The Lowdown on the OSCE

May 25, 2023


If you’ve made the savvy decision to look for UK nursing jobs as an International Nurse, it’s important you’re across all parts of the registration process. And one of these essential parts is completing your Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE).

You might be in a situation where you’ve passed the first part of your Test of Competence (ToC) ­ the CBT ­ and you’ve received the okay from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to sit the second part, the OSCE.

Or perhaps you’re just getting your head around the entire process. If that’s the case, we highly recommend you read our as it’ll give you a comprehensive overview from start to finish.

No matter the scenario, what follows is all you need to know about sitting your OSCE, from eligibility and where you can sit it to what you need to do to pass.

What is the OSCE?

While the CBT tests your theoretical knowledge, the OSCE focuses on clinical practice.

The exam is typically conducted in a simulated clinical setting and you’ll be assessed on your ability to perform a range of nursing tasks, such as administering medication, conducting a patient assessment and providing wound care. You’ll also be tested on your communication skills and ability to work effectively as part of a healthcare team.

Why Do I Need to Take it?

You can only get your nursing registration with the NMC once you pass your OSCE. This is because successfully passing the OSCE proves to the NMC that you have the right skills and knowledge to safely practice as a Nurse here in the UK.

While it’s a fairly indepth exam, your prep work presents you with some fantastic opportunities to practice your skills and receive feedback from experienced Nurses before taking the exam.

As such, it’s a good idea to connect with local nursing organisations and networks, or nursing schools and training programmes to find Nurses who are willing to help you prepare for the OSCE. If you don’t already have those connections, one of our WESolutions nursing recruitment specialists would be happy to help.

Who Needs to Take it?

All International Nurses outside the EEA or Switzerland must take the OSCE.

Other Nurses who must complete the OSCE are those who haven’t practised for a while and are no longer registered with the NMC.

Am I Eligible to Take the OSCE?

Eligible Nurses are those who’ve received authorisation (usually an email) from the NMC inviting them to take the OSCE. By this stage, you’ve likely already successfully passed your CBT and completed the necessary language requirements, such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

What Does The OSCE Involve And How Long Is It?

In short, your OSCE involves quite a bit! But don’t stress, as you’ll have plenty of time to prepare and be able to head into it feeling super confident.

During the OSCE, you’ll move between stations or scenarios that test all fields of nursing. Each one has a different task or skill to assess. You’ll have a set amount of time to complete each station, with a little rest time between them.

The 10 OSCE stations comprise:

  • 4 stations linked together around a scenario (the APIE)
    • 1 for Assessment
    • 1 for Planning
    • 1 for Implementation
    • 1 for Evaluation
  • 4 stations testing skills (2 pairs of 2 clinical skills)
  • 2 stations assessing your values, behaviours and evidence-based practice.

The test takes around 3 hours.

What Will I Be Tested On?

As a leading International Nurse recruitment agency in the UK, we’ve supported many candidates through sitting their OSCE.

From their experience, the OSCE test you on things like your:

  • Communication skills – covering both verbal and non-verbal and how well you demonstrate compassion towards the patient and their family
  • Clinical skills – things such as administering medication, taking vital signs and dressing wounds
  • Critical thinking and decision making – your ability to assess patient scenarios and make decisions based on your clinical judgement and knowledge, prioritise patient care and manage complex situations
  • Professionalism and ethical practice – how well you maintain a professional standard guided by ethical principles (think patient confidentiality, respecting cultural diversity, following safety guidelines, etc.)
  • Record keeping – whether you can effectively and accurately document patient care, demonstrating your attention to detail and ability to maintain accurate and up-to-date records

We highly recommend you read the full NMC Test Specifications to get a comprehensive overview of the things you’ll be tested on:

How Should I Prepare For it?

Start off by reviewing and revising the professional standards code. You can then move to the NMC’s OSCE information booklet, the OSCE blueprint, the test specifications (if you haven’t already) and the other relevant OSCE documents according to your field. All of these are available on the NMC website.

The approved test providers also offer support, such as mock tests. They are:

According to the NMC, the most important test preparation factor is good quality support. They say the vast majority of successful applicants are supported by an employer or recruitment agency, like us here at WESolutions.

How and Where Can I Take the OSCE?

The OSCE must be completed on UK soil. Once you get your NMC invitation to book your OSCE, you can do so at one of five approved testing centres – see contact links in the previous question.

How Much Does It Cost?

The fee to sit your OSCE is £794.

What’s Considered a Pass Mark?

You need to pass all 10 stations with a mark of 60-90% (depending on the station) to get your OSCE.

What Happens If I Fail?

Don’t worry. You can take the OSCE again up to three times should you need it.

You’ll get a short amount of feedback on why you failed a station which will help you prepare for your next try. And there’s really no need to feel discouraged if you don’t pass on your first go. Many nurses pass the OSCE on their second or third attempt with the right support and prep work.

Re-sits are only needed for the stations you fail and do require a fee. If you need to re-sit between one to seven stations, it’s £397. Eight or more is the full fee of £794.

You also need to wait 10 days between each re-sit and can take up to four weeks between your second and final go.

If you fail on your third attempt, you’ll need to wait six months before you can reapply.

How Do I Get My Results?

You’ll should receive a copy of your test results from the NMC via email within five working days, but it can sometimes take up to 10.

How Long Do I Have To Complete My OSCE?

You must pass the CBT and OSCE within two years of each other. You can sit them in any order, but you need both parts to keep going with your registration.

Once you’ve passed both exams, your ToC is valid for five years.

Extra Tips, Further OSCE Resources and Support

We’d like to end our OSCE overview with a few tips for passing the stations, as well as giving you a few additional resources.

Let’s start with six key tips:

  1. Concentrate on your communication (verbal & non-verbal) especially when listening to the patient
  2. Take your time and ensure you read each scenario and/or the instructions carefully
  3. Get patient consent
  4. Don’t touch the patient before practising proper hand hygiene
  5. Always check for allergies
  6. Complete each station within the timeframe

As for additional resources, here is the complete OSCE handbooks in case you haven’t read it entirely yet (yep, you should!):

Finally, should you get stuck with any part of the OSCE process ­ whether it’s preparation, booking in or simply need some advice please connect with one of our specialist nursing recruiters.

We understand it’s a big and sometimes confusing process, so would love to help support you in the exciting process of getting your registration and working as a Nurse in the UK.