Analysing the Case Notes

Case notes, especially long ones, can appear at first glance to be very difficult to understand. They are a long list of dates, symptoms, treatments and outcomes all written in note form, which is a challenging form of English to read. So, how do you deal with them?

  1. Find out who the patient is.
  2. Identify the pain health issue.
  3. Go down to the bottom of the page and check who you are writing to.
  4. (Depending on your profession) Check if it is an urgent case.
  5. Imagine you are writing directly to the other professional (the reader), think about what he/she needs and doesn’t need to know.
  6. Quickly scan through the notes and cross out (cross out) anything that is irrelevant for the reader.
  7. Quickly read through the notes again and highlight (highlight) or underline (underline) anything that is important for the reader to know.
  8. Think about the most logical and useful order to write the information in. Always think about the reader when you do this.
  9. Write a number next to each group of information. (1) for the first thing you are going to write about, (2) for the second and so on.


Planning your letter

I know lots of students don’t like the idea of ‘wasting’ time planning, but this can’t be said strongly enough: PLANNING WILL HELP YOU PASS!!! It really is that important and is never a waste of time. We recommend that you spend around the first five minutes of the 40 planning your letter. Briefly write out, in note form, what information is going to be in each paragraph. The following sections of this guide will help you to be able to structure your plan correctly.

Formatting the letter

Remember you are simulating a real, professional letter, so it should look like one too. That means you need to include the following in this order:

  • Address (in the top left of the page)
  • Date
  • Greeting (Dear Sir/Madam or Title + Name)
  • Reference (RE: Patient’s name + D.O.B.)
  • Introduction paragraph
  • Main body paragraphs
  • Polite ending (‘If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me’ or equivalent).
  • Ending (Yours sincerely/faithfully followed by a name).


The introduction

There are 3 main elements that you need in every introduction, no matter what type of letter you are writing. By including these, you are starting the letter by clearly communicating with the reader what the letter is about and what you want them to do about it.

The 3 elements:

  • Purpose (I am writing to refer Mr Smith…)
  • Main Health Issue (, who has been diagnosed with COPD,…)
  • Request (for your further assessment and management.)

*Please note, if the case is urgent, make that clear in the first sentence. (I am writing to urgently refer Ms Johnson…)

The main body paragraphs

This is one of the most difficult parts of OET letter writing; in which order should you organise the relevant information you have selected? The answer is to have in mind a clear structure to follow, no matter the type of letter of the content of the case notes.

Order of main body paragraphs:

  1. The most recent information (Usually ‘Today’).
  2. A summary of the previous case presentations.
  3. Social / Medical history.
  4. Outcomes (what you want the reader to do).

The only exception to this would be an advice letter.

  1. The current problem
  2. What happened previously
  3. Advice

Make the reading experience easy for the reader

You want the reader (the examiner/fellow professional) to easily understand what you are communicating. To do that, it is essential to make your letter cohesive. That means using a combination of dates, linking words and linking phrases.

It goes without saying that the correct dates will help the reader understand the severity and duration of the patient’s condition, plus the recovery and the effectiveness of any treatment. Linking words are a good way of showing addition and contrast inside a paragraph but be careful not to overuse them. Only use linking words when you want to add something very different or show an obvious contrasting piece of information. Using linking phrases is a natural way to guide the reader through your letter. Each paragraph should either begin with a date ( or time) or linking phrases.

Here are some examples for the beginnings of each paragraph in a letter:

  • (Introduction paragraph) I’m writing to refer…
  • (Main paragraph 1) Today, the patient was admitted…
  • (Main paragraph 2) The patient first presented on 14.02.17 with…
  • (Main paragraph 3) In terms of the patient’s medical history,…
  • (Main paragraph 4) In view of the above,…


OET writing: Avoiding common language mistakes

As the OET Writing test is also a language test, there are, of course, common language mistakes that students often make. Please check out Swoosh English’s OET writing tips (click on the links below) to see what those mistakes are. You should identify which ones you make and avoid them in the future.

Be a better learner

Swoosh English is here to help you pass with OET writing tips at every stage. However, it is a fact that the most successful students are the ones that also take responsibility for their own learning as well. That means several things.

  1. Make your own mini-OET dictionary. Every time you learn a new word through case notes, classes, blogs and corrections, write them down in a notebook or in a computer document like this.


WordTypeMeaning / SynonymTranslationExample
UndergoVerbDo / Carry out a procedureSometerse (Spanish)The patient underwent a colonoscopy on 6/11/18.


  1. Take responsibility for your mistakes. You should analyse the corrections and comments your teachers give you, and, instead of simply ignoring them and writing your next letter quickly, you should be clear WHY you have made those mistakes before you write the next letter. Doing that will mean you are more likely to improve your scores and pass the test.



You can use the link to the Self-Reflection form below to help you which paid Swoosh English students will find in our courses. Check out our courses here: www.swooshenglish.com

  1. Be realistic and be honest with yourself. If you are not consistently getting the scores you need, then do not take the exam yet because you are not ready to. Instead, use the help of the Swoosh English classes and resources to improve. Once you start to get the scores you need, not just once, but consistently, you will be ready to not only sit the OET Writing test but pass it with the desired score.
  2. Practice writing under exam conditions. Not immediately, because it is more important to work on quality at first rather than speed. However, once your level of ability is sufficiently high, you should start writing your letters under exam conditions. The following is a recommended schedule.
  • 5 minutes reading and analysing the case notes.
  • 5 minutes planning your letter.
  • 30 minutes writing it (quickly checking each sentence after you finish them).
  • 5 minutes to check for relevant content and language mistakes.


OET writing checklist – The day of the test

    1. .
  1. Be calm. Be confident. If you are sitting in the exam, it is because you have already done the hard work and you have already demonstrated that you can get the scores you need on a regular basis.
  2. Open up the case note and take a deep breath.
  3. Who is the patient?
  4. What is the patient’s main issue(s)?
  5. Who am I writing to?
  6. What does the reader need to know?
  7. What is it unnecessary to tell the reader?
  8. Underline, highlight and order.
  9. Start your plan.
  10. What do I need to make it look like a letter?
  11. What should be in the introduction – purpose / problem / request?
  12. In what order should the main paragraphs be in?
  13. Start writing.
  14. Use your plan and the highlighted notes to write each sentence. After finishing each sentence, quickly check it for accuracy of content, vocabulary and grammar.
  15. Make sure you end the letter in an appropriate way.
  16. Use the last 5 minutes to read through the letter, thinking about the reader.
  17. Would the reader understand it and know what to do next?
  18. Is the content accurate and relevant?
  19. Is the language appropriate and accurate?
  20. Take another deep breath. You have finished. Well done.


Swoosh English is here to help you

Swoosh English has a vast amount of OET writing tips, resources of live classes, videos, correction services, blogs and articles and a team of highly trained professionals for you to use.

If you have any doubts, any questions or need any further guidance, please contact us.

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