How to Navigate the High-Stakes General Surgery Certifying Exam
The American Board of Surgery (ABS) Certifying Examination. The mere mention of this high-stakes exam is enough to tighten your stomach into a knot and cause massive anxiety. Yes, preparing for this exam can be challenging, but it’s a mandatory step to earn your medical license. Thorough exam preparation and a strategic approach will significantly increase your chances of success. Here are some tips and tricks to help you pass the ABS Certifying Exam.
General Certifying Examination Process
The ABS Certifying Exam is the final step in becoming a board-certified general surgeon. Its primary purpose is to test your surgical judgment – your ability to reason and apply knowledge to the care of surgical patients in a safe manner. The clinical scenarios are linked to the Surgical Council on Resident Education (SCORE) curriculum and cover topics spanning the breadth of general surgery.
When do you take the ABS certifying examination?
Eligibility for the ABS Certifying Exam starts immediately after passing the General Surgery Qualifying Exam (QE).
Candidates who finish their residency training after July 1, 2012, have a maximum of 7 academic years from their residency completion to finalize the certification process. Candidates have three opportunities to take the certifying exam within three years of passing the qualifying exam.
The exam is offered in the fall and spring. ABS Certifying Exams are currently scheduled for delivery via Zoom with proctoring for security. Each candidate is allowed only one examination opportunity per academic year.
Preparation for the general surgery certifying exam begins on the first day of residency. It’s important to have a solid exam study plan in place. A focused approach that emphasizes mock oral sessions is essential in the months leading up to the exam.
Virtual Oral Exam
As a result of the pandemic, the American Board of Surgery has transitioned from a face-to-face oral exam to a virtual oral examination format. The exam is conducted virtually and consists of three 30-minute sessions delivered by two interviewers.
Scoring and Results
After completing the exam, the ABS will review your performance and provide your results within a few weeks of the examination. Here are some tips for when you’re waiting on your exam results.
After passing the General Surgery Certifying Exam, you will become board-certified and must maintain certification via participation in the ABS Continuous Certification Program.
Further details on the ABS CE content and structure
The General Surgery Certifying exam questions cover various aspects of general surgery designed to test your patient management skills and surgical decision-making, it’s an assessment toward continuous certification. The exam content follows the Surgical Council on Resident Education (SCORE) curriculum outline for general surgery.
This includes core surgical knowledge, patient care, surgical decision-making, technical skills, and operative techniques. Emphasis is placed throughout on patient safety practices and sound clinical decision-making. Refer to the SCORE curriculum outline for the key domains and topics.
Tips and Tricks for Acing the General Surgery Certifying Exam
Passing the ABS Certifying Exam requires dedicated, comprehensive preparation and a strategic approach. You will improve your success by understanding the exam format, utilizing high-yield resources, practicing clinical scenarios, and using stress performance techniques.
How to study for the General Surgery Certifying Exam
Understand the ABS board exam objectives and develop a study schedule
Develop a detailed, personalized study schedule using the SCORE curriculum that spans several months before the exam. Allocate time to review each content area at least two to three times based on its weight in the exam and based on your strengths and weaknesses.
Use high-yield study materials
There are several textbooks and study guides that you can use for review during your preparation. High-yield resources will provide the relevant and essential materials for a focused review. Some helpful review guides include Passing the General Surgery Oral Board Exam by Marc A. Neff, How to Win on the American Board of Surgery Certifying Exam by Brad Snyder and Alex Nguyen, Demystifying the Surgery Certifying Examination: Essential Skills to Maximize Preparation and Optimize Performance by Odysseus Argy and the National Surgery Board Review Series.
Review courses such as The Pass Machine can be invaluable for providing oral exam practice questions and sample scripted approaches to common clinical scenarios.
Practice mock exams
Practice answering questions under simulated exam conditions. This includes dressing as you would for the exam and being in a similar testing environment. Learn the common pitfalls and frequently tested concepts. Know the steps to the commonly performed operations and how to handle complications.
The last piece of the preparation process is to get feedback. Understand how to present yourself confidently under stressful circumstances. Ask for feedback from your mentors about how you’re coming across during responses, such as your tone and body language. Use the visualization techniques actors and pro athletes use to manage your physiology during stress.
What to do on exam day
Exam day for the American Board of Surgery (ABS) General Surgery Certifying Exam (CE) can be nerve-wracking; however, adequate preparation and a calm approach will go a long way in helping you perform your best on test day.
- Get a good night’s sleep: Ensure adequate rest the night before the exam. A well-rested mind is crucial for optimal performance.
- Eat breakfast: Have a nutritious breakfast with complex carbohydrates, protein, and hydration. Avoid heavy or unfamiliar foods.
