“So you think you can speak English?” - how to avoid the IELTS trap

We have brought enough doctors into Australia and New Zealand to anticipate most of the hurdles that they will face as they make their way through the regulatory process.

No step is more underestimated, despite our advice, for its ability to throw a spanner in the works than the English language test, IELTS. For those that need to do this test let me warn you... this is by far the most likely reason that you will not be coming when you expect to - if ever.

So why should that be?

Firstly, the test is much tougher than most people think. The bands appear to get exponentially harder - i.e. the difference between bands 6 and 7 is much greater than the difference between bands 1 and 2, and given that 7 (sometimes 7.5) is typically the lowest acceptable score for a doctor, this is of great relevance to our applicants.

Also, don’t think that being great at conversational English alone will get you through. You need to be consistently high on all 4 modalities - listening, reading, writing and speaking. Drop below the pass mark on any level...? Fail!

Many of our candidates, on hearing that IELTS will be a requirement, are somewhat taken aback, or even offended. As such they mentally dismiss it as a serious impediment and therefore don't apply themselves to preparation. This often proves to be a show-stopping mistake.

Some doctors know someone who has passed IELTS whom they consider to be an inferior English scholar to themselves. However, beware the difference between the general and the academic test - the latter is much harder and the only one relevant for doctors.

You may have practiced medicine for many years in an English speaking country without problem, but don’t assume that the subject matter of the test will be familiar to you. How would you go on topics like “crocodile farming”, “ballroom dancing” and “archeology”? Certainly don’t expect anything clinical.

All of the above contribute to a general false sense of security that many doctors fall into about IELTS but my simple advice on how to pass IELTS can be summarised in three words:


Practice, Practice, Practice

There is no doubt that the biggest contributing factor to success is good exam technique. You may not improve your English much studying for IELTS but you can certainly improve your understanding of how the test works and therefore both anticipate your level and increase your likelihood of success.

So don’t leave this crucial step in the regulatory process to chance. You can re-sit IELTS but, in our experience, the chances that your employer will wait the six to nine months for you to (possibly) pass next time are limited. Better to get it right the first time.


Note: Finding test material for IELTS online is no problem. Just type "IELTS" into your search engine and take you pick. The IELTS website itself is a good place to start: www.ielts.org

Dr John Bethell

Director, Wavelength International

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Post your comment


  • Zuzi 29/04/2013 9:06pm (5 years ago)

    Practice, paractice, it is the only way to go. I have for some time and still found the test to be soooo hard. Passed it with v. good results but certainly it was not easy. Good luck everyone

  • ioannis psomiadis 30/04/2013 5:08am (5 years ago)

    How about posting a small example test,close to the ELTS so as we can get the picture?

  • jbethell66 30/04/2013 6:08pm (5 years ago)

    Try this link for test exams:


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