PLAB - a guide for overseas doctors

  • November 05, 2021

Passing PLAB helps the GMC ensure doctors have the knowledge & skills to practice in the UK.

The PLAB test assesses an overseas doctor's ability to work safely in the NHS, showing the GMC they have skills necessary to work at senior house officer level (SHO). IMGs from any country in the world can sit the examinations provided certain eligibility criteria are met. These are summarised below along with the following topics:

Do I need to take the PLAB test?

If you graduated from a medical school outside of the UK, EEA, or Switzerland, you probably need to sit the PLAB test or attain a recognised postgraduate qualification. 

If you are an EEA doctor, and qualified at an EEA institution, then your postgraduate qualification will automatically satisfy the GMC skills and knowledge criteria and don’t need to sit PLAB. 

What is the PLAB test? 

PLAB is as a licensing examination to assess whether an International Medical Graduate (IMG) is eligible to obtain GMC Registration or not. 

Technically, it is not a certification, rather it simply makes you eligible for full GMC registration.

How many parts to the PLAB test? 

There are two parts to the PLAB test. 

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, as well as in the UK. 

Take a closer look at PLAB 1 here.

PLAB 2 is a practical objective structured clinical exam, known as an OSCE. 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 the GMC’s own clinical assessment centre in the UK, only. 

Take a closer look at PLAB 2 here.

You need to pass both parts of the test before you can apply for registration with a license to practice medicine in the UK.  

To find out more about each part of the PLAB test we have created a more in depth look at each section, however we have summarised the key points below. 

What are the entry requirements for the PLAB test? 

To be eligible for the PLAB test you must meet the following criteria: 

  • Your Primary Medical Qualification (PMQ) must be awarded by an institution listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools. Before starting the process, we recommend that you check that your Primary Medical Qualification is accepted in the UK. 
  • You must also have taken and passed the English Language Test (IELTS or OET) with the relevant scores. For IELTS you must have attained a score of at least 7.5 overall and a minimum of 7.0 for all the four language skills. For OET you must have scored at least grade B in each testing area. 
  • At least 12 months’ postgraduate clinical experience in a teaching hospital, or another hospital approved by the medical registration authorities in the appropriate country. (The test can be taken without this experience, but the candidate will only be granted limited registration at the grade of House Officer – the grade occupied by new medical graduates).

At what stage should I take the exam? 

For IMGs we recommend that you apply for the PLAB exams after the completion of an internship or house job, as that makes you eligible for Full GMC Registration, not limited. 

However, you can sit the PLAB at any time in your career, so long as you have a recognised Primary Medical Qualification. IMGs in our community advise the earlier the better! 

What do I need to do to get started? 

Before you can sit the tests, you need to set up a GMC online account and show the GMC that your medical qualification and level of English are acceptable. Once you have done that you can sit Part 1 of the PLAB test.

For further information visit the General Medical Council website.

Where and when can I sit the test outside of the UK? 

Part 1 is run twice a year in a number of countries. A full list of dates, locations and contact details can be found here.

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?

The fee for Part 1 of the PLAB test is currently £235 (as of 1st April 2019) 

The fee for Part 2 of the PLAB test is currently £860 (as of 1st April 2019)

How do I book my test place? 

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. 

Remember, before you book, you must have an acceptable overseas primary medical qualification and the necessary knowledge of English. 

How do I prepare for PLAB? 

PLAB 1 can be taken under your own preparation, but for PLAB 2 most IMGs advise that they have benefited from attending specific courses geared at 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 some 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, your booking confirmation and stationary. 

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

  • Passport
  • UK Immigration and Nationality Department identification document
  • Home Office travel document
  • Booking confirmation
    • Bring the booking confirmation that includes your GMC booking reference number

For stationery

  • You should bring HB pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener.

How many times can I sit the test? 

For PLAB 1, you can take the test 4 times. If you have not passed after 4 attempts, to be eligible to take the test again you must have completed a further 12 months experience of clinical practice or post graduate qualification. 

You can only apply for PLAB 2 after the results for PLAB 1 are issued. You must pass PLAB 2 within 2 years of the date you passed PLAB 1. 

When will I receive my results? 

PLAB 1 results are available around 6 weeks after you have taken the exam. 

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.

Passed? What next?

Once you have passed both parts of your PLAB examinations, 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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