OET exam on a budget

With the COVID pandemic, there were various changes in the exam and application pattern, which peaked up the stress level for all the applicants. I was one among the few who were in the first cohort to take the OET exam post lockdown. At that point, I was longing for some guidance for the OET exam. Unfortunately, it was new for everyone. While I am writing this, many applicants have already taken the OET exam and shared their experiences. Still, I want to share my OET story with the thought that this can help someone who might be in a similar situation as myself. With this post, I am trying to cover all the questions that kept knocking my brain from the OET exam preparation until I got the result. In no way, I undermine anybody’s hardships and struggles. I wish the best for everyone who is taking this exam.

If you are reading this post, I am assuming you have an idea about what the OET exam is. In case if you are unaware or just reading this out of curiosity, you can know more about it here. I signed up for the medicine OET exam. My actual exam date was 22nd August but the exam center cancelled it (due to COVID!). God has been kind to me because I read a lot of reviews about the complicated writing section on the 22nd August exam. I had anticipated that the exam might cancel; as a result, I already made another booking for the 12th September exam because I wanted to get the results soon. (The booking timeline that OET has for each exam date is stressful). 

This post covers the following:

  1. My English Background
  2. Resources and Preparation
  3. Exam day 
  4. Results
  5. Final note

My English Background

It is crucial to know where you stand. This post will not provide enough value if you can not relate to my baseline. I am not a native English speaker. However, English has been the second language for me since childhood. Thanks to my school, I was well equipped with English to converse with anyone intelligibly. Please, keep this in mind throughout this article, if you are not well adapted to English then maybe this might not give you the best perspective.

Resources and Preparation

Resources

Finding out the right resources was the most compound thing to decide. There are lots of online portals that prepare you efficiently for this exam. To me, the question was – Do I need it? If yes, then which one?

As I explained earlier about my baseline, I considered not to sign up for any of the services (after all, it is just an English exam). However, I was worried throughout the preparation, thinking – if I made a wrong choice, if I was overconfident or what if I fail at the end?

So, I initially took the free sample test by the OET that is available on the official site. My scores were falling in the B grade for the reading and listening section; unfortunately, the OET free sample does not evaluate the speaking and writing. It raised self-doubt, what if I am not good at the writing and speaking subsections? 

To solve this, I connected to applicants online, who were in a similar situation as mine. Courtesy to these lovely humans, I found a free resource which most of the people who are preparing for this exam might already have.

At a glance, the resources I used were:

  1. Free OET samples
  2. Free E2 samples
  3. Google drive link
  4. E2 videos
  5. Self assessments

Bonus – As OET cancelled my first exam, they provided me with a free subscription to the OET ready course (I did not use it much but it was good for the basics)

Preparation

Let us get straight to the nitty-gritty. 

Listening and Reading 

For both listening and the reading sections, I tried to do one practice block every alternate day for around 15 days. After my first exam got cancelled, I lost the motivation and procrastinated practising. 

Takeaway lesson – If you have a fair knowledge of English, do not delay your exam, it just increases the anxiety. 

Part A

For both the reading and listening, I practised timed sessions for all the sections A, B and C. While practising, I realised part A was more about time management and concentration rather than English skills. I practised in the quietest environment to have paramount focus as whenever I lost focus, it was visible in my scores.

Takeaway lesson – a calm mind and focus is prerequisite for both reading and listening. 

Listening – In listening part A, we get time to skim through the texts before the audio recording starts. I used this time peacefully to read all the blanks. I did not read through the whole notes, just read the context related to each blank, without a rush. Secondly, during practice, I adapted myself to the different accents, which helped.

Takeaway lesson – Adapt yourself to the accent and read through the blanks mindfully.

Reading – part A of reading is more about time management and efficient skimming skills. There are around 4 blocks in part A, the first thing I did was to read the headings of each block. That gave an idea of what information it holds. For the starting 6-7 questions where we have to answer which subsection the information relates to, the prerequisite idea of the headings helped a lot. For the remaining questions, I just skimmed through to find the keyword in the text (The E2 videos are helpful to master this). During my practice, sometimes I fell short of time in part A, to avoid that I practised more because part A is the most scoring. 

Takeaway lesson – reading part A is the most scoring, practice time management and skimming. 

Part B and C

For part B and C, we have a longer time frame to complete the exam. Hence, time is not the challenge here. The B section is simple compared to the C because we only have to focus on one paragraph or one conversation. While in part C, it is a long-form article/conversation. 

Listening – For the B section, the time provided was sufficient for me to collect the answers. It is simpler than the A section of listening because there is just one question concerning one short conversation. I first read the question, then the options, and then tried to understand what the question wants to target and differentiated the three options from each other. As the recording started, I just focused on what the question is targeting. The moment I found the answer, I did not listen to the rest of the conversation because then it led to confusion in all the other options. 

Part C of listening is a bit tougher than B and simpler than part C of the reading. I first read all the questions before the recording commenced to know where I should focus. Mostly the questions are given in the same sequence as the recording proceeds, that makes it a bit simpler. Consequently, if at any point I doubted that I missed any question, I gave a glance at the next question. If the next question was not covered by the recording yet, then I knew that I am at the right pace, need not worry.

Takeaway lesson – Focus on what the question wants you to find out in Part B; In part C, keep going with the flow.

