What is the UKMLA?
Recently we've had a lot of questions from students about the upcoming UK Medical Licensing Assessment (UKMLA) which will replace the PLAB in early 2024.
If you’re also confused about it, don’t worry - it’s completely understandable that you’d want reliable information about such an important exam.
Many students think that if they graduate from medical universities outside the United Kingdom, they would have to sit additional and more stringent exams to be recognised by the GMC before working or specialising. The UKMLA was created specifically to avoid that, and to test every student who is about to practise in the UK in the exact same way.
Table of Contents
- What is UKMLA?
- What does the UKMLA GMC Exam comprise?
- What are the advantages of the UKMLA?
- Is UKMLA pass/fail?
- When will UKMLA replace PLAB?
- How much will the UKMLA cost?
- Is UKMLA different from PLAB?
- UKMLA vs PLAB: Which one is harder?
- Is UKMLA like USMLE?
- UKMLA vs USMLE: Which one is harder?
- Still got questions? We can help!
What is UKMLA?
The UKMLA is an exam intended to test your knowledge and skills needed to practise medicine safely in the UK, regardless of whether you have graduated from the UK or abroad. So far, only doctors who have received their degrees overseas had to sit the PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) exam, which the UKMLA will replace in 2024.
While it may seem intimidating, UKMLA is actually a good thing for students who wish to study medicine abroad. The changes will put the graduates from both UK and abroad on the same pedestal. Wherever you receive your education and training, The Medical Licensing Assessment will give patients and hospitals greater confidence in graduate-doctors new to working in the UK.
The introduction of the UKMLA comes as a result of the recruitment crisis in the United Kingdom. Despite it being extremely hard to get accepted into medicine, the UK is still in huge demand for healthcare specialists. Therefore, this new way of licensing will hopefully fix the gaps at least to some extent.
What does the UKMLA GMC Exam comprise?
The UKMLA will aim to assess the physicians’ theoretical and practical skills. British and overseas-graduate doctors will have to demonstrate knowledge of fundamental concepts in caring for patients. It will be a test of knowledge for any physician who has genuinely completed their degree.
The UKMLA exam will consist of two parts:
#1. The first part will be the so-called Applied Knowledge Test (AKT), a theoretical multiple choice quiz which tests graduates’ general medical knowledge. It will be the same both for UK students and international graduates. This test will be available at least four times per year, so you won't have to wait more than three months to take it after you graduate. There will also be numerous locations for it worldwide. The only difference between the UK and international graduates will be that British physicians will sit the exams at their own university. The AKT will be a computer-based test.
#2. The Clinical and Professional Skills Assessment (CPSA) will focus more on the practical aspects of medicine. For students graduating from the UK, this assessment will be set and run by their medical schools with quality assurance from the GMC. For international medical graduates, the CPSA will take place in the GMC's clinical assessment centre in Manchester.
What are the advantages of the UKMLA?
As previously discussed, the GMC aims to treat every candidate fairly, regardless of whether they come from the UK, Europe, or the rest of the world and which medical schools they got their degrees from.
The UK Medical Licensing Assessment will help the GMC to maintain the high standard of medical education in the UK, as medical schools overseas will be evaluated and added to the list of GMC-recognised universities.
There’s also the matter of availability. While the second part of the UKMLA can only take place in Manchester, the first part will be far more widely available thanks to being computerised rather than held on paper. In theory, any facility in the world that is fit to hold computerised tests can hold it, meaning you won’t have to travel very far.
Is UKMLA pass/fail?
Yes, just like PLAB, the UKMLA exam is either pass or fail - you need to pass the first part in order to be allowed to take the second, and you need to pass that as well for your licence. There are some good news, though: while we know the specifics, it’s not expected for the requirements of passing to significantly increase beyond those for PLAB. And if you’re curious, PLAB’s average success rate is about 70%. As long as you hit the books, you’re going to be okay!
When will UKMLA replace PLAB?
The UKMLA will replace the PLAB exam in early 2024, for international students first. You may find 2023 listed in certain places, but that’s because it was the original plan before COVID pushed it back by a year. According to the new plan, UK students who will graduate in the academic year 2024-2025 and beyond will also have to sit the UKMLA exam alongside students who have studied abroad.