- Be early: Plan to arrive at the exam location before the scheduled start time. This gives you a buffer for unexpected delays and helps reduce stress.
- Review your checklist: Before leaving for the exam, double-check that you have all the required documents, identification, and other items needed for admission.
- Dress professionally: Dress in appropriate professional attire for the occasion.
- Stay relaxed: Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or a short meditation to manage pre-exam nerves. It’s natural to feel anxious, but staying calm will help you think more clearly.
- Follow instructions: Listen carefully to any instructions provided by exam proctors or administrators. They will guide you through the check-in process and explain the exam format.
- Stay focused: When you enter the examination room, focus solely on the question and the moment.
- Engage with examiners: During the oral exam, engage with the examiners by listening carefully to their questions and scenarios. Take a quick moment to gather your thoughts before responding.
- Be clear and concise: When answering questions, respond clearly and concisely. Address the key points and provide relevant information without unnecessary elaboration.
- Ask for clarification if needed: If you’re unsure about a question or scenario, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. It’s better to seek clarification than to provide an inaccurate response.
- Maintain professionalism: Maintain a professional demeanor throughout the exam. Be respectful, maintain eye contact, and demonstrate empathy when discussing patient scenarios.
- Manage time wisely: Keep track of your time during each session to ensure you have adequate time to address all components of the scenarios.
- Stay positive: Maintain a positive attitude and confidence in your abilities. Even if you encounter challenging scenarios, stay composed and approach them methodically.
- Leave each session behind: After each session, leave any stress or concerns from the previous encounter. Focus on the following scenario without dwelling on past performance.
- Maintain perspective: Remember that the ABS certifying exam is just one step to becoming a board-certified surgeon. Regardless of the outcome, it is an opportunity for growth and learning.
After the exam, try to relax and take some time for self-care. It’s essential to decompress and recharge before receiving your results. Trust in your preparation and the hard work you’ve put in to reach this point.
General Surgery Board Review
Using a comprehensive board review to prepare for the ABS General Surgery Certifying Exam offers several benefits:
A comprehensive board review provides a structured and organized approach to covering all the relevant content areas outlined in the American Board of Surgery SCORE curriculum blueprint. This ensures that you cover all essential topics during your preparation. Instead of gathering materials from various sources, a comprehensive review program consolidates study materials, including board practice questions, clinical scenarios, and suggested responses. This streamlines your study process and saves time.
Comprehensive board review programs provide study plans tailored to the ABS board exam. These plans help you allocate your study time effectively, balancing your weaknesses and strengths. Most comprehensive board review programs provide a large bank of practice questions and clinical case simulations that closely mimic the exam format.
Many comprehensive reviews offer self-assessment tools, including practice exams, quizzes, and mock oral examinations. These tools allow you to gauge your progress and identify areas needing improvement. Review programs often feature experienced faculty or mentors who can guide you through challenging topics, provide insights, and offer strategies for approaching the exam effectively.
If you participate in a comprehensive review course, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with fellow candidates. Peer discussions, case reviews, and group study sessions will enhance your understanding of the material. Comprehensive surgery board review courses include mock oral exams or simulation sessions replicating the exam conditions. This helps you become more comfortable with the exam format and eases test anxiety.
Board review courses strive to stay current with exam content and format changes. They frequently update their materials to align with the latest exam requirements. They offer customized feedback on your practice exams and performance in simulated scenarios. This feedback can help you pinpoint areas that require further attention.
Comprehensive board reviews employ various teaching methodologies and mnemonic devices to help you retain and recall information effectively. Candidates who engage in comprehensive board reviews tend to have higher pass rates on the certifying exam as they benefit from a structured and well-rounded preparation process.
ABS Certifying Exam: Frequently Asked Questions
How long do I need to study for the ABS CE?
The amount of time needed to study for the American Board of Surgery (ABS) Certifying Exam (CE) will vary based on your prior knowledge, clinical experience, and study habits. However, a general guideline for preparing for the ABS Certifying Exam is to dedicate at least three to six months of focused study and participation in mock oral exams.
What is a passing score on the American Board of Surgery certifying exam?
The American Board of Surgery does not publicly disclose the specific passing score for the Certifying Exam, or oral boards. The ABS uses a complex scoring methodology to evaluate candidate performance, and this process may involve multiple examiners and a combination of scores from different exam components. Candidates are not provided with a numerical score but are informed of their pass or fail status. Surgeons who achieve ABS certification may move on to earn their medical license.
What is the pass rate for the general surgery certifying exam?
The ABS 2022 General Surgery pass rate for the certifying exam is 87%. In 2022, The Pass Machine General Surgery Certifying Board Review clients achieved a 96% pass rate on the ABS Certification Exam.