The PLAB test is changing: your queries answered

Richard Hankins, the General Medical Council’s (GMC) Head of Registration, Enquiries and Testing, answers some of the most common questions we’ve been asked by candidates and doctors wanting to take the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test.

The NHS has long relied on the skills and knowledge of doctors who have qualified from outside of the UK but the GMC needs to make sure everybody working in the UK meets our standards. We have made some changes to the way we test doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) known as International Medical Graduates (IMGs). Most of the changes will be introduced this coming September following an independent review [PDF], commissioned by the GMC.

We have made some changes to the way we test doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Most of the changes will be introduced this coming September.

We have been asked lots of questions since the changes were announced and hope this blog will be helpful to those considering taking PLAB and those who are already in the process.

We created a short video, which explains some of the changes. A detailed blueprint (a guide to what the test covers) and some example test questions [PDF] are also available on the GMC’s website to help candidates feel more confident about the process.

Why are you making these changes?

It’s our job, along with employers, to make sure doctors trained outside the UK have the level of knowledge, practical skills and professionalism we expect here. The PLAB test is the main route for IMGs who want to work in the UK, so ensuring the test continues to be robust and reliable is essential.

How will PLAB differ to the testing already in place?

A number of changes will be introduced including:

  • A revised practical assessment, which will involve an additional four scenarios (up from 14 to 18) for PLAB part 2 (the practical assessment). The scenarios will be more reflective of a patient consultation or other routine interaction rather than just asking a doctor to demonstrate a procedure.
  • New questions and practical scenarios that will have a stronger focus on the professional values and behaviours expected of doctors working in the UK, as detailed in Good medical practice.
  • We will change the way the pass mark in PLAB 2 is set to help boost the accuracy of the test. We will be using a method known as ‘borderline regression’, a widely-used and recognised way of setting the pass mark for practical exams like PLAB.
  • All candidates will be given more feedback on their performance in each section of the test. This will help them to address any knowledge or skills gaps prior to re-taking the test or starting work.

What about doctors who passed the PLAB test in the past, under the old style test? Will their skills and knowledge be at the right level? Are you going to check on this?

Doctors who have passed the current PLAB test, which will be replaced in September, will have demonstrated they are at the competency we expect to see in a doctor entering their second year of their Foundation Training Programme. This is the required standard and the new pass mark will continue to be at this level.

Once licensed, all doctors must take part in revalidation. Through this process, licensed doctors demonstrate, on a regular basis, that they are up to date, fit to practise and able to give a good level of care.

Why is PLAB changing when the GMC has expressed intentions to introduce a medical licensing assessment (MLA) for all doctors in the future?

Plans for the MLA are in the early stages of development. In the meantime it’s important the PLAB test is rigorous and up to date. The MLA would create a consistent standard of entry on to the UK medical register. You can read more about the MLA here.

Do all of the changes apply to candidates who have already taken PLAB part 1?

Yes, the changes will apply to all candidates who have not passed either parts 1 and 2 before September 2016.

However, a new limit on the number of times candidates can take the written or practical part of the assessment, and the two-year time limit for doctors to have their application for registration approved with a licence to practise in the UK after passing the PLAB test, will not take effect until September 2017. From then, candidates must then pass the written and practical parts of the test within a maximum of four attempts each.

Related posts 

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC, highlights the vital role doctors trained overseas play in UK healthcare 

Dr Anna-Maria Rollin shares her experience of being a PLAB test examiner

28 responses to “The PLAB test is changing: your queries answered

  1. “The situations will be more integrated rather than individual, separate tasks. This could often involve aspects of clinical reasoning, taking a patient’s history and working out what you do with the findings.”
    Does this imply that there will be bo physical examination or clinical procedures as whole (or part of) stations ?

    • Hi Hari,

      Some stations will continue to require candidates to undertake physical examinations and procedures on role players or mannequins. However, with longer stations candidates will also be asked to demonstrate related skills, such as gaining consent or writing a prescription.

      I hope this helps,
      GMC social media team

      • So essentially like the previous version of the exam, we would still have stations that involve 1) History Taking 2) Communication Skills 3) Clinical Examination 4) Practical Skills. Could you please kindly confirm ?
        A sincere humble request, please release more information on the new version of the exam at the earliest ie Please change the information on the pages Before PLAB 2 & At the PLAB 2 examination.
        Many Thanks.

