A comparison of the IELTS and OET

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) understands that the issue of demonstration of proficiency in English for nurses trained overseas is complex.

Recognition of language proficiency where nurse training has been undertaken by nationals from predominantly English speaking countries, and where accredited courses are delivered in English, is usually straight forward. In all other cases, the Nursing Council of New Zealand (NCNZ) require overseas applicants to demonstrate their ability to communicate in, and comprehend English. The assessment of requirement of evidence of proficiency is made on an individual basis for each applicant for nursing registration, and depends on nationality, and where people have lived, trained and worked. Currently NCNZ accept:

a) an academic IELTS assessment with a minimum score of 7.0 for each band: reading, listening, writing and speaking, OR

b) the Occupational English Test (OET) with a B band in each section.

There are significant differences between the two. IELTS, developed originally in 1989 by Cambridge ESOL, is the International English Language Testing System. It is a generic test, measuring ability to communicate in English across all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking – and was designed for people who intend to study or work where English is the language of communication. More than 6,000 education institutions, faculties, government agencies and professional organisations around the world now recognise IELTS scores as a valid indicator of the ability to communicate in English. Over 940,000 people a year across 120 countries take the IELTS test.

The Occupational English Test (OET) is a language test for overseas qualified health professionals and is administered by the OET Centre six times a year and in over 40 locations around the world. The Test assesses the English language proficiency as it is used in medical and health professions. The OET Centre originally developed the test under contract to the Australian Federal Government, and is supported by the University of Melbourne’s Language Testing Research Centre.

The Test measures the language competency of health professionals who are seeking registration and the ability to practice in an English-speaking context. It is designed to ensure that language competency is assessed in a relevant professional context. Currently, Currently the OET provides specific tests for the following professions: Dentistry, Pharmacy, Dietetics, Podiatry, Medicine, Physiotherapy, Radiography, Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology, Optometry and Veterinary Science, in addition to Nursing.





Fees $295 AU$587
Availability Widely available A total of eight test centres in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Frequency Fortnightly Fortnightly (24 administrations in both 2021 and 2022)
Other Full re-sit required if any of the 4 papers are failed Can re-sit any of the 4 papers individually


1st time pass rates for OET (Applying to nurse in Australia, 1989-1995) by country of origin:

  • Philippines : 41%
  • Hong Kong: 50%
  • India: 55%
  • Former Yugoslavia: 35%
  • Fiji: 70%

Pass rates for nurses taking IELTS by country of test or origin are harder to ascertain, web-based sources giving ranges of 30-70%, and average numbers of tests required to pass ranging from 1.5 - 2.9.

Recent research (O’Neill et al 2007) recommended the development of a nursing specific IELTS, in order to “produce a legally defensible passing standard on the test”.

Further information

Prof Lesleyanne Hawthorne (OET widely pulished)

Contact Details

Position: Professor, Honorary (Fellow)
Email: l.hawthorne@unimelb.edu.au
Homepage: http://www.mdhs.unimelb.edu.au/aboutus/structure/admin/fiu/hawthorne.html
Phone: +61 8344 9132

Recommending a Nursing-Specific Passing Standard for the IELTS Examination

Authors: Thomas R. O'Neill a; Chad W. Buckendahl b; Barbara S. Plake b; Lynda Taylor c


a) National Council of State Boards of Nursing,

b) Buros Center for Testing, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA

c) University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, UK

Published: Language Assessment Quarterly, Volume 4, Issue 4 September 2007 , pages 295 - 317