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Complex General Surgical Oncology

Certifying Examination

The Complex General Surgical Oncology Certifying Examination is the last step toward board certification in complex general surgical oncology.


About the Complex General Surgical Oncology Certifying Examination

The Complex General Surgical Oncology Certifying Examination (CGSO CE) is the last step toward board certification in complex general surgical oncology (CGSO). It is a virtual oral exam consisting of four consecutive 30-minute sessions, each conducted by a team of two examiners. Each of the four sessions focuses on a different key area of CGSO, which may include:

Note: Not all topics will be covered during each candidate’s exam.

The purpose of the exam is to evaluate clinical skills in the evaluation of patients with CGSO problems, and in 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.

The exam is designed to measure 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 behavior and humanistic qualities. The exam’s contents are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or disclosed in any manner.

Candidates must first take and pass the Complex General Surgical Oncology Qualifying Examination

Successful completion of the Complex General Surgical Oncology Qualifying Exam (CGSO QE) is required before a candidate is able to register for the CGSO CE.

When Can I Take My Exams?

Seven-year limit to certification, three-year limit to the CE

The admissibility period for the CGSO CE begins immediately upon successful completion of the CGSO QE. Candidates are strongly encouraged not to delay in registering for and taking the CE for the first time as delays may adversely affect performance.

This exam is offered only once per academic year. 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 contact the ABS regarding the readmissibility requirements in effect at that time.

Complex General Surgical Oncology Qualifying Examination
Location: Pearson VUE testing centers
Fee: $1,575
Application Deadline: 7/1/2024
Fee: $550
Late App Deadline: 7/15/2024
Fee: $750
2/3 - 2/5
Complex General Surgical Oncology Certifying Examination
Location: Virtual
Fee: $1,700

Registration available following the release of 2024 CGSO QE results.

Registering for the Certifying Exam

Failure to register in a given year is considered a lost opportunity

Upon passing the CGSO QE, candidates are admissible to the CGSO CE and will be able to register online for the next exam. It is held annually in the winter.

All candidates are offered one opportunity per academic year in each year of admissibility to take the CGSO CE. Eligible candidates should register for the exam as soon as possible through the link posted on the Exam Records and Results page of their ABS portal.

Active duty military personnel who may encounter difficulty taking the exam due to their service should contact the ABS as soon as possible.

Step 1
Register for the exam through the ABS portal
Step 2
Submit registration form
Step 3
Pay Exam Fee

Once the steps above are completed, CGSO CE registration is complete and a final assignment, with a specific exam date and time, will be posted in the candidate’s ABS portal. An exam admission card and additional information will be posted in their ABS portal three weeks prior to the exam date.

A final assignment means a guaranteed spot, but it is irrevocable and unchangeable once given. Once a candidate has received a final assignment, exam fees will not be refunded if they subsequently change their mind or fail to show up.

Candidates are required to complete a mandatory Technology Interview Session prior to receiving their exam day meeting link.

How to Prepare for the Certifying Exam

Practice makes perfect

The ABS believes that the best preparation for the CGSO CE is to “practice” taking oral examinations. Candidates should ask a colleague, preferably a board-certified complex general surgical oncologist, to question them for two to three hours every week for several months. Practice not only the content of answers given, but also explaining out loud the decision-making process. Candidates should be able to present their course of treatment in a clear, logical manner.

The examiner should probe deeply enough into the answers provided to make certain that the candidate provides adequate information, and should critique answers with regard to promptness, clarity, logic, and evidence of problem-solving ability.

The ABS asks all CGSO CE candidates to complete a feedback form after the exam. Below is a general sampling of their advice and comments to provide some insight into the experience.

“Do as many oral cases as possible with faculty, especially in their area of expertise.”

“Prepare early (3-6 months ahead). Practice scenarios often, daily during your last month.”

“I would recommend starting to prepare at least two months ahead.”

“Read broadly. Review practice guidelines at your institution.”

“Don’t waste time on obscure diseases/scenarios; focus on specific complex general surgical oncology topics.”

“Make sure to review the anatomy of operations you haven’t done in a while.”

“Don’t forget to read about your own specialty!”

“Don’t study minutiae; focus on the big picture.”

“Review bread-and-butter complex general surgical oncology.”

“Don’t study like you did for the QE. Focus on logical and well-organized problem solving.”

“Concentrate more on areas that you have not seen or experienced since residency.”

“Practice giving short, succinct answers; do what you would do in real life!”

“Practice, practice, practice with colleagues. Even if you know the information, you have to be able to say it.”

“Practice explaining procedures in a quick, efficient manner.”

“Don’t overthink things.”

“Know your plan and stick with it. Be confident and don’t second-guess yourself.”

“Focus on answering the questions.”

“Stay focused. Be systematic. Don’t jump to conclusions.”

“Stay calm. Do not dwell on previous questions/rooms.”

“Stay calm—treat the examiners like colleagues discussing a case.”

“Do what you would do in your everyday practice.”

“Approach cases like real patients.”

“Take it as soon as you can after the written exam.”

“Fair questions; scenarios were all problems anyone would have encountered in training.”

“Appropriate for what I am supposed to know.”

“Much more straightforward and reasonable than expected.”

“The exam was much more ‘bread and butter’ than I expected.”

“Straightforward complex general surgical oncology cases.”

