A Detailed Comparison of USMLE and PLAB

A Detailed Comparison of USMLE and PLAB
A Detailed Comparison of USMLE and PLAB

Most medical students are conflicted between medical licensing examinations, including USMLE and PLAB, after getting their primary qualification. Seeking help from seniors from your med school might help but usually is not enough to make a decision.

The first thing to realize is that there is no wrong choice. It is natural for humans, especially medical students, to weigh up all the factors and reach the correct answer. Different variables, life events, or pure chances can make it so that your decision is a fantastic or horrible one.

Because most of these are beyond your control, it is pointless to paralyze yourself with endless hypotheticals. However, that does not mean you should not think through your decisions. The following elaborates on USMLE and PLAB to help you choose between the two.


What is USMLE?

United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), commonly known as the Boards, is a three-step test you should pass before applying for a medical license. You take the first two parts of the test during your years as a med student and can also sit for the last part after graduation.

Unlike standard tests that highly regard your performance, USMLE assesses your mastery of the material. It is also more challenging, so a USMLE study plan is crucial for exam preparation. Below is a breakdown of the USMLEs.



USMLE Step 1 is a one-day test you take at the end of your second year in med school. It is a written exam containing 280 questions with multiple choices. The questions are divided into seven blocks each, each one hour. The number of questions in each block may vary but usually will not exceed 40.

USMLE Step 1 mainly focuses on basic medical sciences, including biochemistry, anatomy, microbiology, behavioural sciences, pathology, physiology, and pharmacology. Other topics like nutrition, genetics, and aging are also covered in the test.


USMLE Step 2

USMLE Step 2 is a written exam that focuses on standard clinical medical content. The test constitutes 318 multiple choice questions divided into eight 60-minute blocks. Similar to step 1, the number of questions per block will vary but will not exceed 40. USMLE Step 2 is a two-day test that can be taken in the 3rd or 4th year of med school.

The two-day test is split in two; the first component, Clinical Knowledge, has multiple-choice questions on internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology, which you need to answer.

The other part, called Clinical Skills (CS), is a practical session whereby you examine and diagnose actors posing as patients. Step 2 CS requires students to travel to a testing center around the country.


USMLE Step 3

USMLE Step 3 is the last test of the sequence; it can be taken during or after completing the residency program. It takes two days and is easy to pass, unlike Step 1. For USMLE Step 3, medical students apply clinical knowledge and skills to patients without guidance or supervision.


What is PLAB?

The professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) is a test for overseas medical graduates to practice safe medicine in the United Kingdom. PLAB has two parts; the first component tests a student’s basic skills and necessary clinical knowledge.

The first one of PLAP is a written exam consisting of 200 multiple-choice questions that you should answer in three hours. You must meet different eligibility criteria before sitting for PLAB part 1. They include:

  • Your med school should be recognized and appear on the General Medical Council list.
  • It would be best if you had graduated from med school/ acquire your primary medical qualification.
  • Have an overall score of 7.5 Bands in the IELTS and an individual score of 7 bands in writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

The second part of PLAB is an objective structured clinical exam that you must complete within two and three minutes. You can only take PLAB 2 after passing PLAB 1 and only at the center in Manchester.

Unlike PLAB 1, which has several eligibility criteria, the only eligibility criterion for PLAB 2 is passing the PLAB 1 exam.

Your scores do not affect your job prospects; you only need to pass the exams. Unlike USMLE, which can be challenging, PLAB has straightforward study content and requires less dedication.
These two medical licensing examinations test your eligibility to practice medicine in the US or UK. But the choice to choose between either of the two is personal.