After years of pretending that people could actually fail (“condition”) individual exam sections other than physics in its convoluted two-stage exam scoring process, the ABR has decided to simplify things going starting this year in 2018.
From now on, there are three scoring outcomes:
- PASS if you get a score of 350 or higher when averaging all sections together (and specifically pass physics)
- CONDITION if you pass the overall exam but score less than 350 on physics
- FAIL if your overall score is less than 350 when averaging all sections together
Conditioning physics means re-taking just physics. Failing means re-taking the whole thing.
This means that your performance on any individual section (except physics) is irrelevant so long as the average score across all sections meets the passing threshold of 350. No surprise there. For followers of last year’s mammography kerfluffle, you’ll remember that the ABR acknowledged that the results of the mammography section in isolation literally had no bearing on a single examinee’s passage result. Whether or not it was really technically possible to condition a non-physics section, no has ever conditioned a section other than physics since the Core Exam’s inception.
Scoring is still cloudy, however, because the passing threshold of 350 is a meaningless number without any measure of the preparation required or the percentage of questions you must answer correctly in order to achieve that score. It’s purportedly derived from the sum of the Angoff method scores for each section based on what the expert panel believes a “minimally competent” radiologist should know. So, whatever. This does mean, however, that strong sections can make up for weak sections. Consider this is your license to ignore GI and GU fluoroscopy.
While this sounds like a big positive development, I believe this is basically just a paper change. The ABR is just acknowledging outright the reality on the ground for the past several years: The large gap between overall passing performance and the true failure threshold for all non-physics sections is so large that in practice no one could actually fail an individual section.
Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the one person per year who should have conditioned a non-physics section was just given a score of 200 on the offending set in order to pass via an informal secretive score floor. Who knows.
But at least it’s simpler and more straightforward now.