The Professional Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exams of the UK’s General Medical Council are the main route by which international medical graduates demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to practice medicine in the UK.
The Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test, known as the PLAB test, helps the UK’s General Medical Council to ensure that Nigerian doctors seeking to ply their trade in the United Kingdom have the right knowledge and skills to practise medicine in England.
What does the PLAB test involve?
There are two parts to the test. Part 1 is a written multiple-choice exam, with 180 single best answer questions. Part 2 is a practical objective structured clinical exam, known as an OSCE. You’ll need to pass both parts before you can apply for registration with a license to practise medicine in the UK.
What do you need before you can take PLAB?
Before you can take the PLAB test, you’ll need to set up a GMC Online account and show your medical qualification and knowledge of English are acceptable. Once you’ve done that, you can book your place on part 1 of the PLAB test.
PLAB part 1
PLAB 1 is a written exam made up of 180 multiple choice questions which you must answer within three hours. Each starts with a short scenario followed by a question. You need to choose the right answer out of the five possible answers given. You can sit part 1 in a number of countries including Nigeria, as well as in the UK. Have a look at the available locations and dates when you log in to GMC Online.
PLAB part 2
PLAB 2 is an objective structured clinical exam. It’s made up of 18 scenarios, each lasting eight minutes, and aims to reflect real-life settings including a mock consultation or an acute ward. Part 2 tests run throughout the year at GMC clinical assessment centre. This test can only be taken in Manchester, UK. However, you can participate in the training at PLAB Nigeria.
What happens after you’ve passed PLAB 1 and PLAB 2?
Once you’ve passed both parts, you can apply for registration with a licence to practise. Your application must be approved within two years of passing part 2 of the test. Once we approve your application and you gain registration you can work as a doctor in the UK.
How to Prepare For PLAB Exams in Nigeria
Your application of knowledge will be tested.
This is not solely a test of knowledge but one of applied knowledge. It is not enough to simply know the information – it tests your application of core knowledge in scenarios and situations that you may be faced with in UK medical practice, whether clinically, ethically or evidence-based. It requires a certain amount of lateral thinking and placing yourself ‘in the situation’ – this is why sometimes more than one answer may seem appropriate. Change your mindset – it is not all about cramming in all you can.
Use the help that is provided to you
The GMC produces two things that many don’t even know about. Firstly, the PLAB Blueprint – this is telling you what you need to focus on. Split into various sections, it should form the basis of your preparation – knowing what is expected of you is half the battle won. Secondly, the GMC provides sample questions on their website – it is vital that you go through some of these to understand the levels that you need to know. Use what is there to help you from the producers of the exam themselves!
Start where you don’t want to go
We’re very good at focusing on the areas that we like – if you enjoy and understand cardiology well, chances are that you’ll go there first. Practice the opposite. Decide three topics that you hate and start there. Perhaps genetics? Maybe urology? Possibly pharmacology. Getting through this first hurdle and realising that you can overcome this prevents the all-too-often, last-minute cramming of these topics. Face your fears full-on.
Targets lead to progress.
Don’t revise by walking on a windy path. These come with distractions – the bends lead you to other directions. Make some targets on a straight road and stick to them. ‘Week one I will have covered X; week two I will have covered Y’ and so on. Whatever happens, stick to this – even if it means two full days at the end of the week due to drifting away earlier in the week. Targets ensure completion; wandering leaves you stranded halfway.
Don’t only stick to the ‘norm’.
Doctors preparing for PLAB 1 usually follow the same course as everyone else – the same online question banks repeated again and again. Variety is key. Of course, use the question banks – they are a key focus for revision but don’t neglect the other things out there. There are loads of great PLAB 1 resources available, each giving you a different spin on question types and learning areas. You don’t need to buy them – pick one or two that suit your own style. We produce audio and video training for this very need – so doctors can find what suits them. Variety is key to success – discard monotony.
Make time pressure work for you.
It is always nice to prepare and practice questions in the comfort of your own home, in your own time, with the luxury of regular breaks. The exam however is not so nice. Practice recreating time pressure – give yourself 30 minutes to answer X number of questions, one hour to go through X number of topics, three hours to do a full ‘mock’ etc – the unique pressure of a ticking time-bomb makes you think differently. Being a doctor constantly reminds you of the need for speedy decisions and good time management – this is definitely tested in PLAB 1. Don’t experience time pressure for the first time on the day itself.
Small words have a big impact.
Common things are common. We often word-match and decide on answers very quickly. You may see the word ‘iron’ in the question and your eyes flick to the answers – you see ‘haemochromatosis’ and your mind is fixed. The small words in these questions can change the answer in a big way – ‘usually’, ‘commonly’, ‘most often’ are examples of words that may change the answer to something else – don’t miss them in eagerness to tick the right answer. Small words make up big marks – ignore them at your peril.
Things are always easier in the picture.
Sometimes reading through 3 or 4 lines of text can be a challenge – by the time you get to the end, you’ve forgotten the first two lines. Imagery can help in a huge way. Visualise the patient in front of you. Add layers to the patient as you read the text: ’30 year old female’…. ‘walks with a limp’…. ‘appears to have a swollen ankle’…. ‘you notice a bruise on her shin’ etc. Slowly building up the image is much easier than quickly reading all in one go. Imagination makes you miss less detail – make use of it.
Don’t go solo.
PLAB 1 can be a lonely affair; get home from work, open your laptop, and feel alone, isolated, and frustrated. Get together with colleagues if possible once a week, or at least form a support group through social media or social networks to go over challenging topics, boost each other’s confidence and make plans for the next week. Realising that you are not the only one in this boat, as well as understanding that others also find it a challenge can really help. Push each other, test each other, teach each other.
Know you’re going to pass.
So often I hear people say ‘I don’t know enough to pass’ or ‘I’ll never cover all of this. Whilst wishing to pass won’t automatically make it happen, there is definitely something in favour of self-belief. Confidence is a key part of passing any exam – regularly telling yourself that you won’t pass, that you can’t pass, but somehow hoping that you will, just makes your preparation that much harder. Regular pep talks, reminding yourself that you actually know a huge amount, and convincing yourself that you will easily pass, will push you that bit harder. Telling yourself that it is impossible, that it is too much, and that you will never understand X, Y and Z will only work against you. Focus on the positive end-point and you’ll reach it much more easily.