The Savvy IMG

15 things to consider when choosing a PLAB 2 academy

There are over a dozen PLAB 2 academies to choose from these days - picking one can be overwhelming!. This guide lists all the essential considerations you need to make when deciding on the best academy for you.

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Updated: May 2023

Choosing a PLAB 2 academy was a nerve-wracking process for me! I worried about things like “am I wasting my money?” “can I do this on my own?” “do these academies know what they’re talking about?” “is one academy better than the others?” etc.

PLAB 2 is a very important exam and I wanted to choose a centre that would give me the highest chance of passing.

In this article I list the top 6 essentials for any PLAB academy to give you the right tools to succeed. I also discuss 9 other considerations that can affect your decision to enrol in a specific academy.

So let’s get to it.

The 6 essentials

1. High quality feedback

This is the most important consideration when choosing a PLAB 2 coaching centre. What you are really paying for in these courses is high quality feedback. Notes and videos can provide you the content of the exams without the need to enrol in an academy, but they don’t give you feedback to help you improve.

So if you decide to invest in an academy, make sure you know what kind of feedback you will receive. The best type of feedback is individualised and should be delivered face-to-face. Ask about whether the mark sheets from your mock exams are returned to you and what opportunities there are to discuss your results with the examiner.

2. Small group size

PLAB 2 is a practical exam so it is not something that can be taught in a large lecture hall. Being able to see the teacher clearly as they demonstrate practical skills, and being able to ask questions is essential. Group size also affects the quality of feedback that you will receive so the smaller the group the better. Personally I feel more hesitant to ask questions when the group has more than 20 participants but this differs from person to person.

You can find out the group size by checking the official website of the academies or by contacting them directly. Another option is to ask past PLAB 2 candidates in forums or Facebook groups. This may give you a more accurate and unbiased answer.

3. Familiarity of the teachers with PLAB 2

I’m sure that when you’ve been researching the PLAB 2 academies you’ve had a look at the credentials of the teachers. Some boast that their teachers have been training doctors for PLAB for many years while others focus on them being registrars or Consultants.

Which is more important?

For me, having a teacher who is a Consultant may sound impressive but familiarity with the exam itself holds heavier weight. Find out how long the academy has been in operation for and try to contact former students about who was actually doing the teaching in the course.

4. Facilities for practice

When the course ends, your work begins. Intentional focused practice is vital to your success. The centre must have space for you to practice including access to mannequins. If it’s not possible to visit the academy before enrolling, call them or ask around on Facebook groups. Find out what the opening times are for practice sessions and how accessible the mannequins and SimMan are.

Word of advice: a SimMan station comes out in almost every PLAB 2 exam so make sure the academy of your choice has one!

5. Time for practice

To practice effectively you need time. If you don’t give yourself enough time to practice you’ll be setting yourself up for failure! If the academy only runs once a month and leaves you just 1-2 weeks for practice, I would advise against it. Look for a centre that has dates that allow you more time.

I generally suggest a minimum of 3 weeks between the end of the course and your PLAB 2 date. Most people suggest 4-6 weeks as safest which is also fine. Check the start and end dates of the course as well as the mock exam dates.

Is more time to practice better? Not always, practice has its limits.

At some point you will get fatigued, your performance will plateau, and no further improvement can be made. So just keep burnout in mind if you are planning to allocate 2-3 months between the course and the exam.

6. Full mock exams

PLAB 2 is at least 2 and half hours long with 18 stations of 8 minutes duration each. You need stamina to finish each station strong and this requires practice. Make sure the mock exam accurately simulates the real test by having the full 18 stations. I would recommend doing around 2-3 full mocks. Don’t underestimate the importance of mock exams in your preparation for PLAB 2!

Bonus tip

The Oxford Handbook of Foundation Programme was immensely helpful not only in my preparation for PLAB 2, but also for my first job! It helped me consolidate my learning from medical school and the PLAB 2 course, as well as understand how the NHS works and what’s expected of UK doctors.

I recommend you get this book and study it during PLAB 2 so that by the time you start working, you’ll be familiar with the UK management plans or at least where to look when you come across a case or problem at work.

Get your copy here on Amazon.

Other important factors

7. Flexibility of course schedule

The majority of academies hold their classes daily for about 2 consecutive weeks. This may not work for those who have other commitments during the week. Some centres do offer weekend courses so look into that if you’re already in the UK but unable to attend on weekdays.

