[Last updated December 2020]
The following is a review and comparison of the available online question banks for the Core Exam.1
There are currently five contenders: RadPrimer, BoardVitals, Qevlar,
Rock The Boards, RadsQuestions, and Face The Core. I’ve tossed in Physics 300 at the end, a dedicated physics question app. Those looking for rapid physics review might also consider the Radiology Core Physics Plus app (there’s a free sample). Reviews are mixed, and it sounds as if the material may not be 100% original intellectual property.
A newer free resource that I also haven’t meaningfully tried is Aunt Minnie’s question bank. Did I mention it’s free?
Because RadPrimer is free for many if not most residents and is big, the other resources have an upward climb to be worth your time and money. I was able to secure reader discounts for BoardVitals and RadsQuestions.
TL;DR: RadPrimer does just fine on its own despite its limitations, and it’s free for most residents. BoardVitals is #2 followed by Qevlar. RadsQuestions is brand new and has a no-risk free trial. Face The Core is a reasonable but unnecessary adjunct, which you can buy a la carte per subject.
Question Count: 2221 “Basic” + 3747 “Intermediate” = 5968
Cost: Free for many/most residents. $320 / year for trainees otherwise.
Value: 18.7 questions per dollar for a year. Great value, but much better if free!
Design & Software: Robust website. Tutor Mode. Additional images are hidden behind tabs, but images are annotated. Provides you with peer average correct for each question, as well as overall performance data. Explanations are reasonably complete if not lengthy and often don’t specifically cover the wrong answer choice (but the corresponding lesson is only a click away). The mobile site doesn’t work well on phones, everything is way too small.
Question Quality: Overall great. Questions mostly predate the Core exam and thus not specifically written toward this purpose, but many RadPrimer questions writers are Core question writers. Well-edited, negligible number of mistakes. There is an annoying trend toward repeat questions (sometimes literally the exact same question), especially in the neuro section (~1500 questions), which while only 1 of 13 sections on the Core Exam makes up an outsized 1/4 of the total RadPrimer questions. MSK, particularly the intermediate questions, are too gotcha-style, irritating, and/or advanced and are not overall reflective of the exam. IR (124 questions) is also super light and insufficient. Repro/endo isn’t fantastic either.
Verdict: Do this if you can, especially if it’s free! Ideally, you’d do RadPrimer gradually over the year and not be scrambling to finish it during dedicated review.
Question Count: 1632
Cost: $129 / 1 month, $229 / 3 months, $399 / 6 months
Value: 12.7 questions per dollar for a month. Coupon code BW10 gets you ten percent off. Buying after clicking the link gives me a few bucks.
Design & Software: BoardVitals is a big player in the board market with products for pretty much everything. As a result, their website isn’t terrible. Their software is the only one other than RadPrimer and Qevlar to allow for tutor mode. The one downside is that you have to click “show explanation” on every single question to show the explanation, which you pretty much always want to see. Submitting feedback on a per-question basis is possible, which is good. There are user-correct percentages for each question as well an overall performance tab. Mobile site works well.
Question Quality: Recently improved and then improved again. Good questions overall. Question stems have been appropriately shortened (previously comically long), but the explanations are the most detailed you’ll see outside of RadPrimer, include citations, and even annotated images. Has the same quality control issue common to all radiology products but with fewer obvious errors on my testing than RTB or FTC, and they are responsive to criticism. Physics coverage isn’t standalone fantastic.
Verdict: BV has all the trappings. Software and product are much better than FTC or RTB. In 2016, I gave FTC an edge on question content, but recent consensus has been that BV is the strongest content-wise compared with the other choices. Qevlar has some neat software tricks and is cheap, but BV has the stronger questions if you want to pay for a bit more.
Question Count: 2007
Cost: $49 / 3 months, $89 / 6 months, $149 / 1 year
Value: 41 questions per dollar for three months. Best in class.
Design & Software: Fantastic app, the only product that actually mirrors the style of the Core Exam with multiple-part linked questions, checklists, etc. Works well on phones, tablets, and also works from an actual computer. It’s also the only question source with cross-sectional series that you scroll through, zoom-able images, etc. Honestly it puts the actual Core Exam software to shame. If IMIAOS can make this all work well on my phone, then what’s the ABR’s excuse? Exam material is downloaded to your phone, so can be done offline, another perk.
Question Quality: Very variable difficulty. You’ll do a bunch of extremely easy questions and then get hit with some ridiculous doozies (Buschke-Ollendorf syndrome? Please). Lots of second-order questions, which is nice overall. The easy ones are very low-hanging fruit, which is good to hit well, but a significant portion of the hard ones are just silly trivia that will never be necessary to pass. Overall, the content is well worth your time and Core-focused though completely non-inclusive with very patchy topic coverage and some low-yield stuff (contrasted with RadPrimer, neuro is barely over 100 questions, of which half seem to be about ventricular tumors). Qevlar is a “fun” addition but can’t stand in for a textbook or a more complete source of cases.
Verdict: Great value and worth a go due to its software, usability, and overall quality. Questions are a bit patchy and certainly not inclusive but great for getting into Core mode and an easy choice (along with Physics 300) for studying on the go.
Question Count: >2000 (~2419 currently)
Cost: Free 181 question trial. $199.99 for 6 months, $249.99 for 12 months.
Value: 12.1 questions per dollar (given 6-month membership).
Design & Software: Totally fine. You can generate tests of varying lengths and subselect the sections of choice. There are features built in to compare performance with peers, for example, but there’s not enough data yet.
