PLAB 1: 5 Steps to Success

PLAB 1: 5 Steps to Success

By Dr Umar Fiaz

Many candidates struggle to figure out how to prepare for the PLAB 1 in the most time efficient way. Preparing for the PLAB 1 is much more than just reading through lecture notes or practicing sample questions. To performed well, you must structure and plan your revision according to the requirements of the PLAB 1 examination. Today, I’ll be sharing five top tips on how to pass the PLAB 1 from some of our previous successful students to help you on your journey to the NHS.

Be an FY2 junior doctor

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice for the PLAB examinations. Both parts of the PLAB are designed to present you with scenarios that a junior doctor at foundation year 2 (FY2) can be expected to encounter and manage. An FY2 level doctor is a junior doctor that has been in medical practice for one year after graduating from medical school. In fact, the General Medical Council are very clear about this in their PLAB guidance:

“The exam covers everything a UK trained doctor might expect to see on their first day of Foundation Year Two (F2)” – General Medical Council

This simple piece of information should always be at the forefront of your mind when preparing for the PLAB examination. Over the years, we have found that PLAB candidates often lose themselves in excess detail and prepare as though they are studying for speciality membership examinations such as the MRCP. Do not fall into this trap! Keep it simple and think like an FY2 junior doctor, not a consultant or professor. 

Answer according to the latest UK clinical guidelines

Medical practice in the UK is influenced by a system of clinical guidelines. There are a number of bodies in the UK, such as the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) which publish guidelines based on the latest evidence to guide clinical practice. These guidelines advise us on appropriate investigations and management plans for the vast majority of conditions we encounter as doctors.  

Every question you come across in the PLAB 1 is asking you which option you think is most appropriate based on the latest UK clinical guidelines. The GMC are very clear about this point when they say:

“All the questions relate to current best practice. You should answer them in relation to published evidence and not according to your local arrangements” – General Medical Council

If you have ever looked at clinical guidelines, you will know that they are very long and often contain lots of material that is irrelevant to the PLAB 1. For example, NICE Guideline [NG136] on Hypertension is 41 pages long! Just imagine reading and learning hundreds of such guidelines to prepare for your PLAB 1 would take you years, if not longer. 

It is simply unfeasible and inefficient to learn guidelines for every condition you are expected to know about for the PLAB 1. Therefore, you must use a resource that summarises clinical protocols for you, so that you can prepare for your exam in an efficient way and retain the information. For example, as part of our PLAB 1 online course, each condition comes with lecture notes that do exactly that; taking large guidelines and condensing them down into beautiful flowcharts, tables and diagrams. 

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Get used to using the British National Formulary (BNF)

The BNF is an absolutely key reference material for any junior doctor working in the NHS. It is a publication that contains information and advice on prescribing and pharmacology, and is used by doctors to learn about the indication, correct dose, interactions and side effects of any drug they are considering to prescribe.

Being able to use the BNF is an important skill for both parts of your PLAB. Each time you come across a drug while solving a PLAB 1 practice question, look it up in the BNF afterwards and have a quick skim read! This will help familiarise you with commonly used drugs, their names, doses, side effects and interactions, many of which can often find themselves as part of your PLAB 1 questions. 

By no means should you aim to memorise the content in the BNF, however, getting into the habit of using it as a reference material during your PLAB preparation will put you ahead of the crowd. 

Don't use low quality resources

Whichever set of resources you end up using for your PLAB preparation, the main thing you should look for is high quality. Over the years, we have come across students who waste months using a set of out-of-date, poorly written notes, only to find out that many of the management protocols they learnt were not according to the latest UK clinical guidelines. This not only wastes precious PLAB revision time, but also increases the chances of failing the exam.

Furthermore, the better resources you use now, the easier you will find your job when you start your post in the NHS. Do not forget that the information you are learning now will be used by you every day when you work as a doctor in the UK. Get into good habits now by learning protocols in a systematic and structured way using a high quality resource, so you can summon the knowledge in an instant when your consultant asks you what the first line management options are for hypertension in a non-diabetic 43-year-old Caucasian male during a busy morning ward round!

Conquer the syllabus system by system

The PLAB 1 syllabus as outlined in the PLAB blueprint is huge and can be overwhelming. From our experience, our students have benefited most by dividing the content by speciality, and studying each one at a time to ensure they are not missing anything. Out PLAB 1 online course gives you a useful framework to follow when planning your revision by dividing the whole syllabus into 20 chapters. 

Some specialities (e.g. Paediatrics) contain more content than others and need extra time devoted to them. Therefore, before you begin your PLAB 1 journey, take a broad overview of the content and divide it into sections. Begin your revision with the topic you have the weakest knowledge of first and then go from there in order to efficiently cover all the material in time for your exam. 

In a nutshell..

That brings us to the end of our five steps to success for the PLAB 1. In a nutshell, remember that:

  • You are an FY2 doctor when sitting the PLAB 1.
  • You only listen to the latest clinical guidelines.
  • You will use the BNF as your reference when anyone mentions drugs.
  • You will judge PLAB resources by their quality; not their price, size or what people say on Facebook groups
  • You will study efficiently and effectively by dividing the syllabus by medical speciality

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