8. Distance learning

Not everyone can fund the cost of a 4-6 week long trip to the UK. Some doctors are preparing for PLAB while working and are unable to request leave for this amount of time. Others yet have families that they can’t leave for too long.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth looking into the availability of distance learning. Some academies offer online instruction for their course complemented by in-person mock exams. This helps to reduce the duration of time needed to be physically in the UK. Bear in mind that with this approach it’s still advisable to attend at least a week prior to the mock exams so you can practice with other candidates.

9. Times of classes

Many classes skip the rush hour and start mid-morning. This is great for those who need to commute, but sessions can finish late in the evening – even past midnight for some mock exams! This makes it less safe for those travelling alone. If the course tends to finish this late, consider getting accommodation very close by and even joining with friends with whom you can travel to and from the academy. Remember, safety in numbers!

10. Training of mock examiners

It’s no secret that the mock examiners for many academies are their former students. This is not necessarily a bad thing as these successful candidates are familiar with the exam content and format. That doesn’t mean however that they have training on how to be an examiner or how to provide feedback. Ask the academy what training former students receive to be mock examiners and if they are given marksheets when grading.

11. Additional mock exams

If you feel you’re not making as much progress as you would like, it may be a good idea to practise more and attend another mock exam. Find out if the academy offers additional mocks and for how much. This isn’t necessary for everyone but it’s good to know your options.

12. Accommodation

The UK is an expensive place to live, especially if you’re unemployed! Fortunately, some academies offer help finding inexpensive accommodation for both shared and private rooms.

If you do look for accommodation on your own, check how close it is to the academy and factor in travel time and costs. I find Airbnb is the next most affordable option when the academy accommodations are full. Sign up to Airbnb and receive a £25 discount off your first booking.

Suggested: How to find cheap short-term accommodation in the UK

13. Pass rates

Some academies publish their pass rates which you can compare to the GMC published pass rates. Although these numbers are reassuring for potential PLAB takers, remember that these are published by the academies themselves rather than from an unbiased third party. Also, even if an academy has a high pass rate you will still need to put in the work. Simply attending the course will not guarantee a pass.

14. Reviews

In today’s consumer world, we like to read reviews before parting with our money. When it comes to PLAB 2 courses I would advise to take reviews with a grain of salt. The whole “which academy should I go for?” question can lead to hostile toxic interactions which you don’t need when facing an important exam!

I would advise not to base your decision solely on reviews but on all the other factors I’ve listed here. If you want to ask former students about their experience, try to ask for objective information like the delivery of feedback, class size, class times, number of stations in a mock exam, etc.

15. Post PLAB support

Some academies allow you to retake the course at no additional cost if you fail the exam so check for this before booking. No one plans to fail but it’s good to have a plan B just in case.

If and when you do pass, there are centres that offer services to prepare you for your first job. This may include advice on your CV, interview prep, and even direct help finding a job through a recruitment agency. Although with the shortage of doctors these days, it’s not necessary to go through an agency to secure employment but some doctors may find this reassuring.

Final consideration: Cost

The price range of the PLAB 2 course itself is very similar among most centres so the fee itself should not be a major factor in your decision. But don’t forget that there are other costs to be considered such as accommodation and transportation. Make sure you look into the costs as a whole. Also consider other bonuses offered such as post-PLAB support and discounts for group bookings.

Read all about the cost of GMC registration through the PLAB route here. You’ll find a thorough breakdown of the expenses plus tips to save at each stage.

Conclusion

Bottom line: Choosing the right academy is only half the work, the rest is really down to you. An academy can only provide the tools; at the end of the day it is up to you to take these tools and do the work needed to succeed.

Further resources

For unofficial websites and Facebook groups, please use your own discretion and check all advice and materials with the official sources.

Also read – What you need to know about PLAB

Official GMC guidance – PLAB 2 specific

Our recommend PLAB 2 Academy: Arora Medical Education Use the code SAVVY10 for 10% off at checkout.

Study tips:

Facebook groups

Disclosure: There are some affiliate links in the article above. This means that at no additional cost to you, we may earn a commission if you make a booking or purchase by clicking on the link. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves or have proven success amongst IMGs.

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Looking for a step-by-step guide?

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Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.

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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
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