PLAB 1 Exam Survival Guide: 11 Common Mistakes to Avoid

If you have already been preparing for the exam, there are chances that you are making the same mistakes that others did before you. These can be catastrophic if you don’t acknowledge them. In this post, we will uncover the most common blunders students do while preparing for PLAB 1 exam.


The PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) examination is a requirement for foreign medical graduates seeking to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.

The exam is administrated by the General Medical Council (GMC) and serves as a means of evaluating the knowledge and skills of these doctors to ensure that they meet the standards set by the GMC.


Overview

The PLAB exam is divided into two parts, Part 1 which is a computer-based multiple-choice exam, and Part 2 which is a practical assessment of clinical skills.

The PLAB exam is significant for foreign medical graduates as it is a prerequisite for registration with the GMC. This means that passing the PLAB exam is mandatory for foreign medical graduates to be able to apply for a license to practice medicine in the UK.

The PLAB exam is known to be a rigorous test as it assesses a broad range of medical knowledge and clinical skills.

For many foreign medical graduates, the PLAB exam is a crucial step towards achieving their goal of practicing medicine in the UK.

It serves as a means of ensuring the quality of the medical profession in the UK and the safety of patients, by assessing the knowledge and skills of foreign medical graduates seeking to practice in the country.


Why PLAB Exam is Challenging?

Many doctors try to pursue their career in the UK without a full understanding of the exam. They are simply tempted by the salary, the perks and the lifestyle in the UK.

However, getting into GMC is not easy. It requires a longer time duration and better financial conditions as compared to other competitive exams like NEET PG in India.

Firstly, it is very difficult to even get the PLAB 1 exam seats. There are some advanced tips though, but it still depends on luck and the amount of effort your pour in.

Secondly, many fail to achieve success and are left in a situation of panic and struggle despite the best preparation. The most important differentiating factor is the entirely different pattern of the PLAB 1 exam.

GMC focuses more on the clinical understanding of the topics and the ability to make decisions in a given period. YES! Time management is the lifeline of the PLAB 1 exam.

You must have already heard a lot of students complaining they were not able to finish the exam in time. This is common. It happens because the mocks and question banks we solve prepare us for testing our skills.

Students confuse them as part of learning and often end up mugging most of the information.

Lastly, it can be challenging if you get a slot in the UK and not your home country. You will have to get your visa which will require a lot of effort.

Common Blunders to Avoid in the PLAB 1 Exam

The most common reasons why students fail PLAB 1 exam are as follows:

1. Not Understanding the Format of the Exam

PLAB 1 focuses primarily on your clinical learning and how well you utilize them in real scenarios. The exam will often give you questions that test your comprehension of the concepts rather than pure mug-ups.

Some often do a lot of question banks and start feeling over-confident that they can easily solve similar questions in the real exam. NOT TRUE!

It does not matter if you are scoring above 90% or below 60% in mocks. As long you apprehend the notions, the exam is going great for you.

2. Gaining Recall Bias

Overdoing the normal mocks sometimes builds up what we call “Recall Bias”. This happens to students who solve several questions and mocks without admitting that most of them are just repeats.

How do you know you have recall bias? It’s easy. You will start answering the questions within the first 5-10 seconds because you are already familiar with the question, the options, and the right answer.

What you should do? Understand why the answer is correct and why the rest of them are wrong. This helps build up familiarity with the topics and their usage in real scenarios.

3. Time Management

This is the most important factor in the exam. You need to finish it in 3 hours. If you fail to answer enough, you will fail the exam.

Although there are 180 questions, you don’t necessarily need to solve all of them. Your target is to acquire enough marks to pass. Yes, solving more than 160 boosts your passing chances.

But if you do not focus on questions that you can get right and do them wrong because you were so focused on solving all of them, then you are not going to get the required marks and ultimately fail the exam.

Ideally, focus on attempting at least 160. Bear in mind, you should be confident in these answers. Do not rush things, focus on clinchers thoroughly.

4. Studying from Too Many Sources

Your goal is to get enough information to pass. By enough, we mean sufficient enough to help you pass PLAB 1 exam. Many start preparing from PLABABLE and PLABKEYS and Medrevisons. You can, but that will build up doubts over similar topics quoted differently on all these platforms.

Ideally, you should pick PLABABLE alone, PLABKEYS + PLABABLE, or Medrevisions alone. For starters, PLABKEYS and PLABABLE are good and widely accepted.

When you have sufficient time, do not take another source. Simply start revising your topics from the sources you already used. This will help build up a strong remembrance of topics.

What's interesting is that there are many students who waste so many hours arguing topics that are given in one source, but different in another. Stop scratching your head with them, if you have doubts, seek NICE CKS guidelines.

If you are confused about which study material to pick, you can find a complete review here.

5. Not Preparing Adequately

It is often a case when many aspirants have too many things going on altogether. These can vary from job, family, or even personal life issues.

If you are having trouble with any of them, you need to understand one simple concept- “GMC does not care about your issues”. You need to show them you can overcome each of them and be the right candidate.

If you are having trouble preparing sufficiently, you can try to make your own study schedule. This will help you eliminate the possibility of not meeting the crucial timelines.

To make a custom study timetable, simply use OneNote. Here is how you can make one.

6. Not Doing Question Banks

Yes! There are some who completely skip doing question banks and rely on theoretical approaches from platforms like PLABKEYS. This is a bad approach and will lead to devastating results.

