General Surgery Qualifying Exam - Overview

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About the Exam
  • The General Surgery Qualifying Examination (QE) is offered annually as the first of two exams required for board certification in general surgery. The QE consists of approximately 300 multiple-choice questions designed to evaluate a surgeon's knowledge of general surgical principles and applied science.
  • It is a one-day exam lasting eight hours and is held at computer-testing facilities across the U.S. Results are posted and mailed approximately four weeks after the exam. The exam's contents are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or disclosed in any manner.
  • Next Exam: August 13, 2015  (2016 Exam: July 19, 2016)

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General Requirements
  • To be eligible for this exam, applicants must:
  • Accredited Program: Have satisfactorily completed a residency training program in general surgery accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. All training must be completed by July 1 to be eligible for that year's QE.
  • Training: Have met all ABS training requirements for graduate education in general surgery.
  • Professional Activity: Be actively engaged in the practice of general surgery as indicated by holding full surgical privileges in this discipline at an accredited health care institution, or be currently engaged in pursuing additional graduate education in a component of general surgery or other recognized surgical specialty. An exception to this requirement is active military duty.
  • Operative Log: Submit an operative experience report that is deemed acceptable to the ABS, not only as to volume, but as to spectrum and complexity of cases. See training requirements for specific operative experience requirements.
  • Medical License: While possession of a medical license is not required to apply for the QE, candidates must possess a full and unrestricted U.S. or Canadian medical license to take the Certifying Examination. Applicants are required to immediately inform the ABS of any conditions or restrictions in force on any active medical license they hold.
  • Adhere to the ABS Ethics and Professionalism Policy.

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How to Apply
  • Individuals who meet ABS requirements may apply for the QE through the online application process, which is posted each year in early spring (Application Instructions). Applicants in U.S. programs must use the login information mailed to programs at that time. Canadian applicants should contact the ABS office for access.
  • After your application is approved, you will be sent instructions on how to register for this year's exam and submit payment of the separate exam fee.
  • Once you are registered for the exam, you will be mailed an exam admission authorization letter with final details and instructions on reserving a place at a computer-testing center. You must have this letter to reserve a testing center spot.
  • Active duty military personnel who may encounter difficulty taking the exam due to their service should contact the ABS as soon as possible.

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Exam Opportunities and Admissibility
  • Applicants who complete residency in the 2012-2013 academic year or thereafter:
  • Will have no more than seven academic years following residency to complete the certification process. The seven-year period begins upon completion of residency, not when an individual's application is approved. If individuals do not apply immediately after residency, they will lose exam opportunities.
  • Upon application approval, they will be offered a maximum of four opportunities within a four-year period to pass the QE. If an applicant decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity as the four-year limit is absolute.
  • The granting of four opportunities in four years is contingent on sufficient time being left in the applicant's seven-year eligibility period. See the ABS' new exam admissibility policy for further details.
  • Applicants who completed residency prior to July 1, 2012:
  • Must apply for the QE within three academic years after completion of residency.
  • Must take the QE for the first time either in the year of application approval or the year following.
  • Upon application approval, they will be offered a maximum of five opportunities within a five-year period to pass the QE. If an applicant decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity as the five-year limit is absolute.
  • During the exam admissibility period, examinees who postponed or were unsuccessful will be contacted each year regarding the next exam; a new application is not necessary.
  • Individuals who exceed any of the above restrictions will lose their admissibility and must pursue a readmissibility pathway to re-enter the certification process.

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General Surgery Certifying Exam
Upon successful completion of the QE, a candidate is admissible to the General Surgery Certifying Exam, an oral exam, and may sign up for an upcoming exam site/date. Candidates should select a CE site/date as soon as possible, and no later than Sept. 20 for that academic year.


For complete requirements regarding certification in surgery, refer to the 2013-2014 Booklet of Information - Surgery (pdf).

See also:

For specific inquiries, please send an e-mail to the exam coordinator.

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