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The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Hello! If you are planning to sit the PLAB 1 exam then this blog is for you. I cover what it is, what to expect and how to prepare – my aim is to help as many of you as I can through this potentially tricky exam.

Having been a previous GMC PLAB examiner, and having taught many doctors for both PLAB 1 and PLAB 2, I have seen first-hand how a focused and structured approach helps passing this exam in a major way.

– Join the Arora PLAB 1 Telegram teaching group here
– Register for our next Free PLAB 1 Webinar here
– Start using the Arora PLAB 1 Ultimate package here.

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The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

What is the PLAB 1 exam?

PLAB 1 is part of the PLAB assessment process for doctors who are training abroad, to allow them to work in the UK as doctors. PLAB 1 is the written component, whereas PLAB 2 is your OSCE component. Details about PLAB 2 are found here.

PLAB 1 can be taken in various places across the world – both in the UK as well as in other countries – to see which cities you are able to take the exam see the GMC website.

PLAB 1 exam is a 180-question exam, set out as a ‘single best answer’ approach. Each question has a stem alongside 5 potential answers – you have to pick the single best one.

There maybe one, two or three that are potentially correct, but you’re looking for the single best one. The exam lasts 180 minutes in total.

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Is PLAB 1 hard?

PLAB 1 can be passed with the right preparation. It is testing recollection of knowledge – for example it is not looking to see how many causes you know of right heart failure.

It is designed to test your application of knowledge. It is expected that your knowledge is of a certain standard having completed your undergraduate degree eg MBBS – the idea now is to see how can you apply that knowledge – in essence to see whether you’ll be able to work in the UK environment.

It is important to remember that in PLAB 1 answers are going to be based on UK best practice.

You may be working in some parts of the world where policies and protocols are slightly different, but when you’re preparing make sure you understand UK best practice and UK based guidelines.

For this reason all of our PLAB 1 teaching and resources are based on up-to-date UK guidance.

Two major areas can be tested. Firstly, acute presentation – common things that you may find in an emergency department. Secondly, more long term or chronic conditions that may present to primary care or a family physician in the UK.

Questions might be based on a range of areas. For example you may be asked about a patient who presents with certain symptoms and you need to work out the most likely diagnosis. You could be tested on investigations – for example what would be the first or most appropriate investigation in a particular presentation.

Questions could be based on management – what would be the most appropriate management of either an acute or a chronic condition. You could be given simple statistics to work out, as well as questions containing results – for example blood tests or x-ray reports – designed to assess how you would diagnose, manage, interpret, and treat these situations.

Watch this video for 3 key trends that I see in doctors who don’t pass PLAB 1: https://youtu.be/d2mCKEnB7-s

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

How much does PLAB 1 cost?

From April 2023 PLAB 1 costs £255. More details about cancelling or booking PLAB 1 can be found on the GMC website.

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

How should I prepare for PLAB 1?

The first thing I suggest is to go to the GMC website and download the PLAB blueprint. This can be in both Excel of PDF form, and is a guide as to what could potentially be tested in both PLAB 1 and in PLAB 2. It is divided into sections, allowing you to plan your preparation accordingly.

The second thing I would do is make a timeline for your preparation – you can use our latest free PLAB 1 daily planner programme for thisWhen you know the date of your PLAB 1 exam, split it into how many days, weeks, months are left – try and have a plan as to how to cover all the information in the PLAB blueprint. Remember lack of appropriate planning can lead to ineffective preparation, often leading to missing out large areas of preparation.

For the most comprehensive coverage of both knowledge and technique, use our PLAB 1 Ultimate Package – combination of questions, mocks, videos, audios, live teaching and flashcards to cover all angles of PLAB 1 preparation. Details are here

Question banks are obviously a major part of preparation for PLAB 1 and there are many high question bank options available. Our bespoke PLAB 1 Mock Exams (included in PLAB 1 Ultimate) allow you to practice challenging questions in a time-pressurised environment – just like in the real exam. Make sure you find a question bank that works for you as an individual – what works for someone else may not work for you. And remember it is not the number of questions you do that is important – it is the quality of feedback and what you learn from each question (whether you answer right or wrong) that matters.

