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What you need to know about PLAB 1

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Photo: Young doctor is learning and preparing for the PLAB exam, he is using books and tablet to search for knowledge

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Updated: May 24, 2023

When you decide to pursue your medical career overseas, you will usually need to take exams to prove your medical knowledge and clinical skills. If you want to work in the UK, one way to achieve this is through the Professional and Linguistics Assessment Boards or PLAB exams.

Any exam is daunting but PLAB 1 doesn’t have to be one of them. I wasn’t a top student in my class but I was able to successfully pass both PLAB exams on my first attempt and trust me, if I can do it, then so can you!

So what do you need to know before you start on your PLAB journey?

Keep reading so you know how to prepare for PLAB 1.

The PLAB 1 essentials

What is PLAB 1?

PLAB 1 is a written exam. You’ll have 3 hours to answer 180 multiple choice questions.

Where and when can you sit PLAB 1?

PLAB 1 only takes place 4 times a year and you usually need to book 8-10 months in advance. Be sure to check the release dates for seats very early on in your journey.

You can book a place in many countries across the globe. Always check the GMC website for the exact dates each year and a list of the countries where PLAB 1 is available.

How much does it cost?

£255

What is the pass rate for PLAB 1?

On average, over two thirds of candidates pass PLAB 1. You can view the latest pass rates here on the GMC website.

Official Source: Fees and funding of PLAB

PLAB 1 is a clinical exam

Unlike USMLE Step 1, PLAB 1 is not heavily focused on the basic sciences. With PLAB, you will not encounter questions on rare variations of normal, and you will not fail because you forgot that one enzyme that did that one thing you learned in the second year of medical school.

PLAB 1 is about the application of medical knowledge to clinical practice. The questions are more grounded in diagnosis and management. After studying medicine for so many years, you will be definitely equipped with the necessary knowledge to pass.

PLAB 1 is not that difficult

In my humble opinion, PLAB 1 tests you for the most fundamental clinical knowledge that you would expect of any safe practising junior doctorUnlike the USMLE, it is not used to distinguish the most intelligent from the average. It is not a test of who’s best, just who’s safe.

The subject matter consists mostly of must-know topics that are needed in day-to-day practice rather than nice-to-know obscure facts. As long as you studied well during medical school, you’ll have a good foundation of knowledge for passing PLAB 1! So if you’re thinking about preparing for PLAB as a student, I would just say to focus on medical school and leave PLAB preparation for later.

You need to shift your mindset to UK medicine

When you’re preparing for PLAB, don’t just think of it as an exam you need to pass. View it as an opportunity to prepare for working in the UK. You’ll need to learn the UK management guidelines and the common conditions in the UK. These may be different from your home country because of the difference in demographics and national health policy.

You’ll also need to learn the English layman terms for some symptoms, signs and conditions. For example, seizures are referred to as “fits”.

Dr Aman Arora’s approach to PLAB 1 preparation focuses on the important knowledge you’ll need for the exam in a way that you’ll remember when you start practising as a doctor. We recommend his flashcards and audiobooks to help you learn on-the-go.

Check out his PLAB 1 study materials here.

We’ve managed to secure a 10% discount for our readers on all his products. Just use the code ARORASAVVY10 at checkout, this code can be used on top of any ongoing sale!

Preparation can take as little as 4-6 weeks

With dedicated preparation using the right study materials, you can pass PLAB 1 with just 4-6 weeks revision. This is more likely if you have recently graduated medical school or just finished internship. That’s because it’s all fresh and you still have a very trainable mindset. If you have been working in one specialty for a number of years, it becomes a bit more challenging but it is still doable.

If you are working while preparing for PLAB 1, or have other responsibilities such as caring for family, children, or have any health issues, then do be kind to yourself and allot more time for preparation.

Related: Getting ready for your first visit to the UK as an IMG

Don’t skip PLAB 1 sample questions

Your preparation for any exam, including PLAB 1, should not consist solely of reading text. You need to recall and apply this knowledge in an exam setting so it’s vital that you go through sample questions as part of your preparation. This will also help you familiarise yourself with the style of questions and the commonly tested topics.

Whenever using sample questions, be sure to research the correct answers yourself. We know that distribution of copyright materials is rampant amongst PLAB takers, so you should know that some academies intentionally put mistakes in their notes which they only correct if you attend the course or pay for a subscription. So be wary of using copyright notes that you obtained illegally!

Attending an academy in person is not essential for PLAB 1

Everyone has their own learning style, fortunately there are lots of resources to choose from these days. From online video courses, audiobooks, flashcards, question banks and more. This means you do not have to attend an academy or course in person just to prepare for PLAB 1.

What’s important is you get used to the basics of UK medicine and the common guidelines, terms, and diseases here.

Personally, I did not attend a PLAB 1 course but my wife did. It worked out well for both of us and we both passed on our first PLAB 1 attempt. But we wish we had access to the study materials that are available now because it would have helped us save a lot of money!

Related – The cost of PLAB & GMC fees + tips on saving money

You need to pass IELTS/OET first

Before you can book PLAB, you need to demonstrate that your English ability is up to GMC standards. For most IMGs this means passing IELTS or OET.

There is one possibility to bypass the English tests if your medical degree (AKA Primary Medical Qualification or PMQ) was taught solely in English and with clinical interaction with patients was in in English more than 75% of the time.

