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What is the UKMLA CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

Your UKMLA CPSA Preparation Guide. Understand what the MLA CPSA is & the best methods to effectively prepare for it.

– Register for our next Free UKMLA PLAB 2 Webinar here
– Join the Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Telegram teaching group here.
– Join Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ programme here.

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

What is UKMLA CPSA?

The CPSA is the second and final part of the UKMLA (Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board) assessment that’s run by the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK. 

You’ll only take the CPSA after successfully completing the MLA AKT — and you’ll need to pass both in order to work as a doctor in the UK. 

The CPSA is an OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) or OSLER depending on your UK medical school, but for IMG doctors it will be similar to an OSCE set up. You should already be familiar with the format from your medical training. The exam features up to 16 mock scenarios that take place in real-life settings — including a hospital ward and a consultation room. 

It is  taken at the GMC building in Manchester. It can be taken at various times throughout the year.

Click here to read our article that talks about UKMLA.

MLA AKT versus CPSA: The key difference

As with the MLA AKT exam it tests your application of knowledge to deal with some of the issues seen by a UK-trained foundation doctor.

But CPSA is not based on fact, recital and memorisation – it assumes you have certain levels of knowledge having cleared MLA AKT.

Instead, the CPSA exam assesses how you can apply that knowledge in various situations that you might see as a doctor in the UK, whether that be a mock consultation or a ward-based situation.

It is important to remember that CPSA assesses you against UK’s current best practice so bear that in mind when you’re preparing or when you are practising role plays and situation scenarios.

What to expect from the CPSA this year

The CPSA will be assessed differently for UK medical students depending on how your medical school decides to run the assessment. 

However for IMG doctors the GMC has announced there will be no change from the PLAB 2 exam except that it follows the MLA content map instead of the PLAB blueprint from May 2024 onwards. Hence it will be similar to the set up below:

– 16 stations in total.
– Each station lasts 8 minutes.
– 90-second break between each station.
– 2 rest stations included.
– Approximately 3 hours for the exam.

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

How is the CPSA marked?

CPSA marking for UK medical students will be determined by the medical school running the exam. However, rest assured no matter whether you take it as a UK medical student or as an IMG doctor there is a set of requirements the GMC has set out to ensure the standard of the CPSA is the same. For IMG doctors once again whilst the GMC has not clarified if it will be marked using the same domains as PLAB 2 it has stated there will be no changes to the current set up. Currently for PLAB 2, each case (or ‘domain’ as they are sometimes called) is marked in three areas:

– Data gathering, technical and assessment skills.
– Clinical management skills.
– Interpersonal skills.

For each case, a pass mark is calculated which is added up for all the scenarios. This coupled with one standard error of measurement forms the pass mark for the day, so the pass mark varies each day and from one assessment centre to the other 

To pass PLAB 2/CPSA  you must achieve the pass mark for that day as well as pass at least 10 stations.

Let’s look at each case in more detail:

Case 1: Data gathering, technical and assessment skills

This case assesses areas such as:

– History taking
– Examination skills
– Your practical procedures

This case will also assess any investigations that you might think about – in essence how you gather data in order to try and work out what a potential diagnosis might be, or which issues arise in a certain situation.

History

History taking can include core medical requirements — for example, drug history, past medical history and red flags, as well as other areas that link with a presentation such as psychosocial history and ICE (ideas, concerns and expectations).

Examination

Examination may be tested on real-life actors, using anatomical models or as part of an electronically simulated mannequin. Areas tested include common everyday examinations (for example cardiovascular, respiratory, abdomen, and various joints) and model examinations (such as breast examination, eye examination, and rectal examination).

Practical procedures

Practical procedures that may be tested are things that you might come across in a typical ward in the UK – measuring blood pressure, taking blood, urinary catheterisation, inserting cannulas, suturing, calculating common drug doses and more.

Good to know
The GMC’s very own MLA content map has a more complete list of examinations and procedures which is worth reading through. You can download the MLA content map here.

Case 2: Clinical management

This area assesses how you manage the situation, both clinically and non-clinically. For example, if you’ve come up with the correct diagnosis, how do you now explain that to the patient? How do you involve the patient in a correct, safe, appropriate management plan? Are you using the UK’s current best practice when handling the situation? 

In essence, now that you’ve gathered the data in the first half, how are you now managing it, and is it appropriate for working as a junior doctor in the UK?

Case 3: Interpersonal skills 

This area assesses your ability to effectively tie together data gathering and clinical management in a patient-centred way.

