4 Common Errors in OET Writing and How To Avoid Them

+Bonus: OET writing practice test

 

When writing your OET letters, there are a number of considerations you have to bear in mind in order to ensure you score as highly as possible. There are grammatical considerations, considerations of organisation, spelling, formality and more.

 

We have spent a lot of time correcting responses to OET writing and there are a number of errors that we have seen repeated time and again, which, with a little bit more awareness and attention, could be easily avoided.

 

Therefore, in this article, we will focus on some of these errors and provide some guidance which will very likely help to improve your writing. Here are the 4 common errors in OET writing and how to avoid them:

 

1. Punctuating your first paragraph:

 

The first paragraph, as I’m sure many of you will know, ought to focus directly and immediately on the reason your letter is being written. For example, you’re writing to a surgeon due to a worsening case of arthritis. The error I often see here, however, is with punctuation. Consider the following response, what is the punctuation error?

 

I am writing to refer the above-mentioned patient who has worsening osteoarthritis for a possible knee-joint replacement.

 

Did you get it? In order to answer the question, you need to first recognise the fact that this sentence includes a lot of information, so much so that we need punctuation to establish which part of it is the main focus of the sentence and which part of it is additional, albeit important, information. We can establish this via the use of commas, like so:

 

I am writing to refer the above-mentioned patient, who has worsening osteoarthritis, for a possible knee-joint replacement.

 

Now you can see that the information highlighted in commas is the additional part of the sentence. It could be removed and the sentence would still make sense and contain its main idea, it would just lack the extra information, which the use of commas allows us to provide. Another way the sentence could have been written is like so:

 

I am writing to refer the above-mentioned patient for a possible knee-joint replacement. She has a worsening case of osteoarthritis.

 

These two sentences would be grammatically correct but they have the disadvantage of requiring two sentences to say what it is possible to say in just one. So, by using our commas correctly, we can link ideas and still maintain clarity.

 

2. Errors using small numbers:

 

Another common error in OET writing comes with the use of small numbers. Let’s take another example, see if, this time, you can spot two errors:

The patient presented with a 2 weeks history of migraines.

 

How did we do? Well, the first and most obvious error here is with the use of the number “2” rather than the word “two”. In formal writing, we ought to use words rather than numbers when the numbers are small, so, basically, any number from one to ninety-nine ought to be written as a word. Numbers from 100 and above can be written as a number.

 

This is a convention you ought to follow in your OET letters. The second error comes with the use of “weeks” rather than what it should be: “week”. This is because “two-week” should be linked as an adjectival phrase rather than being seen as two separate words.

 

As an adjectival phrase, they have the function of qualifying the noun “history” and when a number is being used as an adjective, it should be directly linked to the adjective which follows. Since “week” is also an adjective in this sentence, it should not be pluralised; so, our sentence ought to look like this:

 

The patient presented with a two-week history of migraines.

 

The small number has now been correctly written as a word and it has been linked to the following adjective.

 

 

 

3. Including medical history too early:

 

This is a common error I see. According to the OET writing guidelines, your letters should be structured to include the most relevant information at the beginning. Consider the following case, what problems could it cause for the reader?

 

I am writing to refer the above named patient, with the preliminary diagnosis of type two diabetes mellitus, into your care for further evaluation and treatment.

 

Mr. Collister is married and works as a factory foreman. On his visit, three months back, he was advised about lifestyle modification due to his raised BMI of 30 and his susceptibility to osteoarthritis.

 

The issue here is with cohesion. Think about it, the first paragraph focuses on the principal issue, which is type two diabetes, and then the second paragraph goes on to focus on osteoarthritis.

 

This is confusing for the reader as no logical link is being provided between the first and second paragraphs. If the medical history is directly relevant to the referring case then, yes, include it early in the letter but if it is essentially operating as background to the main issue, include it later in the letter to avoid confusing the reader.

 

4. Ending your letter with the second conditional:

 

A final bit of medical English grammar to finish here. It is very often the case that students will end their OET letters using a second conditional structure. This is a very good idea but the issue is that they often use the second conditional incorrectly. Let’s look at a final example:

 

I would be grateful if you advise her on her diet and help her with her activities of daily living.

 

So, what’s the problem here? Well, let’s look at the structure. So we have a “would” clause at the beginning of the sentence and we have an “if” clause following it. “Would” + “if” = a second conditional sentence and, in a second conditional sentence, we should be using the past tense forms of the verbs. So, it should look like this:

 

I would be grateful if you advised her on her diet and helped her with her activities of daily living.

 

Now, you don’t have to be a grammar expert, necessarily, to get this right. Just remember that “would” + “if” = past tense verb forms, and you will be fine. The second conditional is a very common way of making a polite request, so it is worth getting it right.

 

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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!

Bonus: OET writing practice test

 

Look at the following letter and highlight examples of the errors mentioned above.

 

Dear Dr Russell

 

Re Tim Langham, DOB 1.8.1987

 

I am writing to you regarding your patient Mr Tim Langham who attended today for dietary advice. As you know, he presents with symptoms and test results suggestive of pernicious anaemia which requires IM B12 treatment.

Mr Langham had a 3 years history of migraines which he complained of during his studies at college. He has not presented with this complaint recently, however.

He is a vegetarian of 7 years duration who has been suffering from weight loss, mood changes such as irritability and depression, and aggressive behaviour. Blood tests reveal B12 deficiency. His haemoglobin and B12 are low, red cells show an increased mean cell volume, and ferritin and serum iron are at the low end of normal. His BMI is still within the normal range, despite his recent weight loss.

As his diet is deficient in vitamin B12 and obviously contains inadequate iron, I have advised Tim of the need for continuing with IM injections of B12 to correct this problem, and given him advice on the vegetarian dietary sources of B12 and iron. I suggested combining his iron-containing foods with vitamin C-containing foods to enhance iron absorption. However, Tim is reluctant to make any alterations to his diet which he believes is good.

I will review him in two weeks, and would be grateful if you contact him regarding the B12 injections.

Thank you for your ongoing management of this patient.

Yours sincerely,

XXX

Now write your own OET letter. Check the article again to make sure that you have avoided the common errors.

 

Answer

Dear Dr Russell

 

Re Tim Langham, DOB 1.8.1987

 

I am writing to you regarding your patient Mr Tim Langham, who attended today for dietary advice. As you know, he presents with symptoms and test results suggestive of pernicious anaemia, which requires IM B12 treatment.

He is a vegetarian of seven years duration who has been suffering from weight loss, mood changes such as irritability and depression, and aggressive behaviour. Blood tests reveal B12 deficiency. His haemoglobin and B12 are low, red cells show an increased mean cell volume, and ferritin and serum iron are at the low end of normal. His BMI is still within the normal range, despite his recent weight loss.

As his diet is deficient in vitamin B12 and obviously contains inadequate iron, I have advised Tim of the need for continuing with IM injections of B12 to correct this problem, and given him advice on the vegetarian dietary sources of B12 and iron. I suggested combining his iron-containing foods with vitamin C-containing foods to enhance iron absorption. However, Tim is reluctant to make any alterations to his diet, which he believes is good.

Mr Langham had a three-year history of migraines which he complained of during his studies at college. He has not presented with this complaint recently, however. (THIS PARAGRAPH COULD BE OMITTED ENTIRELY AS IT HAS LITTLE RELEVANCE TO THE REST OF THE LETTER)

 

I will review him in two weeks, and would be grateful if you contacted him regarding the B12 injections.

 

Thank you for your ongoing management of this patient.

 

Yours sincerely,

XXX

 

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