IELTS top tips for International Medical Graduates (IMGs)

IELTS top tips for International Medical Graduates (IMGs)

What is the iELTS test? 

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is designed to either help you work or study, or migrate to a country where English is the native language, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. 

The IELTS test consists of four areas in which you are tested: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Your IELTS test is graded on a scale of 1-9. For international medical graduates, you are required to sit the Academic test and achieve an overall minimum grade of a 7.5. 

The Academic Test is geared towards those entering university or professional institutions. 

Why is IELTS relevant to international medical graduates wanting to work in the UK? 

Doctors looking to register with the GMC and find a job in the NHS are required to demonstrate their level of English through the IELTS or OET exam. The IELTS test effectively allows overseas doctors to register with the GMC and officially practice medicine in the NHS. Overseas doctors have already gained their medical status, but if wanting to use their qualification in the UK, the final step is to prove your language efficiency so that you can effectively communicate with patients and colleagues. Having strong language skills is a fundamental part of one’s medical career. There are for instance, a number of English speaking countries that you may eventually want to practice medicine in, in which you would need your IELTS (or country specific) qualification to do so. In the simplest form, getting your IELTS is the key to practicing medicine in the UK.

What are the requirements for the IELTS exam from the medical council?

  • You are required to take the Academic Test, not the General Test
  • You must achieve a score of at least 7.0 in each testing area (reading, writing, speaking, listening), and an overall score of 7.5
  • That your scores are from your most recent sitting of the test (see below on the time stipulations
  • The original stamp and test report form number 
  • Your test must be taken in person in an authorised test centre (not online) 

How long is your iELTS certificate valid for? 

Your IELTS certificate is valid for two years. 

What is the PLAB test? 

The Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board test is a separate test, which assesses whether doctors who qualified abroad have the right skills and knowledge to practice medicine in the UK. As a rule of thumb, if you have finished your primary medical graduation in a non-English speaking country, you have to take your IELTS/OET for PLAB and GMC registration. Your IELTS/OET takes place before your PLAB test. 

If you graduated from a medical school outside of the UK, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, it is likely you will need to take the PLAB test. 

Do I need to sit my IELTS if I have my primary medical qualification?

There are two factors that determine whether you may or may not need to take your IELTS exam, which are decided by the GMC. The GMC asks that you sit your IELTS exam if; your medical qualification was not taught in English, and if your medical qualification was obtained over two years ago. 

According to the GMC, it also depends where you obtained your medical qualification, as not all places are accepted in meeting the criteria for English. You can find whether your place of study falls in or out of this stipulation here

Conversely, your medical qualification may be accepted if: 

  • It less than two years old when you applied for registration 
  • Was taught and studied entirely in English 

Proof of this will need to be emailed from your university in the form of certification and or letters, confirming that: 

  • All aspects of your course including clinical, was taught and examined in English 
  • At least 75% of course related clinical interaction was conducted in English 
  • The date you passed your final exam 

This letter will need to confirm whether you have taken the Academic IELTS or the OET. You must provide your Test Report Form for your IELTS, or your candidate number if you have sat the OET. 

If your final exam was sat more than two years ago, you will need to provide the GMC with references from all your employers since then, clarifying and confirming your English abilities. 

These references however are only accepted from countries where the first and native language is English. 

If you cannot meet this criteria, then you may wish to sit either the IELTS or OET. 

5 Top tips for international medical graduates taking their IELTS 

  1. You need to score strongly in each component and aim for a minimum of 6.5 in each. Due to the nature of the Academic test, your preparation should include using academic texts, watching talks and lectures, and learning specific vocabulary. The Academic test is more challenging, so use resources that reflect the test type in order to be as prepared as possible. 

  1. Use accurate and well-considered resources as part of your practice. You can find plenty of free guidance, advice and IELTS test practice here

  1. Practice writing reports and describing data as much as you can. You will need to do this for your writing test in both test 1 and 2. The former requires describing specific data, and the latter requires writing an essay. It is therefore advisable to know specific language surrounding task 1, and a number of skills for task 2, such as: essay structures, vocabulary, correct grammar and complex sentence structures. 

  1. You can prepare without any help, but working with a tutor will get you there quicker. Successful IMGs who have passed the IELTS test, advised working with a tutor or attending classes, as it helped them improve their standards in all four areas of the test and learn exam techniques that cannot just be found on Google. Working with an accredited tutor can ultimately make a significant difference to your IELTS test success. 

  1. For medical students, it is suggested to take the test in January and latest by March, with 2-3 months of preparation. If you can get your 7.5 overall score, and not have to resit the IELTS test, this will allow you to proceed with your medical career without any delays.