For example, are you involving the patient regularly? What is the rapport like between you and the patient? Are you effectively using open and closed questions?

Are you thinking about ethics? It may include your ability to handle challenging situations such as breaking bad news, capacity and consent.

It can assess how you manage that situation from a patient’s point of view or perhaps a relative’s point of view, and if you handle the situation in a professional manner or not.

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

When are the CPSA exam dates?

For IMG doctors the MLA CPSA runs throughout the year. For UK medical students depending on your medical school this may be in the penultimate or final year of your degree.

In fact, the GMC holds multiple exam sittings every month for IMG doctors at their two clinical assessment centres in Manchester. You can book a PLAB 2/CPSA exam date only after passing PLAB 1/ MLA AKT.

Bookings can be made in the ‘My Tests’ section of your GMC online account for IMG doctors. Demand for PLAB 2/CPSA dates is high and so you’ll likely have to wait for the next available date. 

However, if you already have a UK NHS Job offer or hold UK refugee status, then get in touch with the GMC team as they may be able to help you secure a PLAB 2 place.

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

How do I prepare for the UKMLA CPSA exams?

CPSA preparation is very different from MLA AKT preparation. For UK medical students your medical school should provide all the necessary teaching you require to pass these exams. However for IMG doctors there are a number of things you can do to prepare.

With MLA AKT you can prepare on your own – you can look through questions, or you can simply learn the material. 

MLA CPSA, on the other hand, is about regular practice and there are a few different ways that doctors can prepare. Here’s what we would recommend to everyone looking to know how to study for PLAB 2:

Form a study group 

Find people that are doing the exam and practise various scenarios by looking at the MLA content map and using practice material.

Join an Academy 

Joining an academy is a popular (but not always necessary) route that doctors take in order to try and pass PLAB 2. There are several academies available, both in the UK and internationally – each with its own pros and cons. 

At Arora Academy+ we do not teach a script based approach or make you write lots of notes. We focus on teaching you principles and providing you with detailed feedback on each day. This will help you adapt to any scenario and perform quite well on exam day. 

We understand however not everyone can afford to attend an academy due to finances or time pressures. Our UKMLA PLAB 2 Gold Package is an option for more flexible and efficient use of time — especially for people who may have limited funds in terms of travel and accommodation. It reinforces all the principles we teach in our academy and has over 50 hours of teaching.   .

There are many examples of doctors who have not attended an academy and still passed PLAB 2/CPSA. Read about Dr Sarita’s experience of this here.

Online and Audio training

Online and audio training is a useful way to get started and to prepare when on your own. There are numerous online and digital learning tools for PLAB 2/CPSA. Online and audio training is a great way to understand key concepts and to listen to or watch examples. They are ideal for supplementing practice with colleagues and for learning at your own pace.

You can find our UKMLA PLAB 2/CPSA video course, audio courses and virtual live course here.

Check out all of our UKMLA PLAB 2 courses and options here

Mock Exams

Mock exams are useful if you want to feel the ‘pressure’ of the exam before the actual exam itself. With a mock exam, you can really get a feel for what it is like going through 3 hours of intense roleplay consultation practice — which is probably not something you may have done too often in the past.

Mock exams are also useful for showing up potential areas where you might need to prepare more thoroughly, and so can really help you decide what to focus on in the last few weeks.

We run our own UKMLA PLAB 2/CPSA mock exams and one-to-one sessions – you can check them out here. You also get two mocks included as part of Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+.

Check out our 5-star Trustpilot mock exams & one-to-one sessions here.

Good to know
We’ve also compiled a list of handy high-power tips to help you pass your UKMLA PLAB 2 exam that will go hand-in-hand with your PLAB 2 preparation. The tips are based on my experience as an ex-GMC examiner. So be sure to check them out.

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

Which PLAB 2/CPSA course or academy should I choose?

If you want to join a PLAB 2 course, there are lots of factors to consider. Some people choose courses solely on the decision to be with their friends, or because of the accommodation nearby. Other choose courses due to travel or time constraints.

However, the most important things we would recommend are:

– Make sure the course aligns well with the start of your PLAB 2 exam and with the study time you’ll need to leave yourself. Everyone is different and will need longer or shorter periods to prepare. on average we say you need approximately 3-4 weeks between the end of the course and the start of the exam, so you can prepare adequately.
– Check that there are very recent, positive reviews of the academy before committing. TrustPilot is a good place to start.
– Check the credentials of the tutors teaching the course, along with how much teaching experience they have. You will want a teacher who has walked the path before you, so that they can pass on that experience. Here at Arora Medical, several of our tutors have been previous GMC PLAB examiners and have extra qualifications in medical education – and have many years of teaching experience, including Dr Aman Arora himself.

The Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ Package has been designed to be a comprehensive, but flexible method of PLAB 2 preparation. 

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

Do I need to attend PLAB 2 courses in an academy?

No. In no way is a PLAB 2 academy essential or mandatory, and many people pass without ever attending an academy. It is true that many people do find them useful, as PLAB 2 is a practical exam and so the more opportunity you have to practice in your consultation and examination techniques the more confident you will feel on the exam day.

Also, remember that if you are aware of the responsibilities of a junior doctor working in the NHS, have a good knowledge of different organisational structures, and practise good medicine in line with the GMC’s guidelines, then you should be well prepared to take on PLAB 2 regardless of what further preparation you feel you need. The Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Gold Package would help if not looking for an Academy. 

However if you do want to attend an academy with high quality mannequins and feedback from senior NHS doctors then consider booking a place on our Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy + 

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

FAQs

Is the CPSA exam difficult? 

Yes. There is no denying it is a challenging exam. And to pass you’ll need to rely on more than just your clinical knowledge. But if you practise often and prepare adequately, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pass the exam with a high mark. 

What is the passing ratio for CPSA?

As the CPSA has not started yet we do not have these results yet.

How long does it take to prepare for CPSA?

This is entirely dependent upon your own personal circumstances. The answer is, it depends on how familiar you are with the following:

– the practical & examination skills outlined in the MLA Content map
– how the NHS operates & how to communicate within it effectively
– dealing with patients deemed “acutely unwell”
– GMC Good Medical Practice

Most doctors will require approximately 4-6 months to know how to prepare for PLAB 2/CPSA, in order to feel confident and familiar with all these areas, though it’s different for everyone. 

What happens if you fail PLAB 2/CPSA?

You can instantly book the exam again through your GMC online account portal. However, remember you can only attempt the PLAB 2/CPSA exam a maximum of four times. Check out our article on what to do if you’ve failed your UKMLA PLAB 2 exam for further information on the steps we would recommend. 

Can I apply for a visitor visa without booking or paying for PLAB 2/CPSA?

No. If you apply for a visiting visa, then you must state your main reason for visiting the UK. And you must give evidence that you have already booked your place on the application. 

Do I need “IELTS for UKVI” for the PLAB 2/CPSA exam or for the visa?

No. You won’t have to take IELTS again, not even when applying for the PLAB 2/CPSA Standard Visitor Visa. 

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

My experience with the PLAB 2/CPSA exam

I am an ex-GMC PLAB 2 examiner, so as the GMC have announced that the CPSA will not be different from the PLAB 2 exam except for the slight changes in the MLA content map I have a fair idea.

Whilst examining I saw many recurring themes where I thought I could help with preparation – whether that be through communication skills and general confidence in approaching a challenging situation.

Since I stopped examining I have helped hundreds of doctors prepare for PLAB 2 via face-to-face courses, webinars, and online and audio course training.

I particularly focus on enhancing interpersonal skills which is an area that many doctors struggle with, as well as how to do effective data gathering and management – rather than a scripted one.

I aim to simplify the process, focusing on the efficiency of your 8 minutes, and encouraging the flexibility to adapt to situations that you are perhaps not expecting.

I do not apply a ‘script-based’ style of teaching as I believe that this leads to a very doctor-centred approach and given that I am an ex-GMC PLAB examiner I am conscious of probity issues whilst teaching.

Read more about why being scripted doesn’t work in PLAB 2 here. 

What is the CPSA exam? Formerly known as PLAB 2

Summary

Finally to end on a positive note, most doctors can and do pass PLAB 2/CPSA. You will pass PLAB 2/CPSA. 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!

And at Arora Medical we can do exactly that. Check out UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ package — as the name suggests, it contains virtually everything you’ll need to put you on the right track. 

Good luck!

#CanPassWillPass

Check out all our UKMLA PLAB 2 training materials here

For our most comprehensive ‘all-you-need’ UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ Package click here

For all other Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 resources (Gold Package, Mocks, Online course, etc) click here

To register for our next free UKMLA PLAB 2 webinar click here: Next Free Webinar

To join our Free UKMLA PLAB 2 Telegram teaching group click here

For Dr Aman’s UKMLA PLAB 2 YouTube videos click here

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 SCAMSRA 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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