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About the CE

General Surgery Certifying Exam

For information regarding COVID-related modifications and issues, including the virtual 2020 General Surgery Qualifying Examination, please see our COVID information hub.
  • The General Surgery Certifying Examination (CE) is the last step toward board certification in general surgery. It is an oral exam consisting of 3 consecutive 30-minute sessions, each conducted by a team of two examiners.
  • The CE's purpose is to evaluate a candidate's clinical skills in organizing the diagnostic evaluation of common surgical problems and determining appropriate therapy. Emphasis is placed on candidates' ability to use their knowledge and training to safely, effectively and promptly manage a broad range of clinical problems.
Next Exam: Oct. 19-21, 2020

2020-21 Virtual Certifying Exams

  • All Certifying Exams scheduled for the 2020-21 academic year will be delivered virtually via Zoom. Exams will be handled in the same way as an in-person exam, with each examinee participating in 3 consecutive 30-minute sessions and each session conducted by a team of two examiners. Each exam session will also include a proctor, and may include one or two additional observers. These individuals are simply there to oversee the administration of the exam, and will have no bearing on your score. Exam proctoring will be handled by ABS staff.
  • You do not need to download any software or applications for this exam. You will have the ability to launch the Zoom session from your browser using the link that you will receive via email in the week prior to the exam. If you are launching Zoom for the first time, the web browser client will download automatically when you start or join your first Zoom meeting. If you choose to download the Zoom application to your computer, please check to be sure you have the most updated version installed. See this tutorial from Zoom for information about how to upgrade to the latest version.

Exam Content

  • The CE is designed to assess a candidate's surgical judgment, clinical reasoning skills and problem-solving ability. Technical details of operations may also be evaluated, as well as issues related to a candidate's ethical and humanistic qualities.
  • The CE is aligned with the SCORE Curriculum Outline. For further details about the exam's content, see What to Expect and Candidate Video.
  • The contents of the CE are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or disclosed in any manner.

Exam Registration

  • The CE is held 5 times per academic year in Philadelphia. CE dates for the next academic year are posted on this website in late spring.
  • Failure to select a date is considered a lost opportunity. See General Surgery CE Registration for more on the exam registration process. Active duty military personnel who may encounter difficulty taking the exam due to their service should contact the ABS as soon as possible.
    One Opportunity Per Year
    All candidates are offered no more than one opportunity per academic year in each year of admissibility to take the CE. If you fail to select a CE date, or opt not to take the CE in a given year, it is a lost opportunity. See below for more on exam opportunities and admissibility.

Medical License Requirement

Candidates who were registered for the July 2020 General Surgery Qualifying Exam will be able to take the Certifying Exam prior to passing the Qualifying Exam. Candidates who choose this path will still need to pass both examinations in order to be certified by the American Board of Surgery. The requirement for candidates to hold a full and unrestricted state medical license to register for the CE will be waived for those who choose to take the CE first. A full and unrestricted state medical license will be required before a candidate will be considered certified by the ABS.
  • To register for the CE, a candidate must hold a full and unrestricted license to practice medicine in the U.S. or Canada. The license must be valid through the date of the examination. Temporary, limited, educational or institutional licenses will not be accepted, even if you are currently in a fellowship.
  • It may take several months to obtain a full and unrestricted state medical license—please plan ahead! You will not be admitted to the exam without one.

Exam Opportunities

The admissibility period for the CE begins immediately upon successful completion of the General Surgery Qualifying Exam (QE). Candidates are strongly encouraged not to delay taking the CE for the first time as such delays may adversely affect performance.

Current Candidates:

  • Candidates who complete residency after July 1, 2012, will have no more than 7 academic years following residency to complete the certification process, including passing the CE. The 7-year period begins immediately upon completion of residency.
  • These candidates will be granted up to 3 opportunities within a 3-year period to pass the CE, immediately following successful completion of the QE. If an applicant decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity.
  • See the ABS' exam admissibility policy for further details.

Prior Policy:

  • Candidates who completed residency before July 1, 2012, were granted up to 5 opportunities within a 5-year period to pass the CE. immediately following successful completion of the QE. If an applicant decided not to take the exam in a given year, it was a lost opportunity.

Only one opportunity per academic year will be granted to all candidates. All of the above limits are absolute; exceptions will only be made for active duty military service outside the U.S. Individuals who exceed any of the above restrictions will lose their admissibility and must pursue a readmissibility pathway to re-enter the certification process.


Candidates may also refer to the ABS Booklet of Information - Surgery (pdf).

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


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