For all PLAB aspirants, even thinking about PLAB 2 is stressful. For a long time, we have been playing in home ground. Suddenly there’s an away match(exam) to win. So everything changes with it.
Let’s face the truth. PLAB 2 is completely different exam in every aspect. We have never faced anything like this throughout our medical life. So I can assure you it’s okay to feel a bit stressed.
Let’s get to work. For PLAB 2, planning is really important. For example, when you will book the exam, how you will pay for it, where you will live in UK, which coaching center you will attend, how long it will take to collect all the necessary documents for visa, when you will apply for visa, booking your flight, your backup plan in case visa application got rejected. The initial preparation for PLAB 2 is daunting & you have to plan carefully to make it as smooth as possible.
For me, visa processing was the most toughest part of whole PLAB journey. I can still remember how happy I was just to see the seal of UK VISA on my passport. Luckily, the number of PLAB visa rejection from Bangladesh is very low. So no need to be panicked.
Hopefully you’ve sorted everything out, got your visa & reached UK. Now chill a little bit. After all, you are in UK now.
Then attend the academy. Absorb all the information as much as you can & outline a plan how you are going to ace the exam. For this exam there’s no full proof method. Everybody has their own technique to cope with PLAB 2 exam.
Let’s talk about initial preparation :
After PLAB 1 examination, you should make sure something-
When you want to seat for PLAB 2. Because you won’t get any date within 2-3 months after the result. Therefore, you need to plan accordingly.
How you are going to pay for the exam. It’s seems like a silly matter. But it’s not. You can use DBBL NEXUS CARD/ EBL CARD or ask any friends/relative living in UK. From Bangladesh, you can’t pay for more than 500 USD in a single transaction even with MasterCard/visa card. You need to talk to bank for that.
# Selecting an Academy:
Now, which coaching center you will attend. There’s three coaching center that people usually attend.
• Swamy PLAB Academy- located in Manchester. Mostly people from sub-continent attend here
• Samson PLAB academy- located in London. Mostly people from African countries attend here
• Hameed common station – located in London. Mostly Pakistani graduates attend here.
From my experience, No coaching center is better than the others. They only show the way, you have to do the hard work.
Dr. Swamy is a great teacher & they provide printed sheets. But other lecturers suck. And their mock & mock review is worthless. The class size is also huge (80-120 students). I just attended the academy & practice the mannequin & other things. That’s all I did.
From what I heard about Samson academy, he is also a great teacher. Their class size is small. And Dr. Samson personally do the mock review & it’s great. But they don’t provide any script
Don’t know much about Dr. Hameed’s common station. But class size is also small & personally takes all classes.
# What happens in Coaching:
In all coaching, there will be classes for 12 days at a stretch for 10-12 hours every day.
*Try to concentrate as much as you can & take notes. You will forget the classes & the notes will help you in preparation during practice.
*Most importantly, try to form a practice group(3-4 people) so that you can start practicing in between class or when the course in over.
Accommodation is a big problem. Every academy has hostel facilities. I was in Swamy accommodation for 2 months. I was satisfied with their service. If you want, you can rent a room on your own. There’s some accommodation facilities privately owned near the academy.
Both in academy accommodation & outside, you will have access to a full furnished kitchen with refrigerator. It’s better to buy groceries and cook yourself. It will save you from cost. You can buy a rice cooker/curry cooker from pound shop & groceries from nearby LDIL/ASDA. If you want to eat outside, there’s plenty of options. You can also buy readymade food too.
It depends where you will live. It won’t cost you much anyway. You can buy a day rider/weekly/monthly pass depending on your situation.
Just take as usual everyday clothes. If it’s winter, buy a jacket & a pair gloves & shoe/sneakers from Primark/H&M
Now, preparation for real exam-
About PLAB 2:
PLAB 2 is an OSCE exam with 16-18 station. Each station carries 12 marks divided into three domain ( Data gathering, Management, Interpersonal skills) with 4 marks for each domain. In every station, you will get two minutes to read the question which will give you information about who you are, who the patient is, other relevant information about the patient, what you have to do in that station. Then you will get 8 minutes to perform the whole station. You will get two rest station in between when you can drink/eat/go to wash room. In each station, there will be a simulator as patient or mannequin & an examiner to observe you.
How PLAB 2 is marked:
Marking of PLAB 2 will depend on the performance of all the examinee on that day. They will determine a cut off mark and also determine separate pass mark for individual station. One must get the total marks and need to pass at least 11 stations to pass PLAB 2. Most of the time, the pass mark is 100-120.
Types of station:
Most commonly PLAB 2 stations are like-
- History & Management station( commonly medicine, surgery, gynae & obs, pediatrics, psychiatry cases)
- History, examination, Management station (Abdominal examination, otoscope, fundoscopy etc.)
- Counselling station (life style modification, pre-operative counselling, post-operative counselling, parent counselling, patient relative counselling etc.)
- Breaking Bad news
- Mannequin station( Asthma patient, patient with atrial fibrillation, TURP patient, Patient with anaphylactic shock)
- Teaching station( knee examination, speculum examination, BLS etc.)
- Medical Error station (Missing biopsy sample, missing fracture in X-ray etc.)
- Ethical station ( late comer student, drunken colleague etc.)
