26 January 2012

Understanding research


To score well on OET reading it is useful to understand research concepts first.

An 'abstract' (from a study or report) looks something like this:
Objective: "To investigate/ assess/ identify/ etc..."
Design (or 'methods'): meta-analysis/ systematic review/ randomised control trial/ cohort study/ etc...
Setting: eg. a large teaching hospital in New South Wales, Australia
Participants: eg. 600 males diagnosed with myocardial infarction over the period 2006-2008
Results (or 'findings'): eg. Compared to group A, group B had higher levels of/ lower risk of...
Conclusions: eg. The results of this study may be due to... Alternatively, they may be due to... Our analysis suggests that the former explanation better fits the data, though considerable uncertainty remains. 
 A few examples will help you get used to abstracts. Have a look at the BMJ and the JAMA.

As well as abstracts, part A of the reading section contains a few other text types, as below. These are easier to understand than the abstract, but the more you practise skim-reading for information, the faster you will get.

A 'literature review' looks something like this:
Smith and Jones (2004) conducted a study to determine if... They found... However, a recent re-analysis of their data by Brown et al (2011) has disputed this finding. Similarly, Walker's 2009 study appears to support Brown et al's conclusions.

A 'case study' looks like this:
Case 1: "Sue" had been experiencing a stabbing pain in her upper abdomen for a fortnight before she presented to her GP. ...
Have a look at some more at the NEJM.

A 'research brief' looks like this:
Research brief on health effects of tobacco smoke in the USA
-About 500,000 deaths per year in the United States are attributed to smoking-related diseases.
-Male and female smokers lose on average 13.2 and 14.5 years of life respectively.
-It is estimated that passive smoking was responsible for 35,000 to 40,000 deaths per year in the USA in the early 1980s.
[these statistics are from Wikipedia]

19 January 2012



If you're not used to full-speed English, it can be hard to catch what is being said, especially the details. The Better Health Channel podcasts are slow and easy, but the real test is fast. You need to practise understanding fast speech, such as Health Report or Dr Karl.

To get used to full-speed speech, try this:
  1. download Quicktime (link on the right),
  2. open your podcast / MP3 / video / etc with Quicktime,
  3. go to 'A/V controls',
  4. slow down the 'playback speed'.

Now you can slow down any sections that are too fast for you. When you listen to the hard bits more slowly, you can often work out why they sounded hard (what combinations of words or sounds made them hard).

Now you can (hopefully) understand it, play the section again at full speed. Try to imitate the full-speed version and get your ears used to how it sounds. 

12 January 2012

Speaking - get real!

You don't learn a language, you get used to it.

I'll say that again: you don't learn a language, you get used to it. You get used to how native speakers talk. You get used to the phrases native speakers use. You get used to the way native speakers use words and their intonation and accents. And you get used to using those words, phrases, accents and intonation yourself.

Most of my best students, who spoke the most natural English, learnt their English from TV shows, films, songs, radio shows and magazines. That's where the real spoken language is.

Give it a try. TV shows, films, songs, radio shows, magazines. Don't worry about understanding everything. Listen and imitate. Read and imitate. The more often you do this, the more you'll get used to it! Simple, right?

How about this to start? Neighbours (Australian TV soap)
If you're not in Australia, you can watch episodes on YouTube here.

Yes, it will make your spoken English better for the OET. Yes, it will also make you better at expressing yourself and talking to people after the OET. Yes, it will also make your English learning far more interesting and enjoyable! Go do it now!

05 January 2012

How to boil water

Here's a thought to start your New Year:

Learning a language is like boiling water.* High heat for a moment then a long period of no heat makes very poor tea. To boil water you have to apply constant heat - even on a low heat, constantly.

Make a little time each day to keep your water getting hotter, and your language skills constantly improving.

*the insightful metaphor from All Japanese All The Time

29 December 2011

#1 listening tip

The absolute most important tip for OET listening is... first know your subject well.

The better your knowledge of your subject (medical knowledge, nursing knowledge, pharmacology knowledge, dentistry knowledge, etc), the easier it will be to understand the listening article. And the easier it is to understand the listening article, the easier it is to do well on that section.

Expand and deepen your knowledge and you will find the listening easier. For most OET topics, the Better Health Channel and a good standard textbook on your subject (in English) are two excellent places to start.

22 December 2011

Online OET listening


Why do people chose the OET (Occupational English Test) rather than the more popular IELTS (International English Language Testing System)?

One major reason is because overall the OET is 'easier'.

Except for the listening.

OET listening requires very fast understanding and very fast note-taking. To get good at these skills, you need to practise them... a lot.

Here are some of the best places to practise your OET-style listening:

OET home
The OET website sells practice materials.
  • expensive
  • you don't get much for your money: eg. 'Practice Materials, Listening, 2010' is 3 full listening tests (parts A&B) and their transcripts
  • the most realistic practice for the OET test
Many learners buy these materials with friends to keep the price down. If you're in Australia or New Zealand, you might find them in your local college/university library.

Better Health Channel
  • slow talking speed
  • useful topics (read the 'conditions & treatments' articles to improve your understanding of these topics, ready for the OET test) 
  • these MP3s will help you recognise the Australian pronunciation of the condition/treatment names

Health Report and Health Minute (iTunes)
  • Norman Swan doesn't have an Australian accent - though based in Australia, he's originally Scottish. 
  • he talks clearly
  • the topics are modern and of interest to health professionals like you
Broaden your knowledge of modern health topics while you improve your health-related English.

NHMRC (iTunes)
The 'National Health and Medical Research Council' funds health research all around Australia. These podcasts interview NHMRC researchers and visiting health professionals about their research and its implications.
  • a lot of technical medical vocabulary
  • interesting research
  • if you can understand this level of medical English, you're doing great!

Dr Karl (iTunes)
  • Dr Karl talks fast
  • only a few questions in each show are health-related (fast-forward the others)
  • great practice of understanding fast speech
  • the health topics that come up are interesting and often funny

15 December 2011

Best online OET resource?


There are a lot of possible health topics that could come up in the OET test. So where can you learn enough each of them to get a good mark on the test?

The best place to start is the Better Health Channel.

It's based in Melbourne, just like the OET. More importantly, according to friends who have taken the OET several times, this site covers every OET topic so far.

Yes, that's a lot of topics, but reading through the 'conditions & treatments' articles and listening to the videos and MP3s will really help you understand more quickly and easily in the real test.