Physics is now just another Core Exam section

Probably the biggest news in radiology over the past year (at least for residents) was the announcement that the upcoming and all future ABR examinations were moving to an online remote/virtual format. That’s worked out pretty well so far.

One bit of nice unexpected news that was announced very quietly this week was that the ABR Core Exam, the first and only meaningful component of the radiology exam certification cycle, would no longer have a separately-graded physics section that could–by itself–prevent overall exam passage. Physics will still comprise an unchanged amount of the test but will be graded as just another section along with all the rest: a component for overall passage but not a section that examinees can “condition” and be forced to retake at a later time.

Holding physics somewhat apart was a holdover from the pre-Core Exam era when there was a completely separated dedicated physics exam.

The ABR made this decision during the grading process just last week. I’m sure that recent examinees would have really appreciated this information during their studies, but timing aside I fully support the ABR’s choice here. Strong move. What’s next?


Johnny 03.16.21 Reply

It will be interesting to see how this change affects the overall pass rate and performance on Physics in subsequent years. Even though the overall % of test-takers that conditioned the physics portion has only been a small minority(.01-1%), the possibility/threat of conditioning physics significantly affected how everyone approached the exam. I’d guess that future test-takers may put less emphasis on physics, which may impact the ABR’s decisions down the road.

Ben 03.16.21 Reply

Should definitely reduce some stress.

Even with the tiny condition rate, the conditioning threshold for physics always required a higher score than the other sections. The ABR has always maintained basically that people who pass do so on the majority of sections and people that fail bomb a bunch of sections (i.e. that exam passage never hinges on a single section). My gut instinct is that it will make studying for physics generally less stressful and will really improve the lives of the handful of people who were otherwise destined to fail.

Don K-O 03.21.21 Reply

Emphasis on physics on the ABR exam made perfect sense when film-based imaging technologies and radiation technique parameters depended entirely on the radiologist to provide reasonable image quality and radiation safety. In contemporary practice, industry has provided us with software and other semi- and fully-automated engineering solutions that provide better quality and safety than was ever before possible. Imaging physics is now a field of study of its own, and the fund of knowledge expected of our trainees is greater than ever before. I think that this is a great opportunity to allow residents to focus more on their roles as physicians, and less on knowledge that increasingly is trivia that many of them will need to know for only a single day in their entire careers.

Ben 03.21.21 Reply

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Jinjiang Li 08.03.22 Reply

Hi Ben,
Great to see you are the one spreading ABR core exam information.
One question I have regards how they calculate the average. Do you know how they calculate the overall average from individual scores?

Ben 08.03.22 Reply

They don’t release averages per se, and the exam isn’t curved based on normative performance. The individual score is compared with a reference standard based on the modified Angoff method:

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