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Preparing for IELTS and OSCE exams

For overseas qualified nurses who want to register with the NMC in the UK

If you qualified as a nurse overseas and have to complete your IELTS and OSCE exams in order to register with the NMC, the RCN's careers service has put together some useful resources to help you prepare.

IMPORTANT UPDATE - New English language testing options for overseas nurses


From the 1st of November 2017, The NMC will accept the Occupational English Test (OET) as proof of English language competence.

Alternatively, nurses and midwives who qualified outside EU/EEA could demonstrate English language capability if they have:

  • Undertaken a pre-registration nursing or midwifery qualification taught and examined in English. 
  • Registered and practised for a minimum of one year in a country where English is the first and native language, and a successful pass in an English language test was required for registration

For more information see:

IELTS - International English Language Test System

NMC requirements

Overseas qualified nurses who want to register as a nurse in the UK are required to provide evidence of English language competence. 

  • If you trained as a nurse outside the EU or EEA, you must complete the IELTS test.
  • If you trained within the EU or EEA, you must complete the IELTS test unless you come under one of the following exceptions

The NMC requires overseas qualified nurses to obtain a score of 7.0 or more on each of the modules: speaking, listening, reading and writing. resources

There are resources and sample tests available on the website. See Preparing for your IELTS test.

British Council resources

The British Council's website offers a wide range of IELTS resources. See Prepare for your test for more details. Examples of resources include:

  • Details about IELTS courses, workshops and seminars in your area
  • Free practice tests 
  • Free online courses 
  • Preparation resources, materials and study guides
  • Hints and tips on preparing for and sitting the tests

Understanding the IELTS Scoring and getting a band 7 score

In order to obtain a band 7 score, you will need to understand how the scoring system works, and what the examiners are looking for when they mark your test.

The assessment criteria or 'band descriptors' are public and available to view here. They include:

  • Writing task 1 assessment criteria 
  • Writing task 2 assessment criteria 
  • Speaking assessment criteria 

Your local university or college

Your local university may offer IELTS preparation courses. These can differ in cost and length depending on your specific needs. 

You can also improve your English through English language courses that are available at local colleges and training providers. 

To check how reputable a provider is, research who is delivering the course and any links with other recognised education providers. Many of these can be offered on a part time basis.

Your employer

If you are employed, it’s worth approaching your employer to see if they can offer any support or assistance. 

Have a look to see if your employer has any study policies, development policies or can offer funding. 

Hiring a private language tutor

Private tutors range from £15 - £45 per hour and can coach you either one on one, or in a group. Some tutors offer tuition via skype or facetime.

If you are going to hire a private tutor, consider the following:

  • What qualifications and experience do they have?
  • Do they have specific knowledge and experience of the IELTS process and IELTS scoring system?
  • Do they have a good track record of helping students achieve a band 7 score or above?
  • Can you get recommendations, testimonials or feedback from other students?

RCN library resources

You can find IELTS preparation books and eBooks using our Library subject guide. RCN members can borrow books and access eBooks online. 

Reading through nursing journals, books and newspapers will help develop your English and understanding of nursing issues. RCN members can also access a range of journals for free through the RCN library.

NMC Test of Competence (CBT and OSCE)

NMC Test of Competence 

If you trained outside the EU or EEA, you will be required to complete the NMC Test of Competence which consists of two parts:
1.) A computer based test (CBT)

2.) An Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE)

If you trained in the EU or EEA, you would only have to complete the OSCE if you failed to meet certain standards or requirements during your application. See the NMC's information Trained in the EU or EEA for more details.

Part 1: Computer based test

Part 1 is a computer based test, based of 120 multiple-choice questions. You will need to take this test under formal exam conditions in a Pearson VUE test centre. See the website for more details.

You can also read more about this exam in the NMC's guide, Candidate information booklet for the NMC Test of Competence, Part 1: Pearson VUE

Part 2: The OSCE exam (Objective Structured Clinical Examination)

Part 2 of the test is called the OSCE, which will act out scenarios which nurses and midwives would be likely to come across when they assess, plan, carry out and evaluate care. You must sit the OSCE exam at one of three test centres in the UK. These are:

  • Northampton University
  • Oxford Brookes University (On campuses in Swindon and Oxford)
  • Ulster University 

University resources 

The University of Northampton's website has some useful information and resources to help you understand and prepare for your OSCE: 

Oxford Brookes University's website also has some useful information and resources about OSCE:

In addition, you can also find information on the University of Ulster's website:

Other resources 

You can find OSCE preparation books and eBooks using our Library subject guide. RCN members can borrow books and access eBooks online. 

The NHS Employers website also has information about OSCE, including general information, top tips for OSCE preparation and useful links.

Your employer may also be able to provide you with support and training in preparation for your OSCE. 

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