The “New” OET Writing Subtest: What Exactly Is Changing?

 + Bonus Review Questions for the new OET writing criteria



As I’m sure many of you have heard by now, as of 3rd August this year, changes are coming in relation to the OET Writing Subtest. What may not be clear, however, is exactly what those changes will be and how they will affect future test-takers.


In this article, I will look at exactly what is and, most crucially, isn’t changing in relation to the OET Writing subtest, in order to help reassure and support those of you who have been preparing diligently using the current format.


What isn’t changing


Let’s look at what isn’t changing first of all as the good news is that, in the main part, the subtest is going to remain almost exactly the same. The exam task will remain the same, candidates will have to write a formal letter, usually a referral letter, using a set of case notes, which they will have five minutes to read.

Candidates will then have forty minutes to write their letters. You will still be expected to write full sentences, you will still not be expected to use note form and you will still be expected to use a letter format. The task will neither be more difficult nor easier than it is currently, as it is not actually changing. The skills being tested are the same as before and the recommended strategies for scoring highly in this task remain very similar too. So what exactly is changing, then?


The old grading criteria


The area where change will be taking place is in relation to the grading criteria. Previously there were five; namely:

1) Overall Task Fulfilment

2) Appropriateness of Language

3) Comprehension of Stimulus

4) Linguistic Features

5) Presentation Features.


Each of these criteria were graded out of a maximum score of 6 and the score you would get in each criterion would contribute 20% to your overall score in the OET Writing Subtest. All of this will change.


The new grading criteria

There are now six new criteria for OET Writing which are named as follows:

1) Purpose

2) Content

3) Conciseness and Clarity

4) Genre and Style

5) Organisation and Layout

6) Language


All of the criteria now have a maximum grade of 7, except for Purpose which will be graded out of 3. I will look at each of these criteria in turn to demonstrate the changes in the way the OET Writing Subtest will be graded.




This criterion focuses on the way the candidate makes the purpose of their letter immediately apparent and clear. The purpose should be included in the first paragraph of the letter. For example: “I am writing to refer the above mentioned patient who is suffering from worsening osteoarthritis.

Your assessment and management are urgently required.” These two sentences placed at the start of the letter make it extremely clearly to the reader why the letter was written and what action needs to be taken on the part of the reader. It has always been important to include this information but now one of the criteria focuses specifically on doing this.




This criterion focuses on whether you have included all of the necessary information in an accurate manner. It essentially replaces Overall Task Fulfilment and deals with aspects of Comprehension of Stimulus.

To score highly here, you are also required to write a letter of the required length, this will still, usually, be between 180-200 words but the word count itself is just a guide and you will not be penalised directly for writing under or over it. The important thing is to make sure you include everything that is necessary.


Conciseness and Clarity

This area operates alongside the Content criterion. Whereas with the Content criterion you will receive credit for relevant information you include in your letter, for this criterion, you will be marked down for any irrelevant information you include, especially if this irrelevant information makes the purpose of your letter less clear.


Genre and Style


This criterion assesses what was previously covered under Appropriateness of Language. You should continue to write using a formal register and use language which is suitable for your target audience, for example, certain technical abbreviations would be suitable when writing to a doctor which would not be suitable if writing to a parent. Your writing should also be clinical, precise and non-judgemental.


Organisation and Layout


This has replaced Presentation Features but it has a specific focus on making sure that your letter is organised in such a way that it makes the retrieval of relevant information as easy as possible. This involves including the most relevant information early in the letter and structuring paragraphs so that important information is easily observable and doesn’t become buried in overly-long sentences.




This has replaced Linguistic Features but it now focuses more generally on aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Grammatical accuracy, spelling, cohesion and punctuation will all be graded under this criterion. There is also a special focus on using language which makes the retrieval of relevant information easy to the reader.

So using key words and phrases in sentences such as: “An ECG needs to be conducted as a priority” or “Your urgent assessment is required” helps to focus the reader’s attention on the information which is most important. The range of grammar used in the letter is not directly assessed, only the accuracy.




So, overall, the task itself has not changed but being familiar with the new criteria will help to ensure that you are doing everything possible to score highly in the exam from August and beyond. The Purpose criterion is the only part which is completely new, other areas have been repackaged and help to clarify exactly what it is the examiners are looking to see in your letters.

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For doctors:

For nurses:


This is a VERY IMPORTANT article that you should take note of. You can also bookmark this article and save it so that you can come back to it anytime. If you have any questions about the OET writing changes, do not hesitate to ask us and put them in the message box below!


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

Bonus Review Questions for the new OET writing criteria:


Here are some questions to check your understanding of the new criteria:


Answer the following questions as True or False

  • The writing task will change as of August 2019.
  • All of the new criteria are graded out of 7.
  • You will be penalised if you write more than 200 words.
  • Retrieval of language is emphasised in the new criteria.
  • The new criteria place specific importance on making the purpose of your letter immediately clear.
  • Range of grammar is assessed as part of the Language criterion.


Which of the new criteria deals with the following aspects?

  • Use of appropriately formal language
  • Spelling and punctuation
  • Ensuring all relevant information is included
  • Ensuring all irrelevant information is excluded
  • Making sure important information is highlighted early
  • Making sure the reason for your letter is made clear from the start


  • False
  • False
  • False
  • True
  • True
  • False
  • Genre and Style
  • Language
  • Content
  • Conciseness and Clarity
  • Organisation and Layout
  • Purpose

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