About the QE

General Surgery Qualifying 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 Qualifying Examination (QE) is offered annually as the first of two exams required for board certification in general surgery. The exam consists of about 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).
  • Typically, it is a one-day exam lasting approximately 8 hours and is held at computer-testing facilities across the U.S. The exam is administered in four 115-minute sessions, with optional 10-minute breaks after sessions one and three, and one longer 40-minute break offered between the second and third session. Once a session has concluded, you will not be able to revisit those questions.
  • Results are posted approximately 4 weeks after the exam; you will be notified by email when they are available. The exam's contents are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or disclosed in any manner.
    Next Exam: July 15, 2021

7-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 (i.e., pass both the QE and CE). 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. (See also Osteopathic Trainees Policy)
    Applicants who will not complete their residency training by June 30 of their chief year must notify the ABS. All training must be completed by end of August to be eligible for that year's exam.
  • Training: Have met all ABS training requirements for graduate education in general surgery.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Documentation of ACLS, ATLS, FLS and FES: Submit copies of certificates showing that certification in each of these programs was successfully achieved. Applicants do not need to be currently certified in these programs.
  • Other Required Documentation: For residents who trained in multiple programs, documentation of satisfactory completion for years in prior programs must be submitted. For international medical graduates, a photocopy of an ECFMG certificate.
  • 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. Please see How to Apply for information about other exam accommodations.

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 (i.e., pass both the QE and CE). The 7-year period begins immediately upon completion of residency.
  • Upon application approval, applicants will be granted up to 4 opportunities within a 4-year period to pass the QE, providing they applied immediately after training. Individuals who delay in applying will lose opportunities to take and pass the QE.
  • If the 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:

  • Individuals who completed residency prior to July 1, 2012, were required to apply for the QE within 3 academic years after completion of residency. Upon application approval, they were granted up to 5 opportunities within a 5-year period to pass the QE. They were also required to take the QE at least once during the first two years following application approval.
  • 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 date.

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.