PLAB 2 – a closer look for overseas doctors

  • August 07, 2022

In this blog we will explore PLAB 2 and everything that you need to know about how to sit the exam, including syllabus, dates, results, fees and preparation. 

We will take a broad look at the following topics:

For a general overview of the PLAB examinations, click here

Firstly, let’s take a look again at what PLAB 2 is: 

PLAB 2 is an objective structured clinical exam (OSCE), you should already be familiar with this format from your own medical training. It will consist of 18 scenarios, each lasting eight minutes and will reflect real life settings including a mock consultation or an acute ward.

What topics does the exam cover?

The exam syllabus covers everything a UK trained doctor might expect to see on the first day of Foundation Year Two (FY2) and tests your ability to apply knowledge to the care of patients.

Marking of the scenarios relate to current best practice in the UK. You should approach them in relation to published evidence and not according to your local arrangements.

Names of drugs referred to in the exam are those contained in the most recent edition of the British National Formulary (BNF).

How do you answer the questions?

The PLAB 2 exam will take approximately three hours and 10 minutes. You'll have one and a half minutes between test scenarios in order to read the instructions and patient information. There will be at least two rest stations, allowing you to take breaks.

You will be marked against three key areas for each scenario. 

  • Data gathering, technical and assessment skills

i.e. History taking, physical examination, practical procedures, investigations leading to a diagnosis

  • Clinical management skills

i.e. Formulating a diagnosis, explaining something to the patient, formulating a management plan

  • Interpersonal skills

i.e. How you approach the station: whether you establish a rapport with the patient, how you use open and closed questioning, involving the patient and demonstrating your professionalism and understanding of ethical principles

When marking against the domains the examiner will assess your competency across a number of skill areas, these are: 

Clinical examination

The examiner will assess you on your ability to conduct a physical examination of a simulated patient. This will usually be an actor who is trained to display signs when required, an anatomical model may also be used for certain examinations.

Practical skills

The examiner will assess you on your ability to perform common practical procedures. Again, they may ask you to deal with a simulated patient or an anatomical model.

These may include: 

  • checking blood pressure
  • performing venepuncture
  • inserting a cannula into a peripheral vein
  • calculating drug dosage
  • giving intravenous injections
  • mixing and injecting drugs into an intravenous bag
  • giving intramuscular and subcutaneous injections
  • basic cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (adult and child)
  • suturing
  • interpreting an electrocardiogram (ECG), X-rays or results of other investigations
  • interpreting basic respiratory function tests
  • performing urinary catheterisation
  • taking a cervical smear
  • safe disposal of sharps.

Interpersonal skills

The GMC test these skills by observing the interaction between you and another person, usually a simulated patient or occasionally the examiner. The examiner will assess your approach to the patient throughout the examination.

This may include:

  • explaining diagnosis, investigation and treatment
  • involving the patient in the decision-making
  • communicating with relatives
  • communicating with health care professionals
  • breaking bad news
  • seeking informed consent/clarification for an invasive procedure or obtaining consent for a post-mortem
  • dealing with anxious patients or relatives
  • giving instructions on discharge from hospital
  • giving advice on lifestyle, health promotion or risk factors.

As in preparing for PLAB 1, the GMC’s ‘PLAB Blueprint’ sets out what to expect from the test, including the topics, skills and procedures that a doctor who passes the test would need to know and be able to do in practice. In addition, it provides details of the professional qualities expected of a doctor working in the UK.

Where and when can I book a place? 

Part 2 can be taken in the UK only. When you book your PLAB 2 test place online, you will be able to see which venue is available for you. Currently, the main test venue is in Manchester, with test centres also in Cambridge and London. You can find more details here.

What does it cost? Fees.

The fee for Part 2 of the PAB test is currently £906 (as of 1st April 2022)

How do I register? What happens next? 

You can book online using your GMC Online Account. You will be able to view available dates and venues and book under the ‘My Tests’ section. 

How do I prepare for PLAB 2? 

For PLAB 2, most IMGs advise that they have benefited from attending specific courses geared towards this test. It is also advisable to plan ahead for PLAB 2, so that you can ensure that you can complete everything within one Visitor Visa time period (6 months). 

We have explored the UK Visitor Visa for PLAB 2 in more detail here, but let’s look briefly at booking PLAB 2 in more detail as you will have to arrange a UK Visitor Visa in order to sit the test. 

Take some time to consider when you want to sit the PLAB 2 exam, it takes time to study for the test itself, but you also need to start the process of your Visa application. To apply for your UK Visitor Visa, you must complete an online UK Visa application for PLAB. This takes two steps, online application, and submission of supporting documents in a Visa application centre. 

Remember to plan ahead! Once you have applied for your UK Visitor Visa, you must complete PLAB 2 within 6 months.

Do I need to bring anything to the test? 

You will need to bring identification and your booking confirmation 

For identification, the venue will accept any one of the following.

  • Passport
  • the booking confirmation that includes your GMC booking reference number

Don’t forget to dress as though you would on the ward at work.

What resources are available? 

We have discussed this question at length with IMGs and the GMC, and whilst there are many resources to choose from online, we recommend the following GMC guides to help you start your preparations: 

The PLAB Blueprint: this is a helpful guide to what will be included in the exam. Our IMGs advise this is the best place to start with your preparations. The Blueprint sets out clearly the required knowledge, skills and behaviours you are expected to demonstrate in the exam. 

The Foundation Programme curriculum: The topics and skills covered in the PLAB Blueprint are identical to those undertaken by doctors starting their second year of Foundation Programme Training (FY2).

You can find the Foundation Programme curriculum here

Guidance and interactive tools: The GMC ‘Good Medical Practice’ document explains the core advice to doctors on the standards expected of them. During PLAB 2 you will be expected to demonstrate the professional values and behaviours set out in ‘Good Medical Practice’ when you take the exam and when you practise as a doctor in the UK. 

 Test your knowledge of Good Medical Practice using:

You can also find several excellent videos online which provide you with helpful example scenarios. 

Courses: For PLAB 2, IMGs usually advise that they have benefited from further study and attending PLAB 2 specific courses. We couldn’t agree more! 

You may be worried about taking the exam, but remember that you will have done most of the clinical tasks before, and with real patients. 

For a useful overview of how to prepare for exams, including advice on study groups, online community support, best use of online resources & GMC materials and courses, take a look at our blogs on Exam Tips and Revision 

When will I receive my results? 

When PLAB 2 results are available the GMC will send you an email to provide access to the results in the ‘My Tests’ section of the GMC online account.

How many times can I sit the test? 

For PLAB 2, you can take the test 4 times. To be eligible to take the test for an additional attempt if you have not passed after 4 attempts, you must have completed a further 12 months experience of clinical practice or post graduate qualification. 

Passed? What next? 

Once you have passed both parts (PLAB 1 and 2) you can apply for a full registration with a license to practice. Your application must be approved within 2 years of passing part 2 of the test. Once the GMC have approved your application, you can work as a doctor in the UK. 

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