PLAB Guide 2021

If you’re planning to register to practise medicine in the UK and are required to carry out the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test, our comprehensive PLAB guide will provide you with key information about the exam, including what to expect, key dates and how to prepare.

All doctors who practise medicine in the UK must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and have a licence to practise; for the majority of international medical graduates, the application process will include a PLAB test. The exam is designed to ensure that doctors who qualified outside of the UK have the relevant knowledge and skills to practise medicine within the UK.

Which countries accept PLAB?

The PLAB is the GMC’s method of assessing the knowledge and skills required for practising medicine within the UK. It is used as evidence for applicants who don’t hold a UK or ‘relevant European qualification’. There are some exceptions, which you can find here, but generally if you qualified outside of the UK and don’t hold a ‘relevant European qualification’ you will be required to undertake the PLAB test as part of your GMC registration.

PLAB exam pattern

The PLAB test is divided into two parts, the PLAB 1 and PLAB 2, which you’ll undertake separately; the next section has more information on what is involved in each of the exams.

You must pass both parts of the PLAB test to be able to apply for registration with a license to practise medicine in the UK.

PLAB exam steps and length

The following is an overview of the two parts of the PLAB test:

PLAB 1

  • PLAB 1 is a written multiple choice exam.
  • Exam duration: 3 hours.
  • Number of questions: 180 ‘single best answer’ multiple choice questions.
  • Structure: For each one you’ll be provided with a short scenario, followed by a question and five possible answers.

PLAB 2

The GMC provides further guidance regarding the PLAB 1 and PLAB 2 tests.

Exam requirements

Before you can book your PLAB test, you need to provide the GMC with the additional evidence required for your registration, including evidence of your medical qualification and knowledge of English. You can find more information about the evidence requirements for your registration here.

Once you’ve provided these, you’ll be able to book your PLAB 1 test; you’re not able to book the second part of the exam, PLAB 2, until you’ve received your results for PLAB 1.

PLAB dates

PLAB 1

The GMC offers PLAB 1 exams four times throughout the year, both within the UK and at a number of overseas locations. The places are limited and in high demand; to find available places and test locations, you need to register for a GMC online account.

The following are the upcoming test dates, both within the UK and overseas, provided by the GMC:

Exam date Overseas closing date UK closing date
18 February 2021 7 January 2021 4 February 2021
20 May 2021 8 April 2021 6 May 2021
12 August 2021 1 July 2021 29 July 2021
4 November 2021 23 September 2021 21 October 2021

You can find more information about ‘when and where you can take PLAB 1’, including overseas test locations, here.

PLAB 2

The GMC offers PLAB 2 tests throughout the year at their clinical assessment centre in Manchester. As with the PLAB 1 test, you can view available places and book your test through your GMC online account; remember you’re not able to do this until you’ve received your PLAB 1 results.

PLAB 2 test dates for April – July 2021 were released on 19 January 2021. However, the GMC has also confirmed the following dates for booking PLAB 2 tests, in order to deal with the current demand:

  • March 2021: Additional places for tests in May, June and July 2021 will be released, as well as new test dates in August and September 2021.
  • July 2021: test dates for October, November and December will open.
  • September 2021: test dates for early 2022 will begin to be released.

PLAB cost

The following are the test fees for the PLAB exams, as provided by the GMC:

PLAB test fees Effective from 1 April 2020 Effective from 1 April 2021
Part 1 of the PLAB test (PLAB 1) £239 £240
Part 2 of the PLAB test (PLAB 2) £875 £879

Due to the pandemic, the GMC are not charging cancellation fees for PLAB tests, until further notice. However, you can find the usual cancellation fees, as well as any updates about the reintroduction of them, on the GMC’s website here.

Exam syllabus

The GMC provides a PLAB test blueprint which provides details of the knowledge, skills and behaviours you’ll be expected to demonstrate during the exam. The blueprint provides a knowledge section, which outlines what will be tested, as well as a domains section, which links to the GMC’s core guidance, good medical practice.

The GMC states that the blueprint document is mapped against the following documents, which you may find useful to explore further:

  • Good medical practice – the GMC’s core guidance which all registered doctors must adhere to. You must be able to demonstrate the values and behaviours set out in this document during your PLAB exam and during your practice in the UK.
  • Outcomes for provisionally registered doctors – these are the outcomes doctors must meet following completion of their first year of Foundation Programme training to be able to apply for full registration with a license to practise.
  • The UK Foundation Programme curriculum – this is the framework which is used in the UK to support the first two years of educational training for doctors.

To pass the PLAB test you must be able to demonstrate that you possess the ‘skills, professional values and behaviours [the GMC] expect of all licensed doctors working in the UK’.

You can download the blueprint here, as well as the supporting user guide, which explains how to read and use the blueprint.

Important Skills

The advice relating to the required skills for the PLAB test is the same for both parts of the exam and are covered in the blueprint provided by the GMC. These skills ‘match those typically faced by doctors starting the second year of their UK Foundation Programme training’, to ensure that doctors passing the PLAB are at the same level as doctors who qualify in the UK. Therefore, the Foundation Programme curriculum is a useful document to explore, along with the blueprint, to determine the skills you’ll be expected to demonstrate in the PLAB exam.

