How hugely, hugely, amusing

Difficulty of NHS language test ‘worsens nurse crisis’, say recruiters
Even native English speakers with degrees struggle to pass exams, as number of applicants from EU falls to 46 in April from 1,304 last July

So, does this tell us something about the test being too difficult or about the language skills required to get a degree these days?

The NMC said its English test standards were in line with nursing bodies in other countries and other medical bodies in the UK and had been introduced to safeguard patient safety.

Well, yes, this seems broadly true.

Hayley Purcell wants to fill one of those posts. Born in Adelaide, she has worked as a nurse in South Australia for the last 11 years, her career spanning mental health, intensive care, paediatrics, surgical procedures and orthopaedics. She narrowly failed the written language exam, even though she has a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Purcell had no problems expressing herself in a phone call from Adelaide. “After being schooled here in Australia my whole life, passing high school with very good scores, including English, then passing university and graduate studies with no issues in English writing – now to ‘fail’ IELTS is baffling,” she told the Observer. “So when I failed I just went numb. Then I got angry. Everything rides on the result.”

IELTS has four elements: speaking, listening, reading and writing. To qualify to work in the NHS, candidates need to score at least seven out of nine in each section. Purcell, who spent AU$650 (£386) on the test, managed 6.5 in writing and seven in reading.

“The essay test was to discuss whether TV was good or bad for children. They’re looking for how you structure the essay,” she said. “I wrote essays all the time when I was doing my bachelor of nursing. I didn’t think I’d have to do another one. I don’t even know why I failed.”

Her case is echoed by Jorja McDonald, a nurse with three years’ experience from Springfield in Queensland, who reached 6.5 in reading and 6.5 in writing despite being a native English speaker.

To get a points based visa (the sort of thing a n urse would get) for Oz requires a score of 7 in that very same test.

Ms. Purcell’s English is not proficient enough to get her into her own country let alone our……

34 comments on “How hugely, hugely, amusing

  1. Lemme guess – she didn’t prepare so didn’t know exactly what was required for her, and is probably a bit fick.

  2. The essay test was to discuss whether TV was good or bad for children.

    Let me guess: she failed because she dared suggest that TV was good for children?

  3. “IELTS has four elements: speaking, listening, reading and writing. “

    I’m guessing, having met a few nurses, the part she failed was ‘listening’…

  4. An essay? Do nurses have to write essays often? I can understand being able to write a prescription or some notes, but is this really that critical?

  5. BiS, the amount of ‘self-reflective’ writing they do is quite incredible

  6. Lefties do seem to have a problem with exams of any kind, especially lefty teachers. Its as if hard data is something they’re afraid of…

  7. “They’re looking for how you structure the essay. I wrote essays all the time when I was doing my bachelor of nursing. I didn’t think I’d have to do another one. I don’t even know why I failed.”

    Assuming she is being reported verbatim, she failed because she is semi-literate. However, given the organ doing the reporting, it may be the reporter who is semi-literate.

    The test is apparently widely accepted. I expect most patients would rather not be issued with their drugs by an idiot.

  8. Brains enough to do her job is what is required . Structuring essays is not part of nursing.

    Tests should relate to what they do.

    The patient complains of thirst. Do you:

    1–Ignore her until she has died from thirst.
    2-Promise to ask a Doctor and don’t bother
    3-Ask a Doctor and ensure the patient gets a drink of water.

    Answers on a postcard –you fat cow.

  9. Do nurses have to write essays often?

    Perhaps they are writing essays while patients are pressing the bell for hours to get a glass of water?

  10. “IELTS has four elements: speaking, listening, reading and writing”

    That was known as comprehension when I was at school. The idea being that you weld together all the individual skills to communicate effectively.

    Their own unions clamoured for degree status to justify higher wages, so if they must have degrees let them demonstrate a good level of English comprehension to justify the degree status.

  11. I’ve had a brief look at the tests – “essays” seems to be a rather big word for explaining something in 150 or 250 words. It seems to be more about showing that you can explain something in a comprehensible structured manner (e.g. a series of symptoms and complaints in the case of nursing) than essays per se.

  12. This is the reason that the test is not applied to UK nursing graduates (and by extension, to EU nursing graduates, which created the whole moral panic about illiterate Bulgarian nurses a couple of years ago).

    It’s a catch-22 for the NMC. Apply the test to EU graduates and it has to also apply to UK graduates, and failing them would show up the standards of education.

  13. From the website:
    In Task 1, you have to describe some visual information in your own words (a graph, table, chart or diagram). You need to write at least 150 words in about 20 minutes.

