Review courses for the American Board of Surgery certifying examination do not provide an advantage

Surgery. 2015 Oct;158(4):890-6; discussion 896-8. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2015.04.044. Epub 2015 Jul 11.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether participation in a commercially available board review course affected the likelihood of passing the general surgery certifying exam (CE) of the American Board of Surgery (ABS).

Methods: Candidates who took the ABS CE during the 2012-2013 academic year were surveyed electronically about their participation in commercial board review courses on the ABS website immediately before receiving their exam results. The primary outcome variable was passing the CE. Results were adjusted for background variables shown to correlate with CE pass rates using multilevel logistic regression.

Results: Of the 1,386 candidates who took the CE and had sufficient data for analysis, 974 of 1,064 first-time examinees (92%) and 272 of 322 repeat examinees (84%) completed the survey. Nearly 78% of survey respondents took a review course. Repeat examinees (85%) were more likely to attend a review course than first-time examinees (76%, P = .002). There were no significant differences in CE pass rates for first-time or repeat examinees who took a review course compared with those who did not (83.7% vs 80.7% for first-time examinees and 77.8% vs 69.0% for repeat examinees, P = .32 and P = .24, respectively). First-time examinee nonrespondents did not differ in their CE pass rates from those who responded to the survey (P = .113); however, repeat examinee nonrespondents had lesser CE pass rates than survey responders (P = .009). None of the review courses included had CE pass rates that differed significantly from the others after we controlled for program characteristics, ABS qualifying exam scores, medical school, and sex of the examinees.

Conclusion: This study used a large, prospectively collected national sample with a high response rate to study the effect of board review courses on CE performance on the ABS examination. On the basis of this survey, there was no evidence that participating in a board review course provided a benefit to passing the CE of the ABS. These results should be considered when preparation for the CE is undertaken.

MeSH terms

  • Certification / statistics & numerical data*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / methods*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • General Surgery / education*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Specialty Boards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States