Your English evidence is valid for 2 years and needs to be valid on the day you sit PLAB 1.

For more information on the difference between IELTS and OET, read our article about it here.

Time management is an important skill

In PLAB 1, you have 3 hours to answer 180 multiple choice questions, that’s 1 minute per question! And when you’re under the pressure of an exam, the time can fly by and you can be left wondering, “what just happened?!”

To avoid panic during PLAB 1, it’s important to simulate the real exam during your preparation so that you are familiar with how it will be on the day. I definitely recommend taking mock exams to help with this.

PLAB and the UKMLA

Previously the GMC said that PLAB would be replaced by the UKMLA in 2024, however they now say that PLAB will still be called PLAB, even though the coverage will be changed to the UKMLA blueprint.

In practical terms, they say the exam will pretty much be the same. EU graduates will still be exempt from PLAB under current EU trade laws, but this is of course subject to change.

Frequently Asked Questions

You do not need to take the PLAB exams to gain full GMC registration if you are in one of these situations:

  1. You have attained one of the postgraduate qualifications on this list.
  2. You have found a job through one of the GMC sponsors on this list.
  3. You are joining an MTI scheme.
  4. You are an EU national or you have enforceable EEA rights (contact the GMC directly for advice about this)

If you don’t meet any of these criteria, then you need to book PLAB.

Related: How to decide between PLAB and MRCP/MRCS

No.

Although PLAB is set at the level of a doctor who has completed internship, internship is not a requirement to book the test. As you can see from the GMC website, there are only 2 requirements to book PLAB 1:

  1. Evidence of English proficiency
  2. Completion of an acceptable primary medical qualification (PMQ) – PLAB cannot be taken during medical school years.

Once you pass your final exams and therefore qualify for your Primary Medical Qualification, you can open a GMC Online account and book PLAB 1. You do not need to have attended your graduation ceremony or have your medical certificate or diploma in hand to book the exam. And you do not need to complete a post-graduate internship before you can book PLAB.

You may need to complete your pre-graduate internship before you can book PLAB. This is because one of the requirements to sit PLAB is that you have qualified from medical school, so if your internship is a pre-requisite to qualify then that may be an issue.

We asked the GMC this and they said “yes, you must complete your pre-graduate internship”, however we have come across IMGs who have completed PLAB during a pre-graduate internship so it looks like it’s possible. If you require further clarification, please email the GMC directly.

If you have qualified from medical school but haven’t completed internship, do not be intimidated to take PLAB. It is very possible to take PLAB during internship, or without any internship at all.

As with any exam, PLAB can be prepared for. We know many doctors who have successfully passed PLAB 1 and 2 without completing internship including ourselves. 

Again, the must knows for FY2 doctors in the UK can be found in the Oxford Handbook for Foundation Programme. Many also find the Oxford Handbook for Clinical Medicine useful.

Related: Will your internship be accepted for full GMC registration?

No. Scoring highly on PLAB will not gain you any advantage when applying for jobs.

As with most UK specialty exams, it is pass or fail. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to do well in it though, obviously the higher you score the more likely you are to pass.

Likewise if you fail the exam, it will not matter to future employers. Unlike the USMLE, you will not be asked at interview or in your job application how many times you sat PLAB. Once you pass, that’s it. So do not be too hard on yourself if you fail. It is a tricky test and it can take more than one attempt to conquer it so chin up, adjust your approach, and try again.

The significance of PLAB scores is a common misconception of IMGs, read about other common misconception here.

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?

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

free

Looking for a step-by-step guide?

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

free

8 Responses

  1. Hi! How is PLAB1 administered? I believe there’s an answer sheet that we need to shade. But, for the questions, will it be printed on paper or displayed through a computer?

  2. Hi,
    There is no place anymore for Plab 1 in 2021. Is there anything I could do about it? Do I need Plab for FY2 Las?

    1. Hi there, as far as we know there are no more places but keep checking. Some people cancel so you may be able to book a place. You need GMC registration for any job in the UK so if you are going through the PLAB route, yes, you’ll need PLAB. Hope you get a slot!

  3. Thank you so much dr Nick for providing a comprehensive information.
    I graduated med school at 2004, and afterwards working in a skin clinic as a general practitioner. Currently, I am pursuing my master’s degree in a genetic epidemiology at a university in Japan. I am 42 upon graduation. Is it still possible to sit on PLAB exam in order to train as a specialist in the UK?

    With best regards,
    Gosho

  4. Good evening and many thanks to the creators of this blog!
    I’m aiming to get into FP 2022, so, as I understood, my deadlines for sitting PLAB are November 2021 and April 2022 respectively for each part. But I’m concerned about the availability of places, since I will not be able to book my test date till July (when I’m getting my diploma).
    So my questions are: is there a way to track the availability of places online and, if not, can I book a place without my diploma?
    Best regards, Natavan

    1. Hi there! Thanks for visiting our blog! Unfortunately there is no way to track availability of places, we hope the GMC will come out with a function like this in the future though. You should still be able to book a place without your actual diploma if you have already passed your final exams. A letter stating that you passed the exams and meet all requirements to be awarded your degree should be sufficient but please double check the exact document required with the GMC. They reply quickly by email and FB messenger! Best of luck!

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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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