The 5 OET Speaking Criteria: 4 Effective Ways To Communicate

4 Effective Ways to Communicate using the 5 Communication Criteria in OET Speaking Image Banner

+Bonus: OET Speaking Practice Test

The OET exam is quite unique when compared to other exams, like the IELTS, TOEFL or FCE. For example, in the sense that what you communicate is not the only factor examiners will be scoring you upon. In fact, almost 40% of your score will be based on how you communicate.

This will be scored using the “5 communication criteria” which are the following:
Relationship building
Understanding and incorporating the patient’s perspective
Providing structure
Information gathering
Information giving
Some students are naturally good at doing this. Some are able to draw on their professional experience to excel in these areas. Others allow nerves to get the better of them. Then they forget some of the important aspects which successful communication rests on in a medical practitioner-patient setting.
To ensure that you do not forget, I will detail some key elements. And I will provide the four effective ways to communicate using the five communication criteria in OET Speaking. Which you should be including in your role-plays to ace the exams.

1. Always start by gathering information


This is the name of one of the communication criteria, so it is important that you do it during your role-plays.  Some students start off by immediately going into the information they have on their role cards telling the patient about their diagnosis. Before they have even asked the patient what their symptoms are.

If you do this, it becomes difficult to show that you are meeting the information-gathering criterion. You also deprive yourself of the strongest possibility of being able to understand and incorporate the patient’s perspective (another aforementioned criterion).  So, gather information at the beginning to show that you are meeting these criteria.

2. Ask open questions


When gathering information from your patient. It’s important that you don’t ask your patient yes or no questions.  Doing so does not give the patient a proper opportunity to express their view. And you’re not going to be able to gather a wide-range of information either.
Instead, allow the patient to express themselves by asking open questions.  So, for example, instead of asking: “Have you been suffering from headaches?” try asking instead “What symptoms have you been experiencing?”
That way you’ll find out if the patient has been experiencing headaches. And you’ll also find out about any other symptoms the patient’s had which you may not have been aware of.  That information can then be used when advising the patient and making a prognosis. So you are now showing you understand and are incorporating the patient’s perspective.

Check out our OET courses here, where we hold a weekly speaking mock exam group classes to practice your OET speaking skills.

3. Show that you care

Empathy is, a fundamental emotion that you must show as a medical practitioner. The examiners want to see evidence of this emotion during the exam.  One way you miss the opportunity to do this is if you remain silent as your patient is speaking.
Nothing is more disconcerting than having a conversation with someone who doesn’t show that they are listening.  At the same time, you don’t want to get into the habit of interrupting your patient as he or she is speaking.  Instead, you can show empathy in simple, non-intrusive ways by using phrases such as “Right..”, “Oh dear…”, “Of course…”, “I understand…” as the patient is telling you about their symptoms and concerns.
Other ways of doing this are by using body language cues. Such as making frequent eye-contact and nodding. To show that you are listening and understanding what the patient is expressing.  Here you’re achieving another one of those criteria. You’re building a relationship with your patient.

4. Focus on clarity


Obviously, the entirety of the exchange cannot just be you listening to your patient, at some point, you need to give your patient direction, information and advice (another one of the criteria is information giving).  When doing this, however, you must ensure that you are focussed on clarity.

You can do this by avoiding the use of technical medical language the patient is unlikely to understand, you can also do this by focussing on the final communication criterion we have yet to mention which is by providing structure.  Providing structure means that we are clear about the manner and the order in which we wish to impart information.

Instead of saying to our patient, “We need to perform an ECG, followed by a CT with bloods.” a statement which is likely to overwhelm and confuse the patient, you can literally use sequencing phrases to structure your information and make it much clearer, for example:

“There are a number of steps we need to take: firstly, we need to perform an ECG scan.

OK? Once we’ve done this, we shall need to conduct an X-ray of the affected area.  Finally, we will have to do some blood tests.  How does this sound?”

When communicating in this way, you are making it much more likely that your patient will understand the information that you are giving and you are also giving the patient an opportunity to intervene if he or she doesn’t understand.

So, there we are, all five communication criteria incorporated into four tips.  Follow them and you should enjoy communicative success come exam day.

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Hopefully this was helpful for you today and if you have any questions make sure you put them in the message box below!

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Bonus: OET speaking practice test

Look at the following questions.  In what way are they limited?
“So, are you feeling better today?”
“Are you experiencing a stiffness in your joints?”
“Would you describe your symptoms as very painful?”

Look at the previous questions again, how could you make them into open questions?

Read the following statements from a patient.  How could you show empathy in each case?
“I’ve been feeling so low lately.”
“I’m worried about the prospect of having surgery.”
“My child is so young, I get scared when she gets ill like this.”

What is wrong with the following statements? How could they be improved?
“We will need to do some blood tests to investigate possible causes,  we will need to look at the results, then we can refer you for a specialist opinion.”
“In order to lose weight, you need to look at doing more exercise and/or making key improvements to your diet.  I can also refer you to a dietitian or possibly a psychologist.”
“So, sir, you will need to administer these injections yourself.  You need to make sure that the needle is clean, that you have a predetermined site for the injection and that you have the correct measure placed in the syringe.”


They are all closed questions.
Number of possibilities including: a) “So, how are you feeling today?” b) “What sorts of sensations are you experiencing in your joints?” c) “How would you describe your symptoms?”
Number of possibilities, phrases from article and body language could be used.
There is too much information which is unstructured.  Opportunities should be given for the patient to clarify information and sequencing phrases should be used.

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