      • Hi Hari,

        Thank you for your message. Yes, PLAB candidates will still be assessed on history taking, communication skills, clinical examination and practical skills. However, each station will assess a number of these areas. This blueprint might be helpful to you as it contains detailed information about what the test covers and what is expected of those who pass it. There are also some example test questions on our website [PDF]. We will update the Before the Test web pages as soon as the current format of the exam has finished running.

        Many thanks,
        GMC social media team

  2. this is most demanded profession, medical student are in high demand and it one profession which never goes into recession, because with increasing population and diseases and injury cases , need for more doctors and EMT is there

  3. Regarding the example test questions, there is only a singular example of one type of question involving history-taking & communication skills. I assume there will be many different types of questions & the exam will not be homogenous with only this type of questions.
    Us test-takers would very much appreciate more examples of the different types of questions.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Hari. We don’t publish lots of example questions because the exam tests how you apply your knowledge to the care of patients, rather than how well you remember facts.

      But you might find our interactive tool ‘Good medical practice in action’ useful to test your knowledge of our professional standards. It takes you through different scenarios and you have to choose what you think the doctor should do in each case.

      Hope this helps – good luck!

      • This interactive tool is actually quite good, Thanks a lot. Much appreciated.

    • Hi SAK,

      The four attempt limit will come into effect in September 2017. From this date, you will have to pass the written and practical parts of the test within a maximum of four attempts at each. Any attempts at the test you make before September 2017 will count towards your total.

      Hope that makes things more clear?

      You can find out more about all the changes on our website here.

      Best wishes,
      GMC social media team

  4. Hello, The changes to Plab 2 is quite evident. However the description of changes to Plab part 1 is quite vague. There has been mentions of new additions to the syllabus. I read the blueprint, and it does not seem to state any explicit changes. There has been talks of the addition of the following new topics to Plab 1 :

    Geriatrics

    New Pediatrics

    Medical Ethics

    Can you please confirm?

    We are confused and would like some clarity on this matter.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Dr Unnikrishnan,

      Thanks for your question. From September 2016, the change to Part 1 of PLAB is that it will include a selection of questions related to professionalism and ethics. The updated blueprint includes links to the ethical and professional guidance you will be tested on.

      You might also find our interactive tool ‘Good medical practice in action’ useful to test your knowledge of our professional standards. It takes you through different scenarios and you have to choose what you think the doctor should so in each case.

      New topic headings have also been included in the blueprint as part of our regular updates to the PLAB test to make sure it reflects current and real life medical practice. These are ‘child health’ (previously titled ‘developmental problems’), ‘older adults’ (to cover conditions specific to geriatric medicine) and ‘pharmacological’ (prescribing).

      I hope this information makes it a bit more clear.

      Best wishes,
      GMC social media team

  5. Hi,
    I’ve been waiting to book the PLAB 2 exam in the latter half of November/early December. So far, those dates haven’t been released & with Nov 15th being booked out, I’m a bit worried. Your website thus far does mention that the exam will be conducted throughout November/early December. Could you kindly tell me whether the exam is planned for this period ?

    • Hi Hari,

      Thanks for getting in touch. There will be further Part 2 test dates in the latter half of November and in the first week in December. As soon as they are ready to book on to, they will be on our website, so please continue to check this as you have been doing already.

      Best wishes,
      GMC social media team

  6. Hi GMCUK.

    The information about the attempts section is very unclear. On the one hand we are told that the number of attempts will be limited to 4 from 2017, but on the other you say that any attempts before this date will count towards the limit. So what if for example I take 5 tests in 2016, BEFORE the September 2017 limit kicks in. Does that mean I can still have another attempt at the exam AS LONG AS IT IS BEFORE Sep 2017? But once September 2017 comes, then no more attempts can be taken as I would have had 5 attempts?

    Thanks

    • Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your question. If you have taken PLAB Part 1 5 times in 2016, you can still make further attempts to pass it up until September 2017. From September 2017, these 5 or more previous attempts would be taken into account as your total number of retakes (with the four attempt limit being in place), so you would not be able to take the test again.

