Taking the CE

Taking the CE - What to Expect

The Exam Schedule

  • Once you are registered for the CE, you will be assigned an exact day, time and place for you to be present for a candidates' briefing; you should base your travel plans on this information. Assignment of candidates is done randomly by computer; candidates may not request a specific date or time.
  • Your exam (3 consecutive 30-minute sessions) will take place in the morning or afternoon based on your briefing assignment. Due to the CE's logistics, the ABS cannot provide exact exam times in advance. You are free to leave after your third exam session. You should plan to be at the CE site for a half-day.
  • Morning: If you are assigned to a morning exam, you will have a candidate briefing at 7 a.m. and your exam will be held either from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. OR from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
  • Afternoon: If you have an afternoon exam, your briefing will be at 12 p.m. and your exam will be held either from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. OR from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • You must bring your CE admission card and a government-issued photo ID to the briefing. The briefing will start exactly on time; late arrival may result in your not being admitted to the exam.
  • No personal belongings (purses, briefcases, etc.) or electronic devices or recorders may be brought into the exam sessions. You may bring paper and pen into the session to take notes; however you must leave the paper with your examiners. You may also bring 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 the 30-minute exam session, each examiner 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.