If you are familiar with the process of becoming a physician in the U.S., you have probably heard of the United States Medical Licensing Exam. Contrary to its name, this is not one but rather a series of four exams that an individual is required to take to become a licensed physician in the U.S.
If you read our post on postgraduate education in the U.K., you may be aware that the U.K. has a similar exam, which is the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test (PLAB). Unlike the USMLE, the PLAB is not required for all medical professionals in the U.K. Only international medical graduates are required to take the exam, which functions as a method of standardizing medical knowledge and skills within the country. In the following post, we outline how the tests are structured, the process of scheduling a test, and how to prepare for it.
Rather than having four parts, as the USMLE does, the PLAB has only two. These tests are designed by the General Medical Council within the U.K. and are also conducted by this council. Both exams are roughly three hours long.
The first PLAB exam contains 180 multiple choice questions. These questions cover best patient care practices and are situational rather than factual. These situational questions include cases seen in the primary care and emergency medicine settings.
The second portion of the PLAB follows the format of an objective structured clinical examination. This type of exam tests for skills and is very hands-on. There are 18 parts to this exam, with each one lasting eight minutes. Scenarios during each of the 18 parts cover the following:
- Recording medical histories
- Performing physical exams
- Making a diagnosis
- Presenting findings to patients
- Creating a treatment plan
Testing will also take into account an individual’s professionalism and communication skills. Specifics on what is covered during Part 2 can be found on the GMC’s website.
Planning for the PLAB
Scheduling the Tests
The PLAB Part 1 is held quarterly at locations within the U.K. and other countries. To schedule an exam, an individual must show proof of their medical degree, provide passing IELTS or OETS scores, and have an active online account with the GMC. Registering for the PLAB costs roughly $288 USD, with prices increasing should an individual register late.
Because the PLAB Part 2 requires a good deal of simulation equipment, there is only one exam center located in Manchester, U.K. These exams are offered multiple dates throughout the year. Test dates are in demand and often fill up quickly; for this reason, the GMC requires individuals to book their Part 2 tests three months ahead of time. It is important to note that Part 2 is more costly than part one, especially if IMGs factor in their travel to take the exam and housing while in Manchester. The test alone costs about $1,030 USD. It is also important to note that to take Part 2 of the PLAB, you must have passed Part 1 within the last two years. If this is not the case, you will be required to complete Part 1 again before taking Part 2.
Studying for the Tests
Studying for the PLAB is important, especially for Part 1. Many individuals struggle to answer all 180 questions in the 3-hour time limit. Leaving questions unanswered means automatic failure. Although it’s possible to take the exam four times, it’s best to pass it on the first try. Doing so can save on time and money.
During 2019, roughly 64% of individuals who took the PLAB Part 1 passed. For Part 2 the percentage was a bit higher at 66%. To improve the odds of passing this exam, individuals should use proper time management. This means scheduling their exam far enough in advance so they have time to study and can pass it on the first try. To improve the odds of passing, individuals may enroll in PLAB preparation courses or utilize the GMC’s online preparation tools.
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