About the QE

General Surgery Qualifying Exam

  • The General Surgery Qualifying Examination (QE) is offered annually as the first of two exams required for board certification in general surgery. The exam consists of approximately 300 multiple-choice questions designed to evaluate a surgeon's knowledge of general surgical principles and applied science. See also the exam's content outline (pdf).
  • It is a one-day exam lasting 8 hours and is held at computer-testing facilities across the U.S. Results are posted and mailed approximately 4 weeks after the exam. The exam's contents are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or disclosed in any manner.
    Next Exam: July 19, 2016
    Application Deadlines: April 15 (initial deadline) and May 16 (late deadline)
    Residents are not required to meet RRC-Surgery minimums at the time of application; they must only meet ABS training requirements. Taking Exam After PGY-4: See this page for details.

Seven-Year Limit

  • Individuals who complete general surgery residency after July 1, 2012, will have no more than 7 academic years immediately following residency to become certified. See Exam Opportunities below for details.

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 ACGME or RCPSC. All training must be completed by end of August for an applicant to be eligible to take that year's exam. (See also Osteopathic Trainees Policy)
  • 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 Exam. 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.

Application Process

  • Individuals who meet ABS requirements may apply for the exam through the online application process, which is posted each year in early spring (see How to Apply). 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.
  • 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.

Exam Opportunities

Current Applicants:

  • Individuals who complete residency after July 1, 2012, will have no more than 7 academic years following residency to complete the certification process. The seven-year period begins immediately upon completion of residency.
  • Upon application approval, they will be granted up to 4 opportunities within a 4-year period to pass the QE. If the applicant decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity.
  • The granting of 4 opportunities in 4 years is contingent on sufficient years being left in the applicant's seven-year eligibility period. See the ABS' exam admissibility policy for further details.

Prior Policy:

  • Individuals who completed residency prior to July 1, 2012, were required to apply for the QE within 3 academic years after completion of residency, and to take the QE for the first time either in the year of application approval or the year following. Upon application approval, they were offered up to 5 opportunities within a 5-year period to pass the QE.
  • During the exam admissibility period, individuals who postponed or were unsuccessful will be contacted each year regarding the next exam; a new application is not necessary.
  • The above limits are absolute. Individuals who exceed any of the above restrictions will lose their admissibility and must pursue a readmissibility pathway to re-enter the certification process.

General Surgery Certifying Exam

Upon successful completion of the QE, you will be 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 ABS Booklet of Information - Surgery (pdf).

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

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