The way you start the role play is very important. It gives the assessors a strong impression about how competent you are as a health professional communicating with a patient. How appropriately you begin the conversation is scored in the relationship building clinical communication criterion for the Speaking sub-test.
When practising how to begin each role play, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are my opening comments and questions suitable for the setting and my familiarity with the patient?
- Am I presenting a professional, polite, and empathetic manner?
- Am I making the listener feel comfortable and respected?
You are likely to need to start each role play in a different way to suit the situation. Make sure you read the card carefully and learn to adapt your language to the different scenarios.
Remember! A confident start to the 5-minutes will help to grow your confidence throughout the whole Speaking test and help both you and the interlocutor feel more at ease as you work through the tasks.
Successful OET Speaking candidates said:
"Whenever I got the words right, and made a good start to the role play, everything else seemed to flow well, I relaxed, and my confidence kept improving. It felt more like a real patient consultation, and it brought out my best English!”
“It’s such a small part of the whole 5 minutes, but I’m glad I worked on how to open the conversation well. It was worth preparing to get off to a good start. It helped me to relax and to feel like the consultation was authentic.”
TIP: Try to be flexible with your language. Imagine you are talking with a real healthcare patient or the relative of a patient.
How do I know whether to introduce myself first or not?
Most role-play cards make it clear from the background information when you have already met the patient before, OR that you have just examined/treated the patient before starting the conversation. It helps to know this, so that you can open the conversation appropriately. If this is not explicitly stated, you can assume this is the first meeting and start with introductions.
Quiz: Test your knowledge!
Read these examples of background information from three different role-play cards, taken from our sample tests on the website. Answer the Yes/No question for each one.
The correct answers to each question can be found at the bottom.
|Example:||Do I need to introduce myself? (Yes/No)|
A parent presents with his/her 5-year-old son, Matthew, as follow-up after an emergency consultation two days ago when Matthew was newly diagnosed with asthma. Then Matthew experienced a severe bout of coughing, breathing difficulty and wheezing, on the background of a cold and low-grade fever.
Your client is 35 years old and quit smoking recently. Since then, he/she has put on weight. He/She is interested in some medication for quick weight loss.
You are making a home visit to a patient who is suffering from COPD and requires continuous oxygen. Mobility is now a problem. The patient’s spouse has been caring for him/her at home for two years but has recently returned to work. You have just finished an assessment of the patient’s needs and are discussing full-time care options with his/her spouse.
What name do I use for the patient, relative or carer?
You might be unsure about how to address the patient, relative or carer. You need to ask yourself 1) have I met the person before or not, or 2) is the situation urgent or not?
If it’s clear from the role card that you have met the patient before, then using one of the three options below will demonstrate to the assessor that you have understood your relationship with the patient.
- Use the interlocutor’s name which they tell you when you meet them in the Speaking test room.
- During the preparation time before the role play, ask the interlocutor which name they would like you to use.
- Choose a name for the patient and use it at the start of the role play. The interlocutor will accept this and respond to it.
Example: “OK, Jackie. Now that I have completed the assessment, perhaps we can discuss my findings. Is that OK with you?”
If you have a role play which is your first conversation with this patient, then briefly introducing yourself and checking the patient’s name is appropriate as part of setting up rapport.
Example: “Hello. My name is Amira. I’m one of the nurses on duty here today. It’s good to meet you. Can I call you Jackie?”
The urgency of the situation may determine how you introduce yourself, your speed, tone of voice and choice of phrasing. Notice the difference in how the candidate opens the conversation in these two different scenarios:
Example 1 (Nursing Role Play): Emergency setting. (You have not met the patient’s relative before.)
You are speaking to the parent of a 3-year-old girl admitted an hour ago with breathing difficulties.
This situation is likely to have caused anxiety for the parents. In this scenario, you should speak more directly and quickly get to the point in your opening sentences. This demonstrates to the assessors that you are aware that long introductions would not be appropriate in this scenario.
“Hello Steph, my name’s Greta. I’ve come to give you an update about your daughter.”
Example 2 (Nursing Role Play): Non-urgent setting. (You have not met the patient before.)
You are speaking to a patient who has an appointment with you to have stitches on their hand removed.
“Hi Dawn, my name's Rohin. I'm the nurse taking care of you today. I understand you've recently had some surgery on your hand and the stitches are ready to be removed. Is that right?”
More FAQs about starting the Speaking Role Play
Is it too informal if I use the interlocutor’s first name?
In Western healthcare settings, it is now accepted that professionals will use the patient’s first name when speaking to them. This is in keeping with patient-centred care approaches which value a friendly yet professional tone for conversations.
You can use the patient's first name in the Speaking role play, regardless of the age of the patient.
If you wish to show appropriate respect for an older person, you could ask if they mind you calling them by their first name. For example, “Do you mind if I call you John?” The speed and tone of your voice can also be adjusted when speaking with an elderly patient. This will show your attention to Relationship Building (one of the assessment criteria).
If you choose to ask the interlocutor for their name either before or during the role play, use the name they give you. While it might feel a little rude in your culture to use the patient’s first name only without adding a title, in Western health scenarios, it would be considered rude to ask someone their name and then change what they have said by adding a title.
Take a look at our quiz on formal or informal English, if you would like to know more about whether or not you should speak informally or formally in a professional setting.
How do I start the role play if it says I have just examined the patient?
When it is clear from the background that the role play starts after the consultation with the patient began (i.e., because you have already examined them), you do not need to use introductions. You can start with, for example: ’Thank you for letting me examine you.’
How do I start a Veterinary Science role play when I am talking to the owner of an animal?
Vet role plays will always be between you, as the Vet, and the owner of the animal you are treating. Like other professionals' role plays, you could have met this owner/animal before, or this might be their first visit.
The way that you start the role play will be quite similar. For example, when it is a first visit, you can introduce yourself and ask what you can do for the owner today, OR if it is a follow-up visit, you can enquire about the health of the animal since the last visit.
Where do I find practice role-play cards?
You can find official practice materials including our popular sample tests on the OET Website.