Five tips to pass the ABR Certifying Exam
Last updated: Sept 30, 2019
If you’re a radiologist staring down the barrel of the upcoming ABR Certifying Exam, you’re probably balancing your first year in private practice against the study time, which can be…stressful. Your time is more precious than ever, so you’ll really want to make your study time count. To get you a jump start, we reached out to our friends at Core Physics Review to help you make it easier to pass this exam. Here’s what we learned:
1. Make Sure You’re Registered
As basic as it sounds, this step needs to happen. Registration is by email invitation, but people have actually failed to receive registration invitations even though they had passed the Core Exam. Expect to receive your registration far in advance of the exam, like July for an Oct administration. During registration, you’ll be asked to select your elective modules, and you may also be given the option of changing your elective module choices until registration closes. Whatever the exact registration deadlines are for you, make sure you know them, and don’t let them pass without getting registered for the Certifying Exam.
2. Choose Modules That Work Best for You
The exam includes one required module and three modules that you get to choose. The required module is called Essentials of Diagnostic Radiology, where you’ll see basic radiology cases (recognizing child abuse, pneumothorax, etc.) and Noninterpretive Skills questions. The other three modules are up to you to choose— general radiology, breast, cardiac, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, neuroradiology, nuclear, pediatric, thoracic, ultrasound, genitourinary, and vascular and interventional radiology.
Do not be scared of choosing more than one module in a given area if that’s your area of expertise.
The ABR explicitly states that if you choose more than one module in the same area, the second (or third) module will be harder. Do not be scared of choosing more than one module in a given area if that’s your area of expertise. By focusing on the area that overlaps with your fellowship, you’ll simplify your study plan. On the other hand, maybe your deep expertise genuinely spans more than one subject area, and accessing a few more simple questions by selecting another basic module could be helpful. None of these strategies is universally preferred — we’ve heard from radiologists that succeeded with both strategies. Be honest about your strengths and choose what works best for you.
3. Budget Protected Study Time
Unlike with the Core Exam, you’re likely to be in clinical practice or fellowship during the lead up to this exam. Radiologists we’ve talked with studied the equivalent of 2–4 weeks full time in order to be ready. If scheduling works out, this could be continuous weeks off service. For most, this time is going to be scraped together from weeknights and weekends. The exact amount of time that you’ll need will depend on your background and the modules you’ve chosen.
Physics makes an encore appearance at the Certifying Exam with Radioisotope Safety Exam (RISE) questions that grant you Authorized User Eligibility.
Try to plan ahead based on the constraints of your practice group or fellowship program if at all possible. Arrange vacation or elective time in the weeks leading up to the exam. Get your weekend and night call responsibilities rescheduled away from the weeks leading up to the exam. Plan distracting out-of-work commitments to happen outside this study period so they don’t accidentally interfere with your ability to rest and focus.
4. Get the nucs safety chapter of Rad Simplified
Physics makes an encore appearance at the Certifying Exam. This is because the Certifying Exam covers the second part of the Radioisotope Safety Exam (RISE) that grants you Authorized User Eligibility. The RISE material on this test relates exclusively to Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Safety. Fortunately, the Nuclear Safety chapter of Radiology Simplified is the only source you need to cover Nuclear Safety. Because it’s so important for the Certifying Exam, Nuclear Safety is the free sample chapter, which you can download through the iBooks app on your iPhone, Mac, or iPad. If you absolutely need it, there’s an abridged print version on Amazon that’s only in stock a few months each year.
Update posted September 2019: Be sure to brush up on physics concepts related to your modules. For example, breast modules may have some coverage on MRI, ultrasound and mammography with clinically-relevant cases. IR may include fluoroscopy physics or safety concepts in the context of a clinical setting. If you already took Core Physics Review, you have a copy of Radiology Simplified, which you can use to efficiently rekindle your synapses.
5. Trust the Noninterpretative Skills PDF
This last point is important. The required material for the Noninterpretative module is intermittently updated by the ABR. Your #1 source for acing this module needs to be the most current version of the ABR’s Noninterpretive Skills Resource Guide, directly from the ABR. This guide is similar to what you studied for the Core exam, but it’s revised intermittently, so don’t waste time on outdated resources like these YouTube videos.
To absorb this information efficiently, it helps to be awake when you’re studying. Taking notes could be a mistake though — they don’t let you review the material rapidly. Instead, try creating PowerPoint slides in Q&A format, so you can flip through the essential need-to-memorize facts just before the exam. Flashcard apps could be less efficient, unless you’re able to make sure you’ve seen all the cards without repetition in your last few reviews. Unless you’re very special, reading the NIS document passively risks low retention and narcolepsy.
The good news is that if you’ve passed the Core Exam, you’re also likely to pass the Certifying Exam. One estimate from the ABR places the Certifying Exam pass rate in the range of 97%. You have everything you need to put this exam behind you. For now, turn off Notifications, get your thinking cap on, and make your next 45 minutes of study count. We’re rooting for you.
— Orbit Staff