My PLAB 2 experience (long post):
I sat for PLAB 2 on the 6th of September 2018.
For some reason, International Medical Graduates (IMGs) don’t know what exactly is the PLAB 2 exam until we join an academy. There’s a lack of info about what to expect in the exam even on facebook groups and forums.
What people know is that the exam is composed of 18 stations (sometimes 17) + 2 rest stations. Each station is 8 minutes long. You need to pass a minimum of 11 stations (or sometimes 10 stations if they’re 17 in total) and you also need to pass a minimum overall score. This means you can pass more than 11 stations but still fail the exam if your scores in all stations combined isn’t high enough.
In each station you are scored based on 3 things: data gathering, technical and assessment skills + clinical management skills + interpersonal skills. Each category of these 3 is marked out of 4, so each station is marked out of 12. It doesn’t matter what kind of station you have (I’ll discuss different types later), in any station you get marked based on those 3.
More details on the 3 skills can be found here:
In my experience, the most important variable in passing this exam is time. It’s not the academy you join. It’s not how many years have passed since you graduated. It’s not how knowledgeable you are. Time comes first.
By time I mean how much time you spend practicing for this exam.
An academy provides you with several things: tutor(s), study material, mannequins to practice on, mock exams, and most importantly, study partners.
Each academy has its pros and cons, points of strength & weaknesses, which are beyond the scope of this post. Having said that, I’ve read about people passing this exam without attending an academy. Sure it must’ve been a lot harder, but not impossible, as long as you can manage to find alternatives to what academies provide.
This exam is becoming harder, literally every week. Let’s say there’s a common pool of around 170 stations that get repeated on different days, now every week there’s a whole new station(s) no one has encountered before. I had one on my exam but alhamdulillah I passed it.
I would say a minimum of a month after the academy’s course ends is required to practice for this exam. Less than that is risky and will put you under too much pressure. Still, people can pass with 2 weeks of practice. However, the farther your exam date is from the day your course ends, the more likely you’ll pass, with some exceptions of course.
The second most important thing in preparing for this exam is formulating an approach to each station. This is something you work on yourself; what relevant questions to ask in history, what examinations you need to perform/verbalize, what investigations you’ll order, what lines of treatment does the patient need, what advice you’ll give to the patient?
Even your facial expressions and voice tones; is it a station where you’re breaking bad news, or dealing with an angry patient, or a concerned mother, or a station where you can smile or even laugh with the patient?
Before entering a station, you get a minute and a half to read the task required from you in that station. All your practice during whichever period you give yourself is somehow directed towards building a skeleton for each station to remember during those critical one and a half minutes before your enter the station’s cubicle.
There are different types of stations. Some are mainly based on history taking in order to get to a diagnosis and manage the patient accordingly, some are almost entirely performing an examination with a little talk about management, some are dealing with a patient’s concern, some are breaking bad news to a patient or relative, or dealing with an assumed medical error you or a colleague has made, and some are teaching stations where you teach a junior colleague a certain skill. Like I said previously, no matter what kind of station you get, you’re evaluated on all 3 categories.
I cannot stress enough on how important it is to practice with different study partners. This way you get different views on your performance. I practiced with 5 friends, each of whom gave me so valuable remarks.
At some point I was confused about when to start practicing. Should it be right after the course ends? Or should I give myself some time to read before practicing?
Eventually, I decided to read on my own first, make my own summaries and schemes for different stations, practice some few stations at the end of the day, then after I was done with my studying I started practicing all stations.
Practicing means roleplaying. You play the doctor, your partner plays the patient, then you switch.
I think it’s a lot better to practice all stations if you have time (if you have a month you’ll have time for that). Make sure you are the doctor in all stations, and you are the patient in all stations as well. This way you’ve practiced all stations twice more or less.
Practice with an 8 min timer. Only through this you can get the sense of the proper tempo you need in different stations.
It’s useful to write down your partner’s remarks so you won’t repeat your mistakes.
One thing I found really helpful was to voice record myself while reading some stations I didn’t get enough time to practice, then reading them while listening to my own summary of them.
I was lucky alhamdulillah I had my friend, Muhammad Ahmed, with me the couple of days before my exam. His exam was the day before mine. The day before his exam, we discussed almost all 200 stations together.
I know some peole prefer to have their own rituals the day before the exam and so prefer to spend that day alone, but it was hugely helpful to run through all stations back to back.
The night before the exam, sleep well. This exam is 3 hours long and you only get 2 ten minutes to rest within those tiring hours.
Once you’re done with a station, forget about it, and “move on to the next station” like the guy in the recording says. It’s easier said than done, because your mind will work against you in ways you cannot imagine and will keep nagging you about that investigation or treatment you forgot to mention throughout the whole exam.
After the exam, try to delay your anxiety about the result as much as you can, till the day of the result if possible. It won’t help anyways.