Although it seems scary at first, be assured that everyone felt same. Once you are done with class in a coaching, you will know what to do.
How much time needed for preparation :
In my view, one should keep at least 4 week after the course for adequate preparation. But I’ve also seen people who prepared for less time & passed with good scores. So it’s up to you.
What I did:
I got PLAB 1 result in Dec’17 & booked PLAB 2 date for April’18 within next week. I applied for visa during first week of Jan’18 & got visa after two weeks and flew to Manchester & attend course in Feb. I’ve got Mar’18 for preparation & sat for exam in Apr’18. In total, I’d 7 weeks for coaching & preparation. We had a group of three person & we practiced with each other for 5 weeks.
Things to remember during preparation for PLAB 2 exam:
- First thing to remember, NHS wants safe & confident doctor. Not a doctor who knows everything. So if you want to pass the exam, you have to show the examiner that you are safe to your patient & your colleagues.
- For PLAB 2, clinical knowledge is just a part not everything. They’ve already tested it in part 1. So they are well aware of your clinical judgement. Here they want to see how would react in real life scenario. So be composed & confident.
- Don’t memorize the script. The examiners know if you are just saying whole script by heart. Take the script & make it your own. Try to be original. Think what would you do if this patient shows up in your clinic & act accordingly. That’s what will help you to pass the exam.
- Practice, practice, practice. The only thing that stand between pass & fail in PLAB 2 is practice. If you don’t practice, you will fail. If you practice, you have a chance to pass.
- Remember to give attention to tiny detail. For example, how to hold the otoscope, which side you need to examine, how to turn on the light in fundoscope etc. Trust me, it matters in final exam.
- While practicing, try to give emphasize on all three domains. If you keep focusing on just one aspect, you may lose some easy marks.
- While forming a group, try to add an non-Bangladeshi doctor. In that way, you will be forced to talk English all the time. That will eventually help you during exam.
- Sort out your priority. Most of the time, people are panicked about mannequin, sim-man & examination. It will cover only 2-3 stations. Even if you fail those station, you will pass by performing better in other stations.
- Most of the time, there will be around 8-9 counselling stations & 8-9 other stations. So, it’s very important to be comfortable in speaking English & you need to speak a lot during exam.
Why it’s doable to pass PLAB 2:
Look at three domains-
- Data gathering means history taking, examination findings & investigation findings. As a doctor we all know how to do that.
- Now, Management part. Form all the data gathered you will definitely have a diagnosis. So manage accordingly. Sometimes you may not have a definite diagnosis. Then tell that you will do further investigations & consult with your seniors for further management. Remember, NHS doesn’t need doctors who knows everything.
- Finally, interpersonal skills. This is the part where you can score better with practice. Pay attention to your patient & listen carefully. You will be fine.
Exam day experience:
If it’s possible, visit GMC building in Manchester when course is over. If not possible, don’t worry. As long as we have google maps, we are in safe hands. There’s two shifts for exam every day. Morning & evening with 20 examinee in each shift.
If you are a morning shift examinee don’t forget your breakfast on exam day. Your appetite is gone, but you have a long day ahead. So, don’t forget. My advice is to wear formal attire so that you look like a doctor.
I called an UBER & reached GMC by 7:45 AM. Waited in the lobby for half an hour. Then they escorted us to GMC office & gave everyone an identity card. You will have a locker to put your things. So you can take whatever you want in exam. Before starting the exam, the head of PLAB will give a short briefing about the exam, will show a video about exam procedure & when to the result will be out.
After that, you are in for 3&1/2 hours long battle.
Tips for exam:
- Read every question carefully. Use that 2 minutes time to outline a plan before entering into cubicle.
- The name & gender of patient is very important. Even if you forget everything, please don’t forget this. You will give a negative impression at the beginning of a station.
- The Question is sometimes really long. You may forget some important clue. There will be another question on the table. Take a quick look without losing eye contact with patient or giving a long pause during conversation.
- In every station, try score some marks in each domain. Don’t focus on one domain so that you won’t have enough time to cover other domains. If you score some marks in each domain, it will be better than doing best in just one domain.
- It’s okay to make mistakes & forget things in every station. You don’t need full marks to pass. So forget about that.
- If you make big mistake in a station & sure that you are going to fail, don’t be panicked. You need to pass only 11 stations. I gave a wrong diagnosis in one station but proceed as planned. I’ve got good marks in that station.
- If you’re unable to finish all the task in a single station & you will be, then stop with the bell at the 8th minute. Thanks the simulator and the examiner and leave the station ASAP. Don’t try to finish it. You will lose time to read question for next station.
- Praise your patient. Praise them when they do something good & even when they make a mistake. Building rapport is very important.
- Show sympathy & empathy to your patient. Listen to him & show your support. Very important for breaking bad news stations.
- Never ever forget to ask your patient if he/she has any concern. Asking & addressing patient’s concerns makes your priority.
- Don’t forget to greet the patient & examiner.
- Maintain eye contact with patient while talking.
- Smile always.
- The most important thing is while you’re in resting station, switch off your brain. Don’t think about previous or next stations. Drink a glass of water or take a break to go to wash room. Remain calm all the time. That’s your best shot to ace PLAB 2.
That’s everything I know about PLAB 2 from my experience.
Best of Luck.
Dr. Qamar Uddin Hejazi