Filipino Nurses Report the U.K.’s English Language Exam is Too Hard

Many Filipino nurses who are seeking employment in England through the National Health Service have reportedly been struggling to pass the required admission exam.

Set under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the test has been deemed to be “very difficult” by some of the takers from the Philippines, according to the BBC.

Even NHS employers have also complained that the British Council-run test is setting a bar that is too high for the applicants. The method has reportedly hampered the recruitment process, while many firms continue to struggle to fill vacancies.

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The test, which is used by other international employers, consists of four sections evaluating an applicant’s listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

It is used by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to assess overseas applicants who want to work in the U.K. To pass, the test requires a minimum score of seven and a maximum mark of nine.  

According to the management of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, 140 Filipino nurses who have been wanting to work in the U.K. were unable to because they missed getting the required score of seven out of nine, many by just half a mark.

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Polina Ralutin, a nurse who was able to pass the test, explained which part of the test gave her a hard time:

“I had to look at a diagram of the process and describe how to make it – there was a time limit, and it was very difficult to achieve in almost perfect English — how to make jam.”

A trust executive, Tom Simons, validated the claims that the exam was difficult by taking it himself. He said that while he passed, he was unable to get top marks.

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“One section had a very heavy academic test — analysing a play and the light and shade — I found that quite challenging,” he admitted.

For Simons, the test can be improved by shifting its focus specifically on the language used in the care setting.

“The language test has certainly had a significant impediment on our ability to bring nurses into the organisation quickly,” he noted.

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The NMC stated that the language test may have also been a factor why even the number of EU nurses applying to register to work in the U.K. had dropped by a whopping 96% between July 2016 and April 2017

Jackie Smith, the chief executive of the NMC, said that they are now considering a different type of test.

“We are working with organisations and agencies and asking them what they think might be a viable alternative,” Smith said. 

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“We will put that back to the council to see if that is something that could be offered without compromising public protection.”

She explained, however, that if such change is implemented, the newer version will not just be a watered down the test.

“Communication is the thing that patients worry most about,” she says.

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“Patients will say, ‘I want to know that person listening or examining me understands me.’

“There is no prospect of us simply lowering the score in response to this.”

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