Developing an evidence base for the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test

What were the key findings?

The research focused on some key dimensions of the PLAB test. Findings included that:

  • few professional organisations identify an evidence base for the number of times candidates can take their examinations and assessments
  • If organisations limit the number of attempts, the most frequently permitted number in medical organisations is four in the UK and three internationally
  • whilst evidence supports re-sit opportunities, moderately strong evidence indicates there is no significant benefit for candidates after four attempts
  • the GMC should limit the number of attempts at PLAB Part 1 and 2 to four, followed by a period adequate to enable personal development before further attempts are permitted
  • evidence on the length of time passes in examinations remain current is linked to examination structures and design. There is no substantive evidence on which to base a recommendation for defined periods of currency
  • there is almost no evidence relating the number of re-sits directly to later performance in practice. But there is moderate to strong evidence to support a correlation between examination performance and later performance in practice
  • the methods the GMC uses to set cut scores for Part 1 and Part 2 have acceptable reliability and validity, and are defensible. The researchers recommend, though, that we consider alternative approaches and collect further data on existing methods.

Why did we commission this research?

We commissioned this research as part of a wider project reviewing the PLAB test, the main route by which IMGs demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to practise medicine in the UK. The purpose of the wider review was to ensure that the PLAB test continues to be an objective, fair, non-discriminatory and fit for purpose method of assessing the knowledge and skills of IMGs applying for registration with the GMC.

What did the research involve?

The research involved formal literature searches complemented by grey literature searches and snowballing of references from key papers. International experts were contacted, as were national and international professional bodies (including non-medical bodies).

Full report

Developing an evidence base for the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) Test

The technical appendixes to the report can be accessed here:
Appendix A: Table of professional bodies
Appendix B: Sample letter to professional bodies
Appendix C: A glossary for standard setting
Appendix D: Standard setting paper matrix
Appendix E: A comparison of borderline groups, contrasting groups and borderline regression