differences between PLAB and USMLE
Learn the Differences between USMLE and PLAB

Clearing entrance exams is the first step to pursuing your medical career abroad. However, the two most significant entrance exams are PLAB and USMLE. If you want to advance your career in medicine in the UK or the US, you must know about the differences between USMLE and PLAB. 

Both exams have their own curriculum, exam structure and eligibility criteria. Depending on your requirements and eligibility criteria, you can opt for any of them. 

USMLE and PLAB are designed to measure a doctor’s knowledge and clinical skills. 

When you plan to sit for any of these two exams, you must learn all the details related to them. Thus, you can secure good marks and get your license for medical practice in the UK or USA. 

In this blog, we will discuss that. You’ll learn about what are the differences between USMLE and PLAB. Also, you’ll get to know about their eligibility criteria, exam formats, durations of exams, fees, and so on! 

So, without further delay, let’s proceed. 

What is PLAB?

PLAB, or Professional Linguistic and Assessments Board is a licensing examination to assess whether a doctor can obtain GMC Registration. It’s NOT a degree or a certification by itself. It only makes you eligible to apply for medical practice in the UK.

In the UK, to practice as a doctor, GMC registration is a MUST. General Medical Council (GMC) maintains its register of medical practitioners, general practitioners, and specialists. To practice at that level, you need to be registered with GMC. 

The PLAB exam checks upon medical students’ required knowledge and skills to practice medicine in the UK. 

What is USMLE?

USMLE or United States Medical Licensing Examination is a three-step assessment of clinical knowledge and skills required to practice medicine in the US. It has three steps.  One can take the first two steps while still in medical school. However, one can take the Step 3 test only available after graduation.

Differences between PLAB and USMLE
Image credit: The Economic Times

After completing ECFMG registration, Steps 1 and 2A may be taken. Step 3 can be taken in between getting your ECFMG certification and applying for the Match or even after you get a Match. American graduates typically take it at the end of their first year of residency. 

The Major differences between USMLE and PLAB:

However, a question often comes up while finding out the differences between USMLE and PLAB. Where does PLAB take you to? Or, why should you choose it?  

PLAB will get you registered with GMC. Whether that registration will be provisional or full depends on your completion of an acceptable pattern of internship. Suppose you’ve not completed such a pattern. In that case, you will obtain provisional registration and must apply for the UK Foundation program (UKFP) and then update your registration.

The next question that comes in the context of exploring the differences between PLAB and USMLE is, why do you need to take the USMLE? Let’s answer it. 

USMLE is the set of examinations needed for medical licensure in the United States. It is an exam that must be taken by American medical graduates and IMGs alike to ensure their eligibility as a medical practitioner. 

Eligibility criteria:

The eligibility criteria are a vital part of the differences between USMLE and PLAB : 

Both exams’ eligibility criteria vary slightly as they are designed for different purposes.

For the USMLE, eligibility is based on the candidate’s medical education. 

Anyways, to be eligible for the USMLE:

1) Aspirants must have completed medical school or be enrolled in a medical school program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). 

2) Candidates must have completed all the required coursework and clinical rotations with their medical boards.

On the other hand, The PLAB exam’s eligibility is based on the candidate’s medical education and language proficiency. 

To be eligible for the PLAB exam:

1)  Candidates must have a primary medical qualification acceptable to the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC). The GMC accepts qualifications from various countries. However, aspirants must ensure that their qualifications meet the GMC’s criteria.

2) Candidates must also pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with a minimum score of 7.5 in each of the four language skills.

Exam duration:

The USMLE Step 1 exam is a one-day exam divided into seven 60-minute blocks that last for eight hours, summing up to around 280 questions, while Step 2 CK is divided into eight 60-minute blocks that last for nine hours. Step 3 has no certain duration. 

However, the PLAB 1 exam is a three-hour exam, and the 2nd exam of PLAB (PLAB-2) comprises 16 scenarios, each lasting eight minutes.

Exam Structure:

The differences between USMLE and PLAB become prominent when we talk about both exams’ structures. The USMLE is a computer-based exam, whereas the PLAB exam is paper-based. Also, each section in the USMLE exam is computer-adaptive. So, the difficulty of the questions will adjust based on your answers to previous questions.


As we mentioned, USMLE is a three-step examination. 

Step 1 is a multiple-choice test including 280 questions. The questions mostly assess the foundation of basic sciences like anatomy, pathology, behavioral sciences, and therapy.

Further, Step 2 tests your clinical knowledge of patient care, including disease prevention, health promotion, diverse legal and ethical issues, etc. Also, it assesses your knowledge about safety which comprises clinical skills like gathering information, performing tests, diagnosing, and analyzing results. 

Step 3 evaluates your performance of independent practice of patient care.


On the other hand, the PLAB exam has a fixed set of questions for each section.

The exam has two parts-

  1. PLAB 1
  2. PLAB 2

Anyways, PLAB 1 is an MCQ exam.

It is a 3-hour 180 MCQ (single best answer) exam that can be taken right after a candidate gets their primary medical qualification.

PLAB 2 is an OSCE or Objective Structured Clinical Examination exam.

It is a practical assessment. Usually, there are 18 stations spanning 8 minutes each, excluding at least 2 rest stations. 

The only requirement to sit for the second exam is passing the first one. Also, you will have to take the second exam within 2 years of passing the first exam. However, you do not need to have a valid IELTS/OET to take the second exam.

Do you want to learn about AP, ACT and SAT exams as well? Click here.

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When can you opt for the exams:

So, we have discussed various differences between USMLE and PLAB. Now, let’s talk about at which point in your career you should opt for these exams.


It is best to go for it as early as possible. However, it might not be feasible for all. So, the answer is that you can take PLAB anytime in your career after receiving your primary medical qualification.


As an IMG, you may take it anytime during your career, even during medical school. You don’t need to complete any sort of internship or get clinical experience to take the exams. Observer-ships, externships, and sub-internships may be considered to bolster your CV but are not prerequisites for the USMLE.


How difficult is PLAB for Indians?

Well, not just for Indians; the PLAB exam is a challenging assessment for all who want to pursue a medical career in the UK. This exam requires significant preparation and dedication. However, with the appropriate mindset and guidance, candidates can overcome the challenges.

When does Plab-1 take place?

It can be taken in many places around the world. They run March and November exams worldwide. Anyways, in the UK, where they have two extra exam dates, usually in June and September.

When and where does Plab 2 take place? 

It happens year-round and only takes place in Manchester, UK.

What is the salary after PLAB?

The salary depends on your expertise, experience and other factors. However, After clearing PLAB, you may enter the NHS at either the FY1 or FY2 level. And, the base salary for FY1 is around £27,000.

Final Thoughts:

So, here are the major differences between PLAB and USMLE are explained. We have discussed the eligibility criteria, exam duration, exam structure etc. We hope that this blog has cleared all of your doubts related to it. However, if you still have any question left in your mind, you can ask in the comments below!

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