PLAB test preparation

To prepare for the PLAB test, the GMC recommends that you use the PLAB blueprint, the Foundation Programme curriculum and the good medical practice guidance; all of which are covered in the previous two sections.

They also provide the following additional resources in relation to the good medical practice guidance, to support you to develop and test your knowledge of the document:

  • Explanatory guidance – further guidance and advice relating to specific ethical topics.
  • Good medical practice in action – an online interactive tool which provides ‘60 real-world scenarios’ to practise applying the GMC guidance.
  • Welcome to UK practice – a free online workshop which provides practical advice and ethical scenarios to practise applying the GMC guidance.

PLAB example/sample practice questions

The GMC offers a selection of sample questions for PLAB 1 with answers, explanations and links to the relevant GMC guidance.

Likewise, for PLAB 2 the GMC provides a sample OSCE station, detailing the scenario, what the examiner will be looking for and what you need to demonstrate to be successful.

PLAB difficulty

The PLAB test assesses you against the level of knowledge and skills expected of doctors beginning the second year of their Foundation Programme training in the UK. To gain a deeper understanding of the level of difficulty this involves, you can explore the Foundation Programme curriculum here.

Good PLAB passing score

The GMC does not provide a pass score for either of the PLAB exams, as this changes depending on the individual tests; therefore, it’s impossible to know for certain what mark you must achieve. However, they do provide a total number of scenarios (see below) that you need to pass in the PLAB 2 exam, which gives you some indication of the achievement required.

Although an overall pass score isn’t provided, the GMC does set out how this is calculated, which varies across the two PLAB tests.

PLAB 1

Within PLAB 1, you’ll be awarded one mark for each correct answer within the 180 multiple choice questions, with the total number of correct answers being your test score. To calculate the pass mark for each individual test, the GMC uses the ‘internationally recognised Angoff method and include[s] one standard error of measurement’.

You can find more information about how your PLAB 1 test will be scored and how the GMC ensures consistent and fair pass scores here

PLAB 2

During the PLAB 2, you’ll be assessed at each of the 18 scenario stations against the following ‘marking domains’, as outlined by the GMC:

  • ‘Data gathering, technical and assessment skills’
  • ‘Clinical management skills’
  • ‘Interpersonal skills’

You’ll receive a score for each scenario, from which it’ll be judged as to whether you’ve passed the station or not. There isn’t a set pass mark for the stations; rather, the GMC uses the ‘borderline regression scoring method’ meaning that ‘the pass mark varies with the difficulty of the station and for each exam’. However, to pass the PLAB 2 exam, you must meet or exceed the total score required and pass a minimum of 10 stations overall.

You can find more information about how the total score is calculated and your test is assessed, as well as the type of feedback you’ll receive following the exam, on the GMC’s website here.

PLAB pass rate

The GMC provides the following data in relation to the pass rates for the PLAB examinations:

Recent PLAB 1 pass rates

Year Number of candidates who sat PLAB 1 Number of candidates who passed PLAB 1 Percentage of candidates who passed PLAB 1
2015 2,719 1,870 69%
2016 3,361 2,413 72%
2017 5,411 4,089 76%
2018 7,559 5,239 69%
2019 11,118 7,015 64%

Recent PLAB 2 pass rates

Year Number of candidates who sat PLAB 2 Number of candidates who passed PLAB 2 Percentage of candidates who passed PLAB 2
2015 2,257 1,524 68%
2016 2,454 1,798 73%
2017 2,966 2,333 79%
2018 5,229 3,428 66%
2019 8,702 5,780 66%

For each of the exams, you have a maximum of four attempts to pass, and you must pass both the PLAB 1 and PLAB 2 to be able to register for license to practise medicine within the UK.

Future of the PLAB and replacement by the UKMLA in 2024

The Medical Licensing Assessment (MLA or UKMLA) is a new GMC assessment scheduled to begin in 2024.

Rather than undertaking the PLAB test, as you would currently, medical graduates who qualified outside of the EEA will be required to take the new UKMLA from 2024, as part of the registration process to be granted a license to practise medicine within the UK.

This exam will also be taken by UK students as part of their medical degree, prior to being able to join the medical register, and will be applicable to students qualifying in the academic year 2024–25 onwards.

The GMC has also confirmed that they hope to include the UKMLA in the application process for medical graduates from the EEA registering with them, depending on the outcomes from Brexit. This would allow for a common assessment for almost all doctors registering to practise in the UK.

The GMC provides additional guidance on the UKMLA for UK medical students and international medical graduates, on their website here.

New guidance

Finally, the GMC has provided additional guidance for candidates undertaking the PLAB tests during the COVID-19 pandemic, which you can access here.

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Further reading

More tips on smashing your PLAB interview.

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The Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test assesses the knowledge and skills of doctors who qualified outside of the UK, as part of the General Medical Council’s (GMC’s) registration process. All doctors practising medicine in the UK must be registered with the GMC. Following the end of the Brexit transition period, you may be […]

By Medibuddy — 18 March 2021