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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 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).
  • The QE 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 14, 2022
    Application Deadlines: April 15 (initial deadline) and May 13 (late deadline)

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 by June 14, 2021, that meets ABS standards of volume, complexity, and diversity 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 is required.
  • Medical License: While possession of a medical license is not required to apply for the QE or for the Certifying Exam (CE), candidates must possess a full and unrestricted U.S. or Canadian medical license before they will be considered certified by the ABS. Candidates must provide proof of medical license before they will be issued their certificate, and will be listed in the ABS verification system as "in the examination process" until proof is submitted. Temporary, limited, educational or institutional licenses will not be accepted, even if you are currently in a fellowship.
  • Adhere to the ABS Ethics and Professionalism Policy.

Application Process

NEW FOR 2021: Once all items are submitted, you will be able to complete the second step and register for the exam while your application is undergoing review. After registering, you will also be able to schedule your test center with Pearson right away. Be advised that testing centers have limited capacity, are subject to social distancing requirements, and may fill up well before the exam date, particularly in urban areas. You should contact Pearson VUE as soon as your admission letter is posted to your portal page to reserve space at a testing center near you. If you delay, you will likely have to travel outside your geographical area in order to schedule the exam.
  • 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. Once all items are submitted, you will be sent instructions on how to register for this year's exam.
  • Once you are registered for the exam, you will receive 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. You will also be able to schedule your test center with Pearson as soon as your registration is complete.
  • Active duty military personnel who 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.


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