Question Quality: My limited exposure is a bit of a mixed bag. While there were plenty of solid questions, there were also too many that were text-only and not image-based (and a few duds). Likewise, in a brief physics review, I saw “all of the above” and “a&b” type answer choices, which are very uncommon (absent?) on the Core exam.
Verdict: This is a brand new product in 2020. Check out the free trial and see if you like them. Coupon code “Benwhite” (with a capital ‘B’) gets you 10% off. Shoot me an email and let me know they compare.
Question Count: 2400
Cost: $250 for the full package. Can buy individual modules instead.
Value: 9.5 questions per dollar. No set time period, but can only do each question once.
Design & Software: Site design and software is pretty terrible. The product is organized by lesson (e.g. Neuro Series-1, Neuro-Series-2) with a set of questions (usually 75) and an associated explanatory lecture video. Like a lame version of UWorld, the FTC people are so scared of IP theft that they plaster your username all of the screen, have big image watermarks, disable screenshots, black the window out when you switch tabs, etc. Overall kinda silly and irritating. On the plus side, the cardiac cine clips play. Questions auto-advance once you click an answer (even by mistake), and you can’t go back, so that’s annoying. You must finish the lesson to review the answers and YOU CAN NEVER DO THE QUESTIONS again (you can review them indefinitely). It’s not really a qbank; it’s a collection of individual subject tests. No mix and match, tutor mode, no redo’s, no nothing.
Question Quality: Overall, the good FTC questions are really solid. They definitely retain the feel of the real deal and do by far the best job of integrating physics. Given the number of irritating gotcha questions, I think integrated physics may even be the true highlight of the product. The quality control is a bit off, and I think there are probably more truly bad questions than Qevlar. FTC also has the most typos and other such issues than any product except Rock The Boards. The practice exams are both just compilations of their highest-rated questions in other sections, so they make for nice self-assessments.
Verdict: Overall really good questions (sometimes more on point than Qevlar but with more duds as well) which do a good job of mirroring the Core style (and does by far the best job of integrating physics), but the site design and underlying product are frustrating/lame. Pretty pricey, especially given site limitations. I’d consider after RadPrimer and Qevlar or in place of Qevlar if you only need/have time to do areas poorly covered elsewhere (e.g. IR, Neuro, MSK). The practice exams are a nice potpourri.
Rock The Boards (defunct) Question Count: 1061 Cost: $99 / 1 month, $139 / month, $249 / 3 months. Coupon code “benwhite” gets 15% off (I get nothing). Value: 10.7 questions per dollar for a month. Around a 1000 short concise questions you can blaze through. This is probably a 20-hour resource. If you get it, just buy a month. Design & Software: Software is busted. Images appear as warped thumbnails and must be clicked on to enlarge. No tutor mode, must finish a section to read answers/explanations. You can submit feedback on a per-question basis, which is nice. Feedback responses are prompt, though I got the distinct impression the RTB staff got tired of me pointing out their mistakes. Question Quality: Overall decent questions. Clearly a product of recent residents. Explanations are super thin (incorrect answers are rarely explained) and contain a noticeable number of errors. Also lots of typos. Combination of inadequate explanations and black pearls demonstrates a serious lack of polish. Verdict: Probably not worth it, considering cheaper and overall better alternatives. It’s written by folks who have actually seen the exam though, so can be considered if you maxed out RadPrimer earlier in residency, exhausted other products, and are super hungry for more questions.
Radiology Physics 300 (defunct)
I really enjoyed this buggy little app for physics review. Unfortunately, it’s been abandoned by the developer. It eventually became incompatible with newer iOS versions and was subsequently removed from the app store. I tried to hunt the company down and contact the company, but they’ve completely ghosted. There’s a new standalone free physics replacement in development at Calisi Physics (including a score predictor and an Android app).
Question Count: 300 Cost: $4.99, one-time Value: 60 questions per dollar, forever Design & Software: iOS app only. App is easy to use but mildly busted for the iPhone from a usability standpoint. Portrait mode will cause portions of the question to be cut off without warning on longer stems (sometimes you won’t even notice that the actual question is completely reversed). An iPad’s larger screen largely prevents the issue. The app does not store your performance between sessions or store progress once closed for a few hours (depending on your usage), so you’ll want to keep track of where you are (very annoying). The question order 1-300 is always the same; if you active “random” mode you must “swipe” to the next question to wander around. There is both an “exam” mode (though you can’t submit a partial exam for grading) and an “answer” (tutor) mode. Answer mode is obviously where it’s at. I always did questions in order in answer mode and took a screenshot whenever I was done with a session to save my place. You can use RP300 offline, another plus. Having to “lock in” the answer choice for every single question is also irritating when done 300 times in a row. Question Quality: Short & to the point with heavy emphasis on image parameter manipulation. Most questions are not image based but hit the majority of testable physics in an appropriate context. Explanations are clear, concise, and sufficient, but often don’t discuss why the incorrect choices are incorrect (a common problem among radiology materials). The question topics often reinforce each other, asking the same concept through multiple angles, which makes that less of a big deal and really helps you learn your stuff. The repetition is forgiven because physics is dry and practically requires it. RP300 doesn’t hit everything sufficiently, especially regarding US and MRI (particularly artifacts), so you’ll need some additional review of that material. If you really really understand these 300, you’re in great shape to pass physics. Verdict: No-brainer if you have an iPhone or iPad. Android & Windows users are out of luck as far as I can tell.