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How do we set the pass mark for the PLAB test?

Part 1

We set the pass mark for each test using the internationally recognised Angoff method. To do this we use a carefully selected panel of trained and experienced doctors. This panel decides the number of borderline junior doctors* out of ten, that would answer the question correctly. The number they give to each question is converted to a decimal for example, 7 correct answers out of 10 would be given a 0.7 score. The scores for all the questions are added to set the pass mark. From March 2018, we will include one standard error of measurement to this pass mark.

From March 2018, we will be amending the way we set the pass mark for PLAB 1 to include one standard error of measurement as well as the Angoff Score.

By using the Angoff method and introducing one standard error of measurement to the pass mark from March 2018, we make sure the level at which we set the pass mark is consistent over time. We also make certain that it reflects what we expect of a doctor entering their second year of Foundation Programme training.

After each test a team of experts reviews the question paper in light of how candidates have performed, to make sure all the questions and answers are fair. Candidates are at all stages of their career and there is no expected pass rate or average score.

The answer sheets are scanned by a marking bureau using an optical mark reader. The number of correct answers you have marked on your sheet will be your final score.

* starting their second year of Foundation Programme training

Part 2

  1. 1. How do the examiners mark the part 2 exam using the borderline regression scoring method?
  2. 2. How do you work out my score for the station?
  3. 3. Is there a fixed pass mark for each station?
  4. 4. How do you work out the pass mark for each station?
  5. 5. What is a borderline performance?
  6. 6. How do I pass a station?
  7. 7. Does the examiner know the station pass mark?
  8. 8. How do you work out if candidates meet the required standard of the part 2 exam?
  9. 9. What feedback will I get?

1. How do examiners mark the part 2 exam using the borderline regression scoring method?

The examiners will mark each station based on your performance against the three marking domains in it (Data gathering, technical and assessment skills, Clinical management skills and Interpersonal skills). The examiner awards a grade between A and E for each marking domain. Each domain is worth the same.

2. How do you work out my score for the station?

After the exam, the grades awarded by the examiner in a station are converted to marks (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, E = 0). A score is calculated for each station by adding the score for each marking domain. For example, if the examiner awarded marks of B, C, A respectively in the three marking domains, the station score would be calculated as follows:

B = 3

C = 2

A = 4

Total station score = 9

3. Is there a fixed pass mark for each station?

No, using the borderline regression scoring method, each station has a pass mark, which varies with the difficulty of the station.

4. How do you work out the pass mark for each station?

In addition to marking the individual objectives in your station, the examiner will also make an overall judgement as to whether your performance rates as Good, Satisfactory, Borderline or Unsatisfactory. For each station, we plot the scores of each candidate on a graph, grouping them by the overall judgement each candidate received. We then draw a regression line through each group of scores and where the line intersects with the borderline group we find the passing score for the station. The graph below shows how it works:

Station scores of each candidate graph

5. What is a borderline performance?

A borderline performance is that of the minimally competent candidate. A minimally competent candidate is one whose performance the examiner considers safe and is generally satisfied with, but has some concerns about.

6. How do I pass a station?

To pass a station, your score must meet or exceed the station pass mark. If the score is below the station pass mark you will fail that station.

7. Does the examiner know the station pass mark?

No, the examiner does not know the pass mark when assessing candidates.

8. How do you work out if candidates meet the required standard of the part 2 exam?

We add up the borderline scores for each of the 18 stations in the exam. We then add one standard error of measurement. This creates the total score for the exam. You must meet or exceed the total score and also pass a minimum of 11 stations to achieve an overall pass.

9. What feedback will I get?

When you have finished each station, the examiner will be able to indicate which of the 10 pre-set feedback statements apply most to you. The examiners must do this if they give an overall judgement of Unsatisfactory, but they will also be able to do so if they judged your performance as Borderline, Satisfactory or Good. You will be told which feedback statements that applied to you in each station. In addition, you will be told:

  • your mark in each of the three marking domains in each station
  • your total in each marking domain by all stations
  • the score required to pass each station and your score in each
  • the total required to pass and the total score you achieved.

See more information on the feedback you will receive.