One of the big questions in OET that students always debate is what case notes they should include.
It is common for teachers to make a distinction between:
- Relevant case notes
- Irrelevant case notes
Relevant case notes are usually said to be the case notes that the reader will need. The irrelevant case notes are the ones the reader doesn't need.
This is not incorrect, but this way of thinking sometimes makes it more difficult to choose case notes.
Why? Because sometimes there are a great many case notes that are relevant to the reader. Students then start to panic... how will I finish this letter in 45 minutes with so many relevant case notes?
The answer is to change the way you think about the situation.
In my classes, I usually teach that there are actually 3 types of case notes:
- Relevant and detail is required
- Relevant but summarise
Notice that I have 2 types or relevant case notes above. The first type - 'relevant and detail is required' - is when we give all information to the reader. For example, imagine there is some medication and the reader needs to monitor it. In that case, you need to give all the details: dosage, schedule, etc.
The second type - 'relevant but summarise' - is when you don't need to give all the detail to the reader. In what follows, we will look carefully at what summarising is and how you can do it in your letters.
What does 'summarise' really mean?
Here is a simple example.
Imagine you say to me 'What did you do last night?', and I reply:
I got into my car and I started the engine
I drove down my street and I turned left
I drove down another street and turned right
I drove to the cinema
I bought a ticket and went inside
I bought popcorn
I sat down for 2 hours and watched
I got back in my car.
I drove down a street and my car broke down
The AA man came and fixed it
I drove home
This is of course way too much information!
Usually, when people answer a question like 'What did you do last night?', they summarise - they don't give every detail. For example, they just say "I went to see a movie."
Here are 4 key techniques for summarising in OET:
1 General statement
2 General statement plus detail
1. General statement:
"I went to see a movie"
As we said before, one way to summarise the above is to simply say "I went to see a movie." This is what I call simply a general statement. You try to find a simple phrase that gives the reader the main idea of what happened.
Here is an OET example:
Mr Green attended the clinic with eye issues.
Here this sentence is summarising all these eye symptoms from the case notes:
watery eye (left), blurry vision in morning, intermittent eye pain
2. General statement plus important detail:
"Alain went to see a movie. Please note that he had car troubles when returning."
Here we are using a general statement and adding in one important detail. Notice that I am using 'Please note that...'. As we said earlier, these kinds of phrases are also useful in other OET paragraphs to highlight important details.
Mr Greens was prescribed a number of medications. It is important to note that one of them was ibuprofen.
"Last night Alain drove, bought a ticket, ate some popcorn, and my car broke down"
Here I am summarising by just listing the important events in one sentence: drove / bought a ticket/ ate popcorn / car broke down. Listing is a skill that takes practice and it is something we focus a lot on in our classes!
Here is an OET example:
Mr Smith experienced ringing in his ears, blurring of his vision, and a head ache.
"I did the same as I do every Wednesday."
The simple idea here is that if things do not change there is no need to repeat yourself.
When Mrs Green attended again in May her symptoms were the same.
In this example, the writer has already explained what the symptoms were previously in the letter. Rather than repeating them, they simply write: 'her symptoms were the same.'
Note: you can also use 'better' and 'worse' to summarise detail:
When Mrs Green attended in May, her symptoms were worse.
In this case, the writer has decided that it is important for the reader to know about the ibuprofen. All the other medications have been summarised.
So, those are the 4 key ways to summarise: you need to practice this for your OET writing so that you can deal with complex case notes in the exam. Don't forget that it is ore useful to think about case notes in the 3 ways mentioned above and not just simply 'relevant' / 'irrelevant'. Good luck in your exams!