PLAB vs MRCPsych

Psychiatry aspiring IMGs commonly ask me, which route is better for the purpose of GMC registration? PLAB or MRCPsych?

Having done both exams in my career. I thought I should compare them.

Disclaimer: Please note this is based on my experience only and not an official guide or version of the Royal College or the GMC. This is written in Jan 2021 and exam criteria, free and regulation will change with time so check the official websites for updates.

Who are the exam conducting authorities:

PLAB: General Medical Council – UK

PLAB is a medical licencing exam for the UK and results in the award of GMC registration.

MRCPsych: Royal College of Psychiatrists – UK

MRCPsych is a membership postgraduate exam i.e. post graduate qualification so you will gain you a Membership of Royal College of Psychiatrists. MRCPsych is also a well-recognized qualification outside of the UK as well.

MRCPsych can also be used to gain GMC registration.

What is the level of knowledge tested?

PLAB: Foundation doctor or internship level, which is broad based knowledge involving multiple specialties expected of a recently qualified doctor.  

The level of knowledge is that you would expect from a well-trained foundation doctor in the UK.

MRCPsych: The level of knowledge you would expect from a middle grade or a ST level Psychiatrist.

MRCPsych tests the knowledge required to understand and manage common mental conditions. It requires a greater depth of understanding and experience of Psychiatry.

The current MRCPsych syllabus includes:

Behavioural Science and Sociocultural Psychiatry, Human Development, Basic Neurosciences, Clinical Psychopharmacology, Classification and Assessment in Psychiatry, Organisation and Delivery of Psychiatric Services, General Adult Psychiatry, Old Age Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Substance Misuse/Addictions, Forensic Psychiatry, Psychiatry of Learning Disability, Critical Review

Check this for further info on the MRCPsych exam syllabus:

How many parts are there and the exam format?

PLAB = Two parts

PLAB-1: 180 (MCQs) multiple choice questions – 3 hours exam time

PLAB – 2: 18 scenarios (OSCE stye stations) each lasting 8 minutes and aims to reflect real life settings including a mock consultation or an acute ward. 

MRCPsych = Three parts

Paper A & B: 150 questions (mixture of MCQs and EMI) – 3 hour time

CASC: 16 stations OSCE style

CASC morning circuit will allow 4 minutes to read the instructions and 7 minutes to complete the consultation task.

CASC afternoon circuit will allow 90 seconds to read the instructions and 7 minutes to complete the consultation task.

What is the Eligibility Criteria:

PLAB:

Medical qualification awarded by an institution listed on the World Directory of Medical Schools.

English language criteria for example:  

  • IELTS academic – 7.0 in each testing area and an overall score of 7.5
  • OET medicine version – Grade ‘B’ in each testing area (speaking, listening, reading and writing)

For a full article on English criteria:

You can take PLAB following your graduation and during internship in the home country.

MRCPsych:

You do not require to have GMC registration or UK experience to take MRCPsych.

You do not need English language exam to sit MRCPsych but English competency will be required for the GMC registration after passing the exam.

Paper A: Can be taken by any fully registered medical practitioner (doesn’t require GMC registration)

Paper B: 12 months experience in Psychiatry (further info below in link)

CASC: 24 months experience in Psychiatry  (further info below in link)

How much is the exam fee?

Please see the latest information from the exam websites.

PLAB:

PLAB 1 = £239 (240 from April 2021)

PLAB 2 = £875 (879 from April 2021)

MRCPsych:

Pre-Membership Psychiatric Trainees (PMPT) and affiliates of the College taking exams in the UK and Ireland are entitled to a discount.

Paper A: £486 (PMPT and affiliates) £539 otherwise

Paper B: £437 (PMPT and affiliates) £485 otherwise

CASC: £1004 (PMPT and affiliates)  £1115 otherwise

What are the exam dates and locations?

Since Covid-19 the schedule of the exams have been disrupted and the best advice is to check the official websites for the most recent updates.

PLAB:

PLAB-1: All across the world, various countries and dates.

PLAB-2: GMC testing centre, Manchester, United Kingdom.

GMC has continued to conduct the PLAB-2 examination during the Covid-19 crisis.

MRCPsych:

The MRCPsych including all parts, has been continued during the Covid-19 pandemic as an online exam including the CASC exam. All part of MRCPsych  can be taken from your own home.

Before Covid 19, the papers and CASC exam took place twice a year in the UK with a few overseas options. However, the situation has now changed.

Please check for ongoing updates on the RCPSych website.

How many times can I attempt the Exam?

PLAB:

You must pass PLAB 2 within three years of the date you passed PLAB 1. 

You can attempt the exam (PLAB-1 and 2 each) four times.

If you’ve failed the exam four times, you can apply for one final attempt. You will need to demonstrate evidence of additional learning over a 12 month period and make an application

MRCPsych:

Once you have passed your first written paper  (Paper A or B). You have 1,643 days from the date the results are published to complete all remaining parts of MRCPsych.

If you haven’t completed all parts within the 1,643 days, you’ll need to re-sit all parts to pass. 

However there are special circumstances which you may be granted an extension, for instance if you took maternity leave, or worked part-time.

Where can I find Covid-19 related updates?

PLAB:

MRCPsych:

What is the recommended time required for preparation?

This will depend on the individual doctor, their expertise and experience. In my own experience:

PLAB: 4 months for PLAB-1 and 6 weeks for PLAB-2 (during and immediately following my internship in Pakistan).

MRCPsych: 4 months for each paper and around 3 month active preparation for the CASC exam (whilst I was training in the UK).

Both exam require research of the curriculum, online learning, courses and study partners.

Which exam would you recommend for the purpose of GMC registration?

This will depend on your experience, expertise and future goals.

The PLAB exam is a much easier in comparison to the  MRCPsych in my opinion and for the junior IMGs I usually suggest considering the PLAB initially.

The PLAB is also less expensive than the MRCPsych exam in terms of fees. However, since Covid 19 the MRCPsych can be taken from your home country and you can save money on travel and visa fees.

The MRCPsych requires a certain level of expertise and experience in Psychiatry and is relatively easier to pass if you are working in the UK. However if you working outside of UK, it will require more effort in compare to UK trainee but it is possible. If you are an experienced psychiatrist you should certainly consider it.

Best wishes:

Published by Raja Adnan Ahmed

I am a Consultant Psychiatrist working in South Wales. I am interested in raising awareness of mental illness, fighting the stigma around mental health and also medical education. I am passionate about supporting junior doctors & IMGs.

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