You should be solving at least 50-100 UNIQUE questions a day. Imagine how many questions you will get acquainted within just 4 weeks.

7. Not doing Big Mocks

PLABABLE and PLABKEYS release their big mock a few days before the date of the exam. To be honest, they are gruesome and scary. But they give you an amazing idea of where you stand.

Not only the questions are entirely different and brand new, but they also allow you to test your time management which is an essential part of management.

If co-related, the marks in these big mocks will be almost identical to the ones you get in a real exam.

8. Not Making Your Notes

Making your notes is an amazing strategy to overcome various issues. These issues can vary from searching for a relevant topic or comparing topics in different subjects.

Additionally, these notes build up a wonderful visual memory which helps you quickly recall topics and solve the answer efficiently.

Ideally, you should have your own notes rather than following others. Good practice involves making digital notes which are easily searchable.

Here are some notes prepared for PLAB 1 exam which are made on OneNote and converted to PDF:

9. Worrying too much about Hb1 Pencil

Alas! Some are too concerned about whether to use HB1 pencils or another one. Indeed, you will find these questions popping up in WhatsApp groups very often.

Are they even relevant? Do you think anyone cares which pencil you use to shade your exam? NO! Stop wasting your time on these irrelevant questions which pop up a few days before the exam.

These topics are a time-killer and should be ignored. Your goal should be to attempt as many mocks and complete as many revisions before the exam.

10. Not Having LMRP

LMRP stands for Last Minute Revision Points. It is a good strategy to have your handy notes which are further divided into topics that you MUST revise a day before the exam.

If you have these LMRPs ready before exam, they will help you quickly revise topics that you can forget. Importantly, you SHOULD NOT add any new information to these key notes.

11. Not Trusting Instincts

There are cases when GMC tests you to apply your instincts as a good doctor. For example, you have to distinguish when to give painkillers to a patient. While many sources will cite otherwise, what does your instincts tell you?

This is a common problem and students overthink these questions and end up not relying on their instincts. Further, they waste precious minutes which could have been utilized in solving questions that were rather straightforward.

Of course there are many other blunders students make. These can include arguing with the examiner, not having adequate revisions, marking answers on question paper instead of the answer sheets, and many more.

Here is a video in which Dr. Nauman Balghari explains more about PLAB 1 Exam and the reasons why students fail:

Credits: Dr. Nauman Balghari

How is PLAB 1 Exam Marked?

There are 180 MCQ-based questions in total which should be attempted in 3 hours. Each question involves a stem and 5 options to choose from. There is no negative marking and each correct answer grants 1 mark.

The exam reviews your correct answers and evaluates them based on what should be the ideal score for passing. Usually, the passing scores are between 110-120 (115 average) out of 180.

Your goal is to pass the exam, not ace it. This is where time management plays a crucial role. Solving all the questions is not relevant, getting them correct is.

Lab values are given in the question itself as well as at the end of the booklet. Stop worrying about mugging them up.

Some Misconceptions about PLAB Exam

PLAB 1, or the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test, is a crucial exam for doctors who have qualified outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and wish to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.

However, there are many misconceptions surrounding the PLAB 1 exam that can cause confusion and stress for candidates.

1. Easy to Pass?

One of the most common misconceptions about the PLAB 1 exam is that it is easy to pass. In reality, the exam is quite challenging and requires a significant amount of preparation.

The test covers a wide range of medical topics, including anatomy, pharmacology, and ethics, and it is designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge and clinical skills.

2. Only for UK Doctors

Another misconception about the PLAB 1 exam is that it is only for doctors who have qualified in certain countries.

While the exam is primarily intended for doctors who have qualified outside of the EEA, it is also open to doctors who have qualified in EEA countries but have not practiced in the UK before.

3. Tests only Theoretical Aspects

One more misapprehension is that the PLAB 1 exam is only a test of knowledge and not of clinical skills.

But this is not true, the exam also assesses the candidate’s clinical skills, such as their ability to take a patient history, conduct an examination, and interpret diagnostic results.

4. Only Held Twice a Year

A further delusion about the PLAB 1 exam is that it is only offered once or twice a year.

The exam is offered multiple times throughout the year, which means that candidates have several opportunities to take it.

5. Only Grants Service in NHS

Lastly, some candidates believe that the PLAB 1 exam is only for doctors who wish to work in the National Health Service (NHS).

However, the exam is also a requirement for doctors who wish to work in private practice in the UK.


In conclusion, the PLAB 1 exam is a crucial test for doctors who wish to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. However, there are many misconceptions surrounding the exam that can cause confusion and stress for candidates.

It is important for candidates to understand that the exam is challenging, open to doctors from all countries, assesses both knowledge and clinical skills, is offered multiple times a year, and is required for both NHS and private practice in the UK.


Conclusion

While having adequate revisions, solving question banks, and attempting as many mocks is essential, it is equally critical to not overdo them. You should be focused on the PLAB 1 exam and not on irrelevant questions and confusing topics that waste your crucial time.

Additionally, having a good study plan involves good resources, a timetable, and sometimes, your own LMRP and handwritten/digital notes.

Avoid making silly mistakes and even if you do, weigh how they can impact your results. Prepare for the best but be prepared for the worst. The exam is fairly simple, complicating it means the risk of failing.

Just remember, GMC is testing whether you are a good doctor or a parrot that prefers mugging up things. This is easily tested based on your application of knowledge and TIME MANAGEMENT (emphasized strongly).


Additional Resources

The following resources can be used for the preparation for the PLAB 1 exam:

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