How much will the UKMLA cost?
Currently, there isn’t a lot of information available on how much the UKMLA fees will be. The only thing we know for sure is that those who graduate from UK universities will have the costs covered for them by said universities. The same, however, does not apply to IMGs and to UK students who chose to study elsewhere. This means that UKMLA for European graduates will, unfortunately, need to be paid out of pocket.
For them, the price will be high, but it’s doubtful that it’ll be any higher than the costs of PLAB, which is about £1,200 for both parts (and an extra ~£200 for IELTS if you’re an international student). It is likely that the price will be slightly lower for UKMLA due to its computerised nature, but until we have an official confirmation (which should happen sometime in 2023), PLAB serves as a good enough reference.
Is UKMLA different from PLAB?
Given that they’re different exams with different standards organised by different people, the two are naturally very different… But not as different as you might expect. They’re both held in two parts, one of which involves a theoretical part, the other being practical. The theoretical part (PLAB 1 for PLAB and AKT for UKMLA) is all multiple choice questions with fairly straightforward answers, with the most substantial difference being that AKT is computerised rather than on paper.
As for the practical part, both PLAB 2 and UKMLA’s CPSA involve doing examinations on patients and then answering questions in a “single best answer”-type format. This means that the questions will usually require short, to-the-point answers, and will be about the most likely diagnosis, the best course of treatment, the next steps for the patient, etc. In both cases, it’s simply a matter of testing your knowledge in a more practical environment, and should be no different than interacting with real patients.
UKMLA vs PLAB: Which one is harder?
A natural follow-up question is “Will UKMLA be harder than PLAB?”
Unfortunately, so far the answer seems to be “yes”. According to students who have taken PLAB, the questions are structured so that it’s often pretty obvious what the correct answer is even if you don’t have all the information. UKMLA, on the other hand, has trickier questions and a generally higher threshold for passing.
If you’re starting to feel some tightness in your chest and shortness of breath after reading this, first, use what you’ve learned preparing for the exam to make sure that you’re not having a heart attack. Second, remind yourself that the difficulty of an exam is entirely subjective. 99/100 people can tell you that PLAB is easier than UKMLA, but that doesn’t matter one bit to #100, who found UKMLA easier. So don’t panic, and prepare for the exam like you would for any other.
Is UKMLA like USMLE?
They’re similar in that they’re both the exam you need to pass in order to practise medicine in their respective countries. The clues are in their names: UKMLA is for the UK, USMLE is for the US. Beyond that, however, UKMLA is significantly more different than USMLE than PLAB. For instance, USMLE has three stages as opposed to PLAB/UKMLA’s two, with the additional stage focusing on an all-encompassing exam in biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, genetics and more. In addition, USMLE also requires clinical experience in a US hospital, which is done after you already pass its 3 exams. Beyond the examinations that are part of UKMLA’s second part, there is no such requirement in place for the UK equivalent.
UKMLA vs USMLE: Which one is harder?
General consensus is that USMLE is significantly harder than UKMLA, and the standards for American doctors are significantly higher than those placed on UK ones. In fact, it’s not uncommon for UK med students to study for the USMLA instead of the UKMLA, since in comparison the UKMLA is going to be quite easy and can be passed with a much higher grade. So hey, if you’re concerned about the difficulty, take the small comfort that at least you’re not going to be taking the American exam!
Still got questions? We can help!
Every year, our student advisors help hundreds of students achieve their dream to study medicine in Europe. Not only that, but even after they get into medical school, our advisors continue to guide them on their way, support them and make sure they can get their licence. Part of that support includes making sure they’ll pass their final exams, as well as any other major milestones throughout their 6 year programme.
If you are about to become a med student yourself and wish to practise in the UK, then you’ll certainly have to take the UKMLA by the time you graduate. And you’ll need all the help you can get! Our advisors can answer any questions you may have not just about the exam, but about anything related to the life of a medical student, all while making sure you get accepted into the European med school of your dreams! They’re always available to help through a free consultation.
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