Reading – Both the B and C section requires us to have good knowledge of English and comprehension. Some questions even asked synonyms. I have a habit of reading books and articles, even then I was struggling to score well in these two parts. At one point, I came across a useless resource which was too hard to attempt and wasted my time. Eventually, practising more with the right resources helped.  

Takeaway lesson – Work on your vocabulary and comprehension.

Do not waste your time on one question, both in listening and reading (especially, listening). If you do not understand, move on. If you are confused between two options, mark the one you feel the best bet and come back to it at the end.

Speaking

Initially, this felt like the most demanding part but as I practiced, I was the least concerned about speaking. For speaking, I practiced with my friends who were also appearing for the exam. We practiced every day, 2 cards each, followed by giving feedback to each other based on the criteria set by the OET. My study partners had their exam before me which played as an advantage. Through them I got some insight into the speaking session that prepared me mentally on how to approach it. 

Takeaway lesson – practice speaking with someone who is intelligible and gives honest feedback. 

Writing 

Here is the scariest section. During my preparation, I was unaware of how tricky this can get. I thought I am a ‘blogger’ and I had been writing letters since school, how hard could it be? I prepared writing samples from the links I shared above and evaluated myself by taking them as the reference. Once in a while, I asked my friend who is skillful at writing to assess the letters. Later on, one of my study partners took the writing subscription from Benchmark that elevated my anxiety, as she struggled to score a B in her letters. However, my concept of, “I am a blogger” convinced me not to subscribe. I regret it. 

Just 2 days before my exam, the previous exam (August, 22nd) results came out. I tried to resign myself from any group that is discussing the OET result but could not resist. Most of the applicants crossed swords with the writing section. Nobody wants such a news 2 days before the exam, maybe it prepared me well on what to expect or increased my anxiety, I think the later but I am not sure. 

Takeaway lesson – Even if you are fluent in English, there is no harm in taking expert evaluation for your letters. Do not sit in the exam with stress. 

Takeaway lesson – 2 days before the exam don’t stress about anything. You have prepared enough.

Exam Day

My exam was in Bangalore. I had to travel to another city to take the exam. If you are travelling to another city, I advise you to reach there one day before the exam. It just avoids the last-minute mishap like travel delays. Also, make sure to confirm the travel regulations of each city due to COVID and prepare accordingly. Do not forget to carry your identification and consent form to the exam.

Exam center – 

Disclaimer – This is specific to my center and may vary. The best would be to contact the center and confirm it with them.

The exam center was fairly well prepared to conduct the exam. The team was supportive and managing all the candidates well. Essential stationery items were available but I advise to carry your own to be at the safe side. No water bottles or food was allowed inside the exam hall. The listening, reading and writing section were scheduled before the lunch break, in the same order. All the candidates took the exam in a common hall with a decent distance between each other. Before each section, the instructions were given and made sure everyone understood it. A digital timer was on the wall in front. The speaking session commenced after lunch, where all the candidates got divided into different time slots and room numbers. 

My exam experience – 

In terms of accommodation and the organising body, I had no trouble.

Listening – For the listening part A, I completely zoned out for 2-3 questions and fell out of the flow. I still filled up the blanks with whatever I understood. For the next conversation in part A, I gathered more focus and did not let the first section make me anxious.

Reading – I finished part A before the time was over. Although this time does not get added to the remaining sections, it reassured me that I could get through the rest of the paper too. The B and C sections had some questions that required some extra efforts but still manageable. 

Writing – This was the most dramatic experience for me. I was already scared that further worsened during the exam. The writing task was not that difficult but my body was releasing all the fear, flight, fight hormones. To be more careful, I started to write the letter in the provided rough space. When I felt satisfied with it, I wrote it back in the answer sheet with the most beautiful handwriting. But just after completing the first paragraph, I realized that I was losing time. So, in the panic mode, I resumed writing directly in the answer sheet. I completed before the time. While proofreading, I wanted to add more but space was not enough. I somehow managed to add the text in the one line that I had left in between consecutive paragraphs. My stress led to most of the chaos. At the end of the exam, I knew I could do better. 

Takeaway lesson – Do not implement any new approach directly in the exam. Just follow what you did during the practice.

Speaking – The interlocutor had a similar accent like mine. She explained all the guidelines beforehand. I openly discussed all my doubts with her; I even asked her to speak a bit slowly. She was cooperative. The only challenging part that I felt was that she was not participating much in the conversation, which resulted in more speaking by me.

Takeaway lesson – Do not hesitate to ask questions or concerns before the exam to the interlocutor.

Results

From the day of the exam until the results, I had prayed to God desperately. I never thought that an English exam would ever be so conclusive and equally stressful. I was most scared about the writing section. My results were out on 01/10/20. (I am not sharing the screenshot because I am not sure about the policies and I also do not want any comparisons)

  • Listening – A
  • Reading – B 
  • Speaking – B
  • Writing – B 

Hurray! I cleared the writing section with a decent margin. 

Final note

 I prepared for this exam without any paid resources, but here I am not trying to persuade you to do the same. First, take a sample test and evaluate your weaknesses. For the speaking section, if you are comfortable to speak English regularly, you only need to know some extra considerations from the exam point of view. For the writing, if you have any colleague who has virtuous writing skills, take their help; if not, then paying a few bucks would not harm. 

I wish all the best things for you. May you find success. iA

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