SOAP documentation

IELTS for International Medical Graduates (IMGs)

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What is the IELTS test?

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

The IELTS test consists of four areas in which you are tested:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening

Your IELTS test is graded on a scale of 1-9. For international medical graduates, you must take the IELTS academic test and achieve aΒ minimum grade of 7.5.Β The academic test is geared towards those entering university or professional institutions.

International medical graduates wanting to work in the UK

Doctors looking to register with the General Medical Council (GMC) and find a job in the NHS must demonstrate their English level through the IELTS or OET exam.

The IELTS test is part of the requirements for international medical graduates to register with the GMC and practice medicine in the NHS. Overseas doctors have already gained their medical status but must prove their language efficiency to effectively communicate with patients and colleagues.

Having strong language skills is a fundamental part of a medical career. You may eventually want to practice medicine in several English-speaking countries, in which you would need your IELTS (or country-specific) qualification. In the simplest form, getting your IELTS is essential to practising medicine in the UK.

GMC requirements for IELTS

The GMC sets out the requirements for IELTS:

  • 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
  • Your scores must be from your most recent sitting of the test (see below for the time stipulations)
  • You must provide the original stamp and test report form numberΒ 
  • Your test must be taken in person in an authorised test centre (not online)Β 
How long is the IELTS certificate valid for?Β 

Your IELTS certificate is valid for two years.Β 

Do I need to sit IETLS?

Two factors determine whether you may or may not need to take your IELTS exam. The GMC asks that you sit your IELTS exam if:

  • Your medical qualification was not taught in English
  • Your medical qualification was obtained over two years ago

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

Conversely, your medical qualification may be accepted if:Β 

  • It was less than two years old when you applied for registrationΒ 
  • Was taught and studied entirely in EnglishΒ 

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

  • All aspects of your course, including clinical years, were taught and examined in EnglishΒ 
  • At least 75% of course-related clinical interaction was conducted in EnglishΒ 
  • The date you passed your final examΒ 

If your final exam was sat over two years ago, you must provide the GMC with references from all your employers since then, clarifying and confirming your English abilities.Β 

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

You may wish to sit the IELTS or OET if you cannot meet these criteria.Β 

What is the PLAB test?Β 

The Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test is a separate test which assesses whether doctors who qualified abroad have the skills and knowledge to practice medicine in the UK.

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

As a rule of thumb, if you have finished your primary medical qualification in a non-English speaking country, you must take your IELTS/OET for PLAB and GMC registration.

Your IELTS/OET takes place before your PLAB test.

Tips for IMGs taking their IELTSΒ 

Use academic resources

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 to be as prepared as possible.Β 

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

Useful places to consume more academic-focused language and ideas are:Β 

Practice writing reports and describing data

Practice writing reports and describing data as much as you can. A useful resource to practice more challenging graphs and data is The Economist.Β 

You will need to do this for your writing test in both test 1 and 2. Test 1 involves describing specific data, and test 2 requires writing an essay.

It is therefore advisable to know specific language surrounding task 1 and several writing skills for task 2, such as essay structures, vocabulary, correct grammar and complex sentence structures.Β 

Work with a tutor

You can prepare without help, but working with a tutor can be very helpful for some people.Β 

Successful IMGs who have passed the IELTS test have 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 be found on Google. Working with an accredited tutor can significantly increase your chances of IELTS test success.Β 

For further support and guidance with your IELTS preparation, visit The Writing Lab.

Time your IETLS test attempt

For medical students graduating in August, it is suggested to take the test in January and, at the latest, by March, with 2-3 months of preparation. Getting your 7.5 overall score and not having to resit the IELTS test will allow you to proceed with your medical career without any delays.


  • General Medical Council. Evidence of your knowledge of English. Available from: [LINK]


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