    In Task 2, you are given a point of view, argument or problem which you need to discuss. You need to write at least 250 words in about 40 minutes.

    I have prepared students for this exam in the past. While Task 2 is relatively straightforward, Task 1 can present problems for some, even when they speak the language fluently; high marks can only be obtained by closely following the instructions and providing a detailed description – not explanation – of the data.

    In practice, it proved difficult for some students to fully appreciate the distinction and understand that it was a test of their accurate use of descriptive language rather than a chance to show off their deductive skills or background knowledge.

    The students who did best were those who followed instructions carefully and aimed for maximum precision of language – certainly highly desirable attributes in medical staff.

  14. “The students who did best were those who followed instructions carefully and aimed for maximum precision of language – certainly highly desirable attributes in medical staff.”

    Examination techniques

    Rule 1: Read the fucking question.

    Rule 2: read all the questions first (I’m sure I don’t need to tell the readership here about the final question 🙂 )

  15. So basic stuff some of us learnt in primary school – read the question and do what the question asks.
    Task 1 I is similar to exam questions I had in 3rd year senior school. With a longer timescale to do it given now.

  16. I’m sure she can dredge up some Abo ancestry and lo! the test is marked accordingly.

    Having lived in hospital in London for most of last year, I can tell you that a significant proportion of nurses are quite unintelligible.

    Mind you, so are some of the patients…

  17. IELTS is a widely recognized test. But I wonder if it would make more sense to have a medical-specific test that had more focus on medical vocabulary (including the idiosyncratic and non-technical words patients might use to describe their pain or the shape/consistency of their “poo”) and less on argumentative writing. Would be expensive to implement and keep to a single standard, mind.

  18. I was once referred to a clinic at UCLH in London. A nurse asked for my address, which I gave. She replied, ‘Suffolk? Where in London is dat?’ But never mind the ignorance, feel the enrichment.

  19. to discuss whether TV was good or bad for children

    I have a horrible feeling that there’s a Correct Answer to this question, and that the Correct Answer is entirely wrong.

    Applicants who anxiously fret about potentially inappropriate TV adverts should be failed whatever their IQ.

    Those who answer “Good” in five words or fewer should be fast-tracked.

  20. I suspect this test is another of those where you are advised not to revise, like SAT, IQ or GMAT.
    Only if you do want a good mark you do revise and do past papers like billy-ho.

  21. I once had trouble getting a registrar to understand my answer to his question about the colour of my poo. There was a useful simile available but I felt I couldn’t use it.

  22. We once had a trainee (with PhD in physics) who couldn’t reason three-dimensionally, and couldn’t describe what she was seeing in a technical drawing in a logical fashion and put it down on paper with a verb in each sentence.

    Which was a bit of a downer, since this was a major part of the job she was required to do.

  23. “Rule 1: Read the fucking question.

    Rule 2: read all the questions first.”

    I know a chap who ran late into a maths exam and ignored Rule Zero: he didn’t read the rubric. Demolished all the questions, just; tottered exhausted off to the bar; complained that there were far more questions than he’d expected. Yeah, said a classmate, just as well we only had to do six.

    Mr don’t-bother-with-an-alarm-clock won the class medal.

  24. My mother went into nursing in the Fifties. I was talking to her the other day and she mentioned how she’d been accepted onto a postgraduate level course (despite leaving school at 14) on the strength of the essays she wrote during the exam. She retired as a Senior Health Visitor. So this is nothing new.

  25. I did the IELTS last year. My English is pretty good I’d say but there’s absolutely no way I could have passed it (I scored 8.5 average across all) without preparing.

    Passing it requires an understanding of how the test works. Once you figure this out, it’s pretty straightforward.

    My sense is that people who fail it go into the test thinking ‘how hard can it be?’

  26. Hayley Purcell and Jorja McDonald failed IELTS.

    Their Christian names provide insight into why they failed – chavs.

  27. “So when I failed I just went numb. Then I got angry”.

    Presumably not angry with herself…

  28. @dearime. Eh, which school was that?
    Sounds like me at A-Level. As I recall, I answered all 11 questions, and got them right 🙂

    As you can imagine, my kids have those two rules drilled into them.

  29. “Eh, which school was that?” ’twas at an ancient university, second year pure maths.

  30. I believe IELTS is standard for foreign students coming to the UK to study for a degree (and that’s the academic rather than the general version – I’d guess the former is trickier).

    I sat the test. It ain’t that hard. But anecdote != data.

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