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Navigating PLAB 2: Strategies for International Medical Graduates



The PLAB 2 examination can be a daunting task for any international medical graduate on the UK pathway. Despite the numerous other exams we have taken during our career, PLAB 2 is a whole other experience in itself. I am Iniya Ezhilarasan, an IMG on the PLAB pathway. I passed my PLABs, obtained GMC registration and currently looking for my first NHS job. Cracking PLAB 2 requires a focused and balanced approach, and I have compiled a short list of the dos and don’ts for the PLAB 2 exam based on my personal experience.

 

Dos:

 

1. Understand the examination format: PLAB 2 is held as an OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) and comprises of 16 stations that recreate real-life clinical scenarios that junior doctors may encounter during their practice. It is important to keep in mind that to pass the exam , one must clear a minimum of ten stations AND obtain an overall score above the average score set by the GMC for that particular batch. Head over to the official GMC website and go through the PLAB blueprint for more guidance regarding the PLAB 2 exam.

 

2. Practice, practice, practice: As trivial as it may sound, engaging in regular practice is imperative to crack this exam. Practice helps in refining data collection, communication and interpersonal skills and management, which are the three domains against which GMC grades individual candidates’ performances. Practice also build confidence and develop fluency, qualities necessary to perform well in the exam, along with the additional benefit of identifying areas of improvement.

 

3. Time management: Each station in the PLAB 2 examination lasts 8 minutes with no live clock for reference with the exception of a warning announcement to signify the 6-minute mark, hence making it extremely important to develop a keen sense of timing while approaching the clinical scenario. A useful tip I received during my exam preparations, was using a 7-minute timer during practice sessions which ensured accuracy and timing leaving room for a buffer of one minute in case of unexpected surprises.

 

4. Mocks and more mocks: During my preparations, I found mock exams to be extremely beneficial in simulating the feel of a real examination with 16 back to back stations in the real exam format. Most academies provide PLAB 2 mocks, which provide a platform for you to assess your performance, identify weaknesses and also seek feedback to further improve your confidence for the real exam.

 

5. Plan ahead for travel and accommodation: For those of us who need to travel, making sure of the logistical details well ahead goes a long way. And I mean including everything from transport on the day of the exam to accommodation, food and living arrangements. PLAB 2 preparation is a high pressure situation and having a well-organized travel and stay plan helps alleviate the extra anxiety ensuring you stay focused on the exam.

 

6. Breathe: Again, this may sound trivial, but relaxation techniques like breathing techniques really helped me every time I felt I was going to spiral from the anxiety of the exam. Amidst the pressure of exam preparation and living in a new country, staying calm and composed ensures optimal performance during the exam.

 

Don’ts:

 

1. Over-rehearse: In an attempt to stay on top of preparations, it is very easy to “over-rehearse” resulting in sounding unnatural and scripted, something we aim to avoid in PLAB 2. This is something that happened to me early on, but with good guidance and support, I was able to work on it in time for the exam. It is important to find the right balance between being prepared but not too prepared and this can be tackled by approaching each station as we would do as doctors in real life rather than focusing on the script.


2. Sticking to one practice group: The PLAB 2 exam comprises of different stations that assesses our ability to tackle a diverse group of scenarios and it helps to engage in practice sessions with different study partners. This helps discover different perspectives to approach scenarios and increases overall preparedness.


3. Theory overload: While medicine is a vast field comprising of a number of specialties, at least half of the PLAB 2 scenarios are aimed at testing the candidate’s proficiency with respect to ethics and counseling. The temptation to spend preparation time sifting through the theory of clinical cases can be strong, but it is important to work smartly by giving interpersonal communication skills the weightage it deserves.


4. Have a plan: In the real exam, every station is preceded by 1.5 minutes before the start of the station, giving the examinees time to read the stem and develop a basic idea of the structure. Use this time wisely to construct a rough idea of the approach in your mind and be sure to scan mannequins or instruments if any, relevant to the stem, after entering the room. Side note, don’t let one bad station affect your performances in the subsequent stations, approach each one with a fresh mind.


5. Neglect self-care: We all have different ways of dealing with anxiety and stress. Try not to let it get the better of you and take good care of your eating and sleeping habits and also your mental health.


6. Panic: As someone who would easily panic in high pressure situations, I cannot stress enough, on how crucial it is to keep your nerves in check before and during the exam. Mindfulness, breathing exercises and positive affirmations help stay calm and focuses. After all, you are a competent doctor and got this far, only to get further ahead.

 

If you have any questions about building your portfolio, I would be happy to answer them at trewlink.com. You can register using this link. Find me as an Ambassador/Expert and Follow my profile – Iniya Ezhilarasan - to receive regular support and advice.


Warm Wishes,

Iniya

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