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 four 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
    2016 Application Deadlines: April 15 (initial deadline) and May 16 (late deadline)
    Please note that residents are not required to meet RRC-Surgery defined category minimums at the time of application. They only must meet ABS training requirements.

Seven-Year Limit

  • Applicants who completed residency in the 2012-2013 academic year or thereafter will have no more than 7 academic years following completion of residency to become certified in general surgery. If you delay in applying for certification, you will lose examination opportunities. Please see our Exam Opportunities section 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.

Taking Exam After PGY-4

  • Starting with the 2016 QE, the ABS will permit residents who will successfully complete their PGY-4 year in June to apply for and take the QE. All application requirements must be met. Taking the exam after PGY-4 will count toward the 4 opportunities in 4 years that are granted to successfully complete the QE. However, the overall 7-year limit to achieve certification will not go into effect until completion of residency. Individuals who pass the QE after their PGY-4 year will not have any official status with the ABS until their residency training has been satisfactorily completed. They also will not be eligible to take the General Surgery Certifying Exam (CE) until that time.

Exam Opportunities

Applicants who completed residency in the 2012-2013 academic year or thereafter:
  • 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, will receive up to 4 opportunities within a 4-year period to pass the QE. If an applicant decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity.
  • 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' exam admissibility policy for further details.
Applicants who completed residency prior to July 1, 2012:
  • Must apply for the QE within 3 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 up to 5 opportunities within a 5-year period to pass the QE. If an applicant decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity.
  • 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 2014-2015 Booklet of Information - Surgery (pdf).

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

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