Taking the CE - What to Expect

The Exam Schedule

  • Once you are registered for the CE, you will be assigned an exact day. Candidate assignment is completed randomly by computer; candidates may not request a specific date or time. Your admission letter will be posted to your ABS portal three weeks prior to the exam. Please arrive promptly at the time listed on your admission letter to complete the check-in process prior to the scheduled start time of your exam. When you join the meeting, you will enter the Zoom waiting room and will be admitted by a host when it is your turn to complete check-in. Extra time has been built-in to this time slot in order to complete the exam check-in process.
  • Your exam (3 consecutive 30-minute sessions) will take place shortly after your check-in session is complete. You must complete all three sessions in order to have your exam scored. After the third session is complete, you are free to exit the Zoom meeting.
  • You will be asked to show your government-issued ID or passport prior to the start of your exam as part of the check-in process. You must have this documentation at the ready when you sign on. In addition, as part of the security check, you will be required to run through the list of currently running applications on your computer, as well as share your screen for the entire duration of the exam. Please familiarize yourself with how to perform these actions on your computer.
  • No personal belongings (purses, briefcases, etc.) or electronic devices or recorders may be brought into the exam sessions. You may use paper and pen during each session to take notes; however, you must destroy the paper with your notes prior to your examiners leaving the breakout room. You may have water if needed.
    Important! Make sure to wear a watch, as you may not keep your cellphone with you. Note: If you are wearing a "smartwatch," you will need to turn it off.

The Examiners

  • Two examiners are used in each of the three exam sessions to help ensure the validity of the examination. One examiner will be an ABS director and another will be an experienced ABS diplomate, likely from the local/regional medical community. All examiners are in active practice, currently certified by the ABS, and participating in the ABS Continuous Certification Program. Examiners do not receive any financial compensation for their service.
  • The examiners are carefully instructed to evaluate each candidate objectively; they have no knowledge of a candidate other than his or her name. The ABS makes every effort to ensure there are no conflicts of interest between examiners and candidates, and verifies that candidates and examiners have never been at the same institution at the same time or worked together in any venue. If you are retaking the exam, the ABS will make certain you have different examiners from those who examined you previously.

The Examination

  • Candidates have already demonstrated sufficient knowledge of surgery by their successful performance on the QE. The purpose of the CE is to assess your process thinking and judgment. All candidates are questioned across similar subject areas representing the breadth of general surgery.
  • The content of the CE is generally, though not exclusively, aligned with the SCORE Curriculum Outline. The majority of the examination will focus on topics listed in the outline as Core. The remainder will cover topics listed as Advanced, or complications of more basic scenarios.
  • Candidates will be expected to know how to perform and describe all Core procedures in the SCORE Outline. Candidates may also be asked about other procedures, but failure to describe a Core procedure will be considered an unsatisfactory performance on that case.
  • The cases presented are structured beforehand and constitute common problems seen in general surgery practice. Four cases will be presented to the candidate during each 30-minute session. Candidates should be able to answer not only what they would do and how, but why.
  • Listen carefully to each case presented and respond with your own plan or actions to resolve it. The examiners want to find out what you would do in your own practice. Tell them what you would do, not what you think they may want you to say. Be prepared to defend your plans and actions with acceptable logic.
  • When grading, examiners will assess your performance according to these Essential Attributes of a Certifiable Surgeon:
  • Demonstrates an organized approach and solid rationale for planned actions.
  • Rapidly determines and interprets key findings in a clinical presentation.
  • Effectively and efficiently uses clinical knowledge to solve clinical problems; effectively addresses key management points.
  • Avoids errors and critical fails (omission and commission) associated with the case.
  • Recognizes personal limitations in knowledge and expertise when diagnosing and treating clinical problems.
  • Reacts in a prompt but flexible manner to alterations in the patient's course, e.g., disease or treatment complications.
  • Overall, demonstrates appropriate surgical judgment, clinical reasoning skills and problem-solving ability.

Exam Results & Continuous Certification

  • During each 30-minute exam session, examiners will independently assign a grade on each case based on his or her evaluation of your performance. The ABS' decision regarding certification is not based upon any preset pass/fail rate, but solely upon the aggregate evaluation of the six examiners.
  • Results will be posted within 10 business days after the final day of the exam. You will be notified by email when they are available. Exam results will not be reported over the telephone. Do not contact your examiners; they have been instructed not to discuss the exam with candidates.
  • Successful examinees will be deemed certified in surgery and will receive their official certificate within 6 months. They must thereafter participate in the ABS Continuous Certification Program to maintain their certificate. The ABS will waive 60 credits of CME with self-assessment toward Continuous Certification for this certification; the waiver will appear automatically in your CME Repository.
  • Surgeons who achieve ABS certification may also apply to the AMA to receive 60 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Please see the AMA website and the direct CME application (pdf) for details.
  • Unsuccessful examinees with remaining exam opportunities will be contacted when CE dates for the next academic year are announced.

How to Prepare

  • The ABS believes that the best preparation for the CE is to "practice" taking oral examinations. You should ask a colleague, preferably a board-certified surgeon, to question you for two to three hours every week for several months. Practice not only the content of your answers, but also explaining out loud your decision-making process. You should be able to present your course of treatment in a clear, logical manner.
  • Your examiner should probe deeply enough into your answers to make certain that you provide adequate information, and should critique your answers with regard to promptness, clarity, logic, and evidence of problem-solving ability. See our Candidate Feedback page for more study tips.

For specific inquiries, please send an email to the exam coordinator.