Resources for the Radiology Core Exam

This is a brief discussion of commonly used and discussed resources for the ABR Core Exam. As I discussed in this lengthy post, there a lot of good but no perfect resources for the Core exam. As such, pick a few that feel right and never look back. You’ll be fine.

Textbooks

Both are great and approach the field/content from different perspectives. Core Radiology is a rapid diagram-heavy approach to both real and “classic” radiology. CTC is a comically cynical approach to passing the test. One by itself is fine, but I’d argue the combination is synergistic. No other textbooks are worth your time in the acute phase of studying (don’t go reading Brant & Helms the spring of your R3 year…).

 

Qbanks

There are 5 dedicated question banks for the Core Exam: RadPrimer, Qevlar, Face The Core, Rock The Boards, and BoardVitals. I discuss them at length in this rundown. Suffice to say that if your program pays for a RadPrimer subscription, you can be comfortable knowing that despite its flaws it is a great resource for the Core and no additional large purchases are necessary. The competitors each have their own pros/cons and are worth consideration as additional question sources.

 

Case Books

Case Books hit most of the same highlights as qbanks do. I would generally approach in order of A Core Review (designed for the Core Exam) > RadCases (which are still question-based) > Case Review Series.

“A Core Review” deserves some more discussion, as it’s a new series composed entirely of Core-like case questions. Each book is made up of 300 questions and explanations and comes with online access via Inkling, which allows for not only well designed online access (and a phone app) but also the ability to use the book like an actual qbank.

Its style and content is highly tailored for the Core and largely follows the Core “study guide,” and 300 questions per topic is a more complete tour than offered by many resources. These are great resources with a healthy but not exhaustive number of cases and should be enough to be confident with each section. The biggest downside to the current volumes is that the breast volume (the first in the series) has poor image quality and also hasn’t been updated for BIRADS 5 (though still usable for the question content and style). Nucs physics and RISE is covered, but not enough for comfort. And not all topics have books yet: Neuro and IR are both notably missing.

Current volumes in the series (all include great integrated physics):

  • GI
  • GU (includes contrast safety etc)
  • MSK (much better than RadPrimer)
  • Nucs (does have nucs physics/safety but not wholly inclusive)
  • Thoracic
  • Cardiac
  • Breast (still good, but deficiencies as above)

If your program has a budget, ask them to buy the whole series for its library.

Alternative series: RadCases and Case Review Series, both of which predate the Core exam. I prefer RadCases over CRS, which now are most helpful for neuro and VIR as there is no volume in A Core Review yet.

Alternatives: Aunt Minnie’s Atlas and Top 3 Differentials are still great books (and Top 3 was perfect for the oral boards), but neither is geared toward the Core. I’d still buy them both again with my book fund any day but wouldn’t be reading either in May.

 

Physics

Common resources for physics:

RSNA physics modules:
The RSNA modules are historically the most common way to learn physics. On the one hand, they’re a totally free comprehensive animated/illustrated overview of physics, and they have basically everything you need including built-in assessments/questions (sometimes/often over the top). On the other hand, they’re super dry and I hate them. There are several modules that are antiquated and completely irrelevant. While I’ve done some of them in past years during physics reviews, I purposefully didn’t use them for Core review as a proof of concept.

If doing the RSNA modules, I would recommend skipping the entire section for “Basic Imaging Science and Technology” and lessons 3-5 of “Projection X-Ray Imaging,” which are over the top and talk too much about film. I’d also skip “Imaging Gently: CT Imaging and Radiation Protection of Pediatric Patients” as being not worth your time.

Crack the Core (Volume 2)Radiologic Physics War Machine:
Either one is probably the best rundown of physics in plain English you’re going to find at this point. There are plenty of downsides to Prometheus Lionhart’s books, but they don’t detract enough to change my belief that they’re the best Core-specific resource for people hoping to learn enough physics to pass. I review them at length here.

Radiology Physics 300
I’m not big into must-haves, but if you have iOS, this is about as close as I’ll get. It’s got more than a few flaws, but RP300 is a fantastic resource for the kind of physics you’ll see on the Core. Reviewed at length here.

Huda
Why bother? There is a high-yield Huda summary floating around that’s also popular, but frankly, the focus of Huda contains too much non-practical material to be necessary in the modern era. A safe skip.

Raphex
May have been an awesome question source back during the days of the dedicated physics exam, but the thrust of Raphex questions misses the mark. There are tons of calculations and other questions that you’re just not going to see. Your program may buy it for you, in which case go for it if you really want to, but it’s definitely not necessary.  There are also a surprising number of errata (the last thing you want with confusing physics), and the whole experience can be a demoralizing beatdown. A safe skip.

Duke Review of MRI Principles
A nice book early on if your program doesn’t give you a foundation in MR. MR physics is super scary, but the level of MR physics actually required on the Core is almost laughable. It’s a fantastic book, but you don’t need it for the Core specifically. This would be a book to read in the fall for someone who wants to actually give themselves the foundation they never had. It’s too much of a time investment for the spring.

Qbanks
All of the qbanks have physics questions. They tend to throw in too many old school board questions and mechanical + film esoterica, but they usually also cover the important stuff too. Paying attention to qbank physics is more important if you don’t have Physics 300 to test your mettle. If a question seems super detail-oriented about film radiography or old school fluoro, don’t sweat it. These products haven’t all gotten the memo. Except nucs: learn every nucs and radioisotope safety detail you can, they’re all fair game. Contemporary integrated physics questions are also found in the excellent “A Core Review” series (see discussion below).

 

Artifacts

Recognizing and fixing/improving common artifacts (e.g. streak artifact and chemical shift; not image intensifier fluoroscopy artifacts) is an important skill for the Core Exam and for life. None of the question resources test this as well as I’d like, and while the material is covered well enough in CTC/RPWM, that too would have benefited from more examples.

Radiographics has solid articles on artifacts in US and artifacts in MRI (and another article with some additional background and artifact discussion).

 

Videos

UCSF videos are great for when you want/need something passive. There are other videos out there but if you have the UCSF videos from your program for free, then go with those. They’re solid overall, and I have yet to hear that any alternative is better.

 

Review Courses

I don’t know anything about them and am honestly not sure why anyone would go to one unless it’s a paid vacation from your program.

6 Comments

  1. Our program pays for the Huda course. Of course it seems I’d be better off reading his book before attending but that CCT Physics is a better text. I know you didn’t go to the Huda course, but what’s your take on reading the Huda book vs CCT before the review course? Thanks.

    Reply
    • With the disclosure that I’ve only glanced through Huda but did read War Machine, I see no role for Huda in 2017 for residents with the primary goal of passing the test.

      Reply

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