      As you’ll know, there is already a limit of four attempts for Part 2 but currently, if you have failed four times, you can re-sit Part 1 to start the process again. From September 2017, you won’t be able to take either parts of the test again if you have failed four times.

      I hope this makes the change more clear.

      Kind regards,
      GMC social media team

  7. Can you please provide more information regarding the new changes in PLAB 2 station proportions. In the current exam version we know how many for e.g history stations, counselling stations and manikins or examination stations. Please update Preparing for PLAB 2 page still it does say all stations are five minute stations on the communication skills http://www.gmc-uk.org/doctors/plab/23450.asp

    • Hi Ismail,

      Thanks for your question and sorry for our delayed response.

      For each station, you will be marked against three domains. The first domain is ‘Data-gathering skills, technical and assessment skills’ – this covers history taking, physical examination, practical procedures and investigations leading to a diagnosis.

      The second domain is ‘Clinical management skills’ – this covers formulating a diagnosis, explaining something to the patient and formulating a management plan.

      The third domain is ‘Interpersonal skills’- this covers how you establish a rapport with the patient, how you use open and closed questioning and how you demonstrate your professionalism and understanding of ethical principles.

      When constructing an exam, we select stations covering the range of knowledge, skills and behaviours in the PLAB blueprint. The blueprint will tell you what you can expect to be covered by the stations in Part 2. It won’t, however, tell you what questions or scenarios you will face on the day you take the examination.

      Our PLAB website pages are currently being updated. But you might find our new ‘examiner top tips’ document helpful and you can test your knowledge with our interactive tool ‘Good medical practice in action’.

      We hope this information helps.

      Kind regards,
      GMC social media team

  8. Pingback: Welcome to UK practice: a workshop to support new doctors | General Medical Council·

  9. Pingback: Journey of an international medical graduate | General Medical Council·

  10. Why these changes are?
    Answer is patients safety
    then why EU doctors can not be assessed. Where is patient safety?
    These measures are simply for stopping numbers of doctors from overseas.
    I work in the NHS and know hundreds of EU doctors who might not get overall 7 if they were to take IELTS exam, forget about PLAB.
    There are no ways GMC can check their abilily.
    Only GMC can do is cancel few EU doctors registration to inform people that they are checking EU doctors also.But in reality they are not.
    I can write so many things here but I know I am wasting my time.

  11. hi GMCUK, thanks for this very useful blog. Pls what is the procedure/ required documentation to apply for licensing / registration after passing PLAB 1 & 2

  12. Hi GMCUK,

    I have a query regarding the two-year time limit for doctors to have their application for registration approved with a licence to practise in the UK after passing the PLAB-2 test.

    I have passed my PLAB-2 in October 2015 and in the result email, it was mentioned that the results are valid for three years.

    I just want to confirm that will my PLAB-2 result be valid for three years i.e. till OCT-2018 for my application for registration?

    Thanks & Regards.

    S Ali

    • Thanks for your comment, Dr Ali.

      The changes to time limits will apply to you, so your PLAB 2 pass will be valid until October 2017. We recommend you apply for registration as soon as possible, so that you can complete the process in good time.

  13. Pingback: Top tips from a PLAB examiner: how to succeed in Part 2 | General Medical Council·

  14. I had written my IELTS by March 2015,to gain admission to a Uk university,where i am currently a student.could I be allowed to use that result for my November 2017 PLAB 1 registration?
    Kevin.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for your question. IELTS certificates are normally valid for 2 years, but if you are studying for a postgraduate qualification in the UK, you may be able to apply for an extension.

      To do this, you will need to provide one of the following:

      1. Evidence that you have successfully completed a postgraduate course of study, where all elements of the course of study, including clinical activities, were taught and examined solely in English, within the past two years.

      2. A reference from an employer or your tutor or lecturer on a postgraduate course of study from a country where English is the first or native language. The reference must cover at least three months full time employment or study within the last two years.

      There is more information here.

      I hope that’s helpful, but let us know if you have any other questions.

      Best wishes,
      Tanita (GMC social media team)

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