One of the important skills you need to have is the ability to listen for specific words and phrases. 24 marks out of 42 are based on being able to use this skill when completing those patients’ notes for part A.

But how can we improve our ability to pick out the information we need? In this article, I will share some ways in which you can improve your listening skills. In this area both before and during the exam to help you achieve a higher overall score in your OET listening.

1. Practise listening to a variety of accents:


Naturally you should do this as part of your listening preparation before the OET exam. As they will include a range of accents from Australian to British to American and so on. To help improve your ability to pick out the specific words you need. You must be able to follow how these words will be pronounced and articulated.

Imagine, for example, that the words you needed to understand to complete part of the notes were “water heater”. The pronunciation of this phrase would not be the same for British and an American speaker. A Brit would likely say “wortah heetah”. Whereas an American “wahder heeder”. So if you are not comfortable with both accents. You could end up losing marks as a result of not recognising an alternative pronunciation.

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2. Remember that words do not always have boundaries:


Something that often confuses non-native listeners of English is the fact that two words may be spoken as if they were one. For example, the phrase “old age”. Even though it is written as two separate words, would, innatural speech, be said as “oldage”. Without any obvious pause between the two words. This is because, in spoken English, words which end with a consonant automatically link onto words which begin with a vowel. So, for the untrained ear, it seems as if only one word has been spoken. When, in fact, two or even more may have been said.

Try listening now to any clip of native speaker discourse and you will notice how often this happens. So, when you’re listening to recordings for the OET exam. It’s important that you’re able to recognise when what sounds like one word is actually more than that to make sure that you are accurately reporting the information you have heard.

3. Make predictions:


This is something you should be doing in the exam itself, you can of course practise doing this in the form of mock exams too. Check out our OET mock exams here. When you look at the set of notes in front of you, you will see that you have a lot of information which is already completed. The specific word or phrase which you need to complete will be linked to the information which has been provided. So, in the case of this example from a practice OET test: “pain located in ……….” there are a limited number of possibilities in terms of how this phrase may be completed. Thinking logically, we have to be referring to a place where pain can be felt, so it’s going to be part of the body. Knowing that you have to listen out for a specific body part at this stage will help you to focus your attention on the information you will need. If you hear the patient starting to talk about his “aching arms”, you can feel pretty confident you have the answer.

4. Use the notes as a guide


Linked to the above point, the notes aren’t there just to help you in terms of making logical predictions, they are also there to guide you through the dialogue so that you don’t get lost as you listen. Use the notes for this purpose. Each time the patient speaks, you should expect to be filling the gaps but use the doctor’s voice as a way of navigating through the different sections of the notes from, for example:

Describing the patient’s symptoms to
Talking about the patient’s occupation to
The initial treatments the patient has had and so on. If you do this, it will help you follow the conversation more easily and it will also help to ensure that you stay focused on the information you need.

5. Don’t try to understand every word


Some people stress themselves in trying to do this, but OET listening part A is testing your ability to pick out the specific word or phrase which you need to complete the notes, it is not testing your ability to listen to and understand every single word uttered. There are sections of the dialogue which will not provide you with answers to the gaps, if you don’t follow exactly what is going on there, try not to worry about it and just make sure that you get what you need as you listen. You’ve made your predictions, the notes are guiding you, you hear that all important word or phrase, you complete it. Everything that you may miss in-between, you can regard as in consequential.



Hopefully this was helpful for you today and please practice these tips as part of your preparation for your OET exam.

If you’re planning to take the OET exam, we’ve got live group classes, speaking mock exam classes, video courses and writing corrections as part of our OET packages. You can click here to learn more: Swoosh English OET Courses

If you have any questions, make sure you put them in the message box below!

Need to check your current English level? Sign up for our FREE mini mock exam for reading and listening with automated results!



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