The suitability of English language tests for giving evidence of doctors English proficiency

What were the key findings?

  • From a long list of 45, nine English language tests were identified which met criteria agreed between the researchers and the GMC.

  • Detailed analysis of these nine tests against the academic version of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which was used as a baseline for comparison, revealed important variations in testing approaches and demands made on candidates.

  • The nine tests were judged to be more or less demanding than IELTS according to the demands imposed on the candidate by the test material and tasks.

  • It was possible to identify reasonably equivalent test scores to our requirements for IELTS in eight out of the nine tests.

  • However, the evidence used to reach this conclusion varied considerably. In some cases it was based on testimony from the test maker, in others it was based on published research. Taking into account the variation in approach and demands, best practice would be to conduct a separate standard setting study to determine the appropriate pass/fail scores for each test.

  • The tests most widely accepted by health professional regulators are IELTS, the Occupational English Test and the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based Test.

  • Our IELTS requirements are at the more demanding end of the scale compared to other UK and international health professional regulators.

Why did we commission this research?

As an evidence-based regulator, we want to make sure we’re using the most secure, efficient and flexible approaches to check whether doctors have the required standard of English language to practise in the UK.

What did the research involve?

The research study adopted a mixed methods approach, which involved a systematic documentary review of selected tests combined with desk-based internet research. The researchers also conducted targeted follow-up with specific test providers and test user organisations.

Read the full report

Reviewing the suitability of English language tests for providing the GMC with evidence of doctors’ English proficiency