For some, videos work well. Our PLAB 1 Online video course (also part of PLAB 1 Ultimate) is by far our most comprehensive course, focused on flexible learning – it covers all GMC PLAB blueprint topics in 20+ hours of online learning

Social media is really important. We have daily PLAB teaching on our PLAB 1 Telegram teaching group. YouTube videos are a great source of free teaching on a variety of topics – once again we have over 500 videos on our own YouTube channel (Dr Aman Arora), aimed at quick-fire teaching for PLAB 1. If you are on Instagram we teach daily here as well (@dr_aman_arora). There are many Facebook groups in terms of PLAB preparation. We have our own dedicated PLAB Support Facebook Group, where we give plenty of daily free information and free education for PLAB 1.

And finally, consider practicing in a group – whether digitally via one of the multiple PLAB 1 WhatsApp groups, or as a formal group where you regularly meet colleagues and work through PLAB questions and PLAB topics.

Sometimes when you’re preparing for an exam like this on your own amongst all the business of daily life, it can get quite boring and tiresome – your preparation effectiveness is not as good as it would be when you’re stimulated by other people.

Ultimately there are many ways to prepare for PLAB 1 – there is certainly no right way or wrong way. It is sometimes worth trying a few different things and figuring out what works for you.

For 10 High Power Tips to Pass your PLAB 1 exam, read our blog here.

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

What is the pass mark for PLAB 1?

The pass mark varies for each PLAB 1 sitting. It is determined using the Anghoff Method with one standard error of measurement. This ensures that the pass mark stays consistent and it is a fair exam.

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

What is the pass rate for PLAB 1?

The pass rate for the past 5 years on average has been 70% based on the data from the GMC website

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

When are PLAB 1 results out?

PLAB 1 results come out 6 weeks after you have sat the exam. The GMC will send an email that provides you with details on how to access your results in ‘My Tests’ section of your GMC Online account. The GMC will not provide your results by any other means e.g. via telephone or in person.

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

How Arora can help Pass PLAB…

To use Arora’s All-in-One PLAB 1 Ultimate Package click here

To see all other Arora PLAB 1 resources (mocks, online course, flashcards etc) click here

To join Dr Aman’s next free PLAB 1 Booster Webinar click here: Free PLAB 1 Webinars

To download our latest free PLAB 1 daily planner programme, click here

For IMG doctors the PLAB 1 exam will be eventually replaced by the UKMLA AKT. Check out our introductory guide to the UKMLA exam here. 

The PLAB 1 Exam: What to Expect and How to Prepare

On a final positive note

Finally to end on a positive note, most doctors can and do pass PLAB 1. You will pass PLAB 1.

Just like any exam or assessment it takes good planning, constructive preparation and a positive mindset – things that can significantly help boost confidence before you enter that exam centre!

Good luck!


Author Bio — Dr Aman Arora

Hello and welcome to Arora Medical Education! I am a Portfolio GP with a 24/7/365 passion for helping you fly through your medical exams and maximise your career. You can find out more about me here.

I’ve been fortunate to teach over 50,000 doctors globally through a combination of face-to-face, online, audio and social teaching, helping them pass exams such as MRCGP AKT and RCAMSRA and PLAB. You can find out more about my previous roles and qualifications here.

Feel free to contact me with any thoughts, questions or ideas to help you reach your potential. I look forward to meeting you soon!

Author Bio — Dr Pooja Arora

Dr Pooja Arora is a GP with a background in Medical Politics, where she passionately focuses on improving the opportunities and working conditions for junior doctors. She is proud to hold FRCGP (Fellow of Royal College of General Practitioners).

You can find out more about Pooja’s previous roles and qualifications here.

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