• Feb 14, 2024   MOKSH Academy

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Choosing the right path for your medical career is a crucial decision that requires careful consideration. For aspiring doctors, two popular options for licensure exams are the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exam. These exams play a significant role in determining a doctor's ability to practice medicine in the United States or the United Kingdom, respectively. Understanding the differences between the two exams, including their costs, syllabus, and preparation methods, is essential for making an informed decision about your medical career. In this Blog, we will explore the USMLE exam and PLAB exam, providing you with the information you need to make the right choice for your future.

Understanding USMLE and PLAB exams

To make an informed decision about your medical career, it is important to understand the USMLE and PLAB exams in detail. 


The USMLE is a three-step examination series designed to assess a doctor's ability to apply medical knowledge, concepts, and principles to patient care. It is accepted by medical licensing authorities in the United States and is taken by thousands of international medical graduates each year. The USMLE is a comprehensive exam that covers a wide range of medical topics, including clinical sciences, patient management, and communication skills.

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step test that evaluates the clinical knowledge and skills needed to practice medicine in the US.

  • Step 1 assesses basic science knowledge with 280 multiple-choice questions.
  • Step 2 tests clinical knowledge and skills in patient care, including legal and ethical issues, safety, and health promotion.
  • Step 3 evaluates the ability to independently practice patient care.

You can take the first two steps while in medical school, but Step 3 is only available after graduation.


On the other hand, the PLAB examination is the assessment used by the General Medical Council (GMC) in the United Kingdom to ensure that doctors who obtained their medical degree outside of the UK meet the necessary standards to practice medicine in the country. The PLAB examination consists of two parts  -

  • Part 1 is a written exam with 180 multiple-choice questions.
  • Part 2 is an objective structured clinical practical exam (OSCE).

You need to pass both parts to practice medicine in the UK.


Eligibility for the USMLE and PLAB exams depends on your medical education and language skills

USMLE Examination:

  • Completed or enrolled in an accredited medical school program.
  • Good standing with your medical school.
  • Completed all required coursework and clinical rotations.

PLAB Examination:

  • Medical qualification accepted by the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK.
  • Good English language skills, demonstrated by passing the IELTS with a minimum score of 7.5 in each language skill.

USMLE and PLAB: Exam Format, Sections, and Duration

Exam Format

USMLE Exam Pattern: It is a Computer-based exam with adaptive sections.

PLAB Exam Pattern: Paper-based exam with fixed question sets.


USMLE: Step 1, Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge), and Step 3 (Practical Knowledge). Step 1 and Step 2 CK are multiple-choice, while Step 3 assesses clinical skills.

PLAB: The PLAB 1 exam is a multiple-choice exam with 180 questions. PLAB 2 exam is an objective structured clinical exam (OSCE) with mock sessions.


USMLE: Step 1 is an eight-hour exam with seven 60-minute blocks. Step 2 CK is a nine-hour exam with eight 60-minute blocks. Step 3 duration varies.

PLAB: The PLAB 1 exam is a three-hour exam. PLAB 2 exam consists of 16 eight-minute scenarios.

These differences in format, sections, and duration should be considered when choosing between the USMLE and PLAB exams.

Parameter USMLE PLAB
Exam Structure Three-step exam: USMLE Step 1, UAMLE Step 2 CK, USMLE Step 3 Two-step exam: PLAB 1 Exam, PLAB 2 Exam
Syllabus Emphasizes basic medical sciences, clinical knowledge, and clinical skills Emphasizes clinical knowledge and clinical skills
Fees USMLE fees Varies by exam and location –
USMLE Step 1: $1000 (INR 81,745.50)
USMLE Step 2 CK: $1000 (INR 81,745.50)
Extension Period: $100 (INR 8,174.55)
USMLE Step 3: $985
PLAB 1 fees: GBP 255 (INR 26,211.65)
PLAB 2 fees: GBP 934 (INR 96,006.60)
No. of Attempts Total of four attempts per step PLAB 1 and PLAB 2: Four attempts each, but PLAB 2 exam must be taken within 2 years of passing PLAB 1 exam

Choosing Between USMLE and PLAB: Which Exam is Right for You?

Choosing Between USMLE and PLAB

Choosing between the USMLE and PLAB exams is a crucial decision that depends on your career goals and where you plan to practice medicine. Here's a breakdown to help you decide -

USMLE Examination

For: Practice medicine in the United States or other countries that recognize USMLE.

Pros: Widely recognized, required for US licensure, may be accepted by other medical boards.

Cons: Challenging exam, requires significant preparation.

PLAB Examination

For: Practice medicine in the United Kingdom or other countries that recognize PLAB.

Pros: Primary route to GMC registration in the UK, recognized by some medical boards.

Cons: Also challenging, and requires thorough preparation.


Career Goals: Where do you envision practising medicine long-term?

Board Recognition: Will the exam be accepted by medical boards where you want to practice?

Preparation: Are you prepared for the exam's challenges and requirements?

Conclusion and making an informed choice

In conclusion, making the right choice between the USMLE and PLAB exams for your medical career requires careful consideration and research. Seeking advice from professionals in the field, such as medical practitioners who have experienced both systems or have worked in both the US and UK, can offer valuable insights into the advantages and challenges of each exam. 

Additionally, consulting with career counsellors, academic advisors, and mentors will provide further guidance in assessing your qualifications, skills, and interests to determine which exam aligns best with your strengths and aspirations. 

Remember that ultimately, the decision is yours to make. Trust your instincts and take into consideration all the information you gather. By making an informed choice, you can set yourself on the right path towards a successful medical career.