“Very fair; much less painful than I expected.”

“Fair; cases complex general surgical oncology surgeons would see in practice.”

“Appreciate examiners trying to keep examinees calm and at ease.”

“Examiners were kind and reasonable, as you said they would be.”

“I found my examiners to be very professional, neutral and pleasant.”

“I thought it was fair, well-conducted. I did not feel intimidated by the examiners.”

“I had a lot of fears but the examiners helped to the best of their ability to make me feel comfortable.”

“The examiners were very appropriate and I felt as comfortable as was possible in this situation.”

Taking the Certifying Exam

Exam Content

The CGSO CE is designed to measure 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 behavior and humanistic qualities.

The contents of the CGSO CE are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or disclosed in any manner.

The CGSO CE is aligned with the SCORE Curriculum Outline for Complex General Surgical Oncology.

The Exam Schedule

Once CGSO CE registration is complete, candidates will be assigned an exact day. Candidate assignments are completed randomly by computer; candidates may not request a specific date or time. The admission letter will be posted to candidates’ ABS portal three weeks prior to the exam. Candidates should arrive promptly at the time listed on their admission letter to complete the check-in process prior to the scheduled start time of the exam. When joining the meeting, candidates will enter the Zoom waiting room and will be admitted by a host when it is their turn to complete check-in. Extra time has been built-in to this time slot in order to complete the exam check-in process, and candidates may not be admitted exactly at the time listed.

The exam (four consecutive 30-minute sessions) will take place shortly after the check-in process is complete. Candidates must complete all four sessions in order to have their exam scored. After the final session is complete, candidates are free to exit the Zoom meeting.

Candidates will be asked to show their government-issued ID or passport prior to the start of the exam as part of the check-in process. Candidates must have this documentation at the ready when they sign on. In addition, as part of the security check, candidates will be required to run through the list of currently running applications on their computer, as well as share their screen for the entire duration of the exam. Candidates are asked to familiarize themselves with how to perform these actions on their computer.

No personal belongings (purses, briefcases, etc.) or electronic devices or recorders may be brought into the exam sessions. A paper and pen will be permitted to take notes; however, the paper with notes must be destroyed under the supervision of the exam proctor prior to signing off. Candidates may have water if needed.

Important! It is recommended to wear a traditional watch, as candidates are not permitted to keep their cellphone powered on. Smartwatches will need to be turned off as well.

Things to Keep in Mind

Examiners and Grading

The Examiners

The exam is conducted by directors of the Complex General Surgical Oncology Board of the American Board of Surgery and by other nationally recognized experts in CGSO. Two examiners are used in each of the five exam sessions to help ensure the validity of the examination. All examiners are in active practice, currently certified by the ABS, and participating in the ABS Continuous Certification Program. There may be an additional surgeon in your exam session serving as an observer to ensure the validity of the exam. This individual will have no input into the scoring of your exam.

The examiners are carefully instructed to evaluate each candidate objectively; they have no knowledge of a candidate other than their 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 a candidate is retaking the exam, the ABS will make certain they have different examiners from those who examined them previously.


Candidates have already demonstrated sufficient knowledge in the area of CGSO by their successful performance on the CGSO QE. The purpose of the CGSO CE is to assess their thinking process and judgment. All candidates are questioned across similar subject areas representing the specialty of CGSO.

The content of the CGSO CE is generally, though not exclusively, aligned with the SCORE Curriculum Outline for Complex General Surgical Oncology. Candidates will be expected to know how to perform and describe all procedures in the SCORE Outline. Failure to describe any procedure will be considered an unsatisfactory performance on that case.

The cases presented are structured beforehand and constitute common problems seen in CGSO 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.

Candidates should listen carefully to each case presented and respond with their own plan or actions to resolve it. The examiners want to find out what the candidate would do in their own practice. Candidates should explain what they would do, not what they think the examiners may want them to say, and must be prepared to defend their plans and actions with acceptable logic.

When grading, examiners will assess performance according to these Essential Attributes of a Certifiable Surgeon:

The below candidate video offers additional tips and guidance.

Exam Results and Continuous Certification

Exam Results

Examiners independently assign a grade on each case based on their evaluation of candidate performance. The ABS’s decision regarding certification is not based upon any preset pass/fail rate, but solely upon the aggregate evaluation of the eight examiners.

Results will be posted within two to three weeks after the final day of the exam. Candidates will be notified by email when they are available. Exam results will not be reported over the telephone. Candidates are not permitted to contact their examiners; they have been instructed not to discuss the exam with candidates.

Successful examinees will be deemed certified in CGSO, become diplomates of the ABS, and receive their official certificate in the mail within six months.

Unsuccessful examinees with remaining exam opportunities will be contacted when the CGSO CE dates for the next academic year are announced.

In addition, unsuccessful candidates may request feedback. Feedback requests must be received within 30 days of their examination date. To request feedback about exam performance, candidates should contact the exam manager using the button below.

Continuous Certification

Following certification, diplomates must 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 diplomates’ CME Repositories.

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 for details.


Our exam managers are here to help.

Most questions can be answered with the information available on our website. For specific inquiries, please contact the complex general surgical oncology exam manager.

Contact a Coordinator

Please use the form below to contact the appropriate exam coordinator. They will respond as soon as possible.