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English language testing

Do I need to take an English test to be registered with the GMC?

All doctors who practise medicine in the UK must have the necessary knowledge of English to communicate effectively so they do not put the safety of their patients at risk. Communicating includes speaking, reading, writing and listening.

There are two main types of test: IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board). The test you are required to take depends on your country of origin.

 

Doctors from EEA or Switzerland

Doctors from the EEA or Switzerland who do not already have a licence to practise granted by the GMC, must be able to demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge of English before being granted a licence. The GMC can require EU doctors to take a language test to decide if they are fit to practise.

If a doctor from the EEA or Switzerland registered with the GMC before 25 June 2014, they will not have to take any examination or language test. Employers will require them to have a high standard of written and spoken English.

Find out more on the GMC website

 

Doctors from outside the EEA or Switzerland

If you qualified outside the EEA and are not a citizen of an EEA member state you will be required to demonstrate your English language proficiency. For most doctors this will be demonstrated by passing the IELTS test, which enables you to register with the GMC, and passing the PLAB test in order to practice medicine in the UK.

 

What is the IELTS test ?

The IELTS test is administered by the British Council and can be taken in many countries.

IELTS test scores remain valid for two years. There is no limit to the number of times candidates can sit the IELTS exam but the required scores must be obtained in a single sitting.

The IELTS test consists of four sections:

  • speaking
  • listening
  • writing
  • reading

The system is scored on a nine band scale with one being the lowest (non-user of English) and nine the highest (expert user).

The Royal College of Physicians has helpful information, including links to further guidance on passing IELTS.

Read the RCP guidance

 

What are the scores required ?

To register with the GMC

Candidates must obtain an overall score of 7.5 with minimum scores of 7.0 in speaking, listening, writing and reading.

To be eligible to sit the PLAB tests

After registering with the GMC, a doctor must achieve the required IELTS overall score of 7.5 to sit the PLAB tests in order to practice medicine.

To apply for a Foundation Programme post

Applicants need to be proficient in written and spoken English, and should be able to demonstrate efficient communication about medical topics to both patients and colleagues.

To apply for speciality training

The GMC requests that IELTS need to be done with the overall score of 7.5 The GMC has more information about the IELTS and English language requirements test. 

Check the GMC website

Will the GMC consider any alternative evidence of English language skills?

In certain circumstances the GMC may consider alternative evidence of English language skills instead of the IELTS test. For example:

  • if you graduated from an institution where the language of instruction and examination was English
  • if you have moved to the UK from an English speaking country where you took an English examination to obtain registration with the medical regulatory authority

However you will not be considered if you have already taken the IELTS test and failed to achieve the required score.

Find more general information on the GMC website 

 

Find an IELTS test centre

The British Council

IELTS

 

What is the PLAB test?

The PLAB test is the main route by which international medical graduates (IMGs) demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to practise medicine in the UK.

The PLAB test assesses your basic medical competence and your ability to communicate in English for suitability to work at Foundation House Officer 2 level (FHO2), although doctors at FHO1 level can take it.

There are two parts to the PLAB test:

  • Part 1 of the PLAB test consists of a three hour computer-marked written examination, comprising extended matching questions and single best answer questions. The examination tests four skill areas: diagnosis, investigation, management/treatment and context of clinical practice.
  • Part 2 is the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), which assesses clinical examination, practical skills, communication skills and history taking in a number of controlled situations.

 

How do you apply for a PLAB test?

All applications for PLAB exams must be made online through the GMC website.

If you are unable to apply online you should contact the GMC for an application form.

Phone  +44 (0)161 923 6602 

Find out more about PLAB tests

 

Where can you take the PLAB test?

PLAB Part 1 can be taken in the UK or at selected centres in Egypt, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and the West Indies. 

PLAB Part 2 can only be taken in the UK at the GMC Clinical Assessment Centre in Manchester.

You must pass part 2 of the test within three years of the date you passed part 1

Dates for tests are set on the basis of demand but more information is available from the GMC.

Read detailed information about the PLAB 2 exam

 

Important information about the PLAB test

You should contact the GMC for more information about the PLAB test and to find out whether or not you can be exempted from it. The GMC website also includes details of PLAB test dates and example questions.

There are two sittings a year of the PLAB test in overseas centres and four sittings per year in the UK.

Please note the PLAB test is under review.

Read more about the review

Use the BMJ online revision resource for PLAB (Note this service incurs a charge).