Focus on RO

Focus on RO

Radiation Oncology to Provide Additional Preparation Resources for Examinees

By Paul E. Wallner, DO, ABR Associate Executive Director for Radiation Oncology; Brian J. Davis, MD, PhD, ABR Trustee; and Anthony M. Gerdeman, PhD, ABR Director of Exam Services


Paul E. Wallner, DO, ABR Associate Executive Director for Radiation Oncology; Brian J. Davis, MD, PhD, ABR Trustee

The ABR trustees recognize that the three parts of the Radiation Oncology (RO) Initial Certification (IC) computer-based Qualifying Exam (QE) – Medical Physics for Radiation Oncology (MP), Radiation and Cancer Biology (RCB), and Clinical Oncology (CO) – represent high-stakes, high-stress experiences for residents. The personal and training impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the ABR’s associated need to convert exam administration to a new, ABR-developed remote platform, likely increased that stress. The ability to take the individual exam parts in a site of the examinee’s selection without need for travel or group mingling may ease these levels of concern. Because exam content development remained essentially unchanged, the primary areas of concern seemed to be reliability of internet connectivity and an ability to navigate the exam instrument comfortably and easily during administrations.

ABR exam development teams provided minimum hardware and software requirements for examinees to reduce connectivity problems and concerns. The teams also created enduring training material, as well as webinars with exam-related presentations and the opportunity for questions and answers. One of the instruments developed for exam preparation was a “practice exam,” which was more precisely a pre-exam technical check to ensure that examinees could sign on correctly to the new software and recognize the various exam screens. The “practice exam” was required of all examinees. Post-exam surveys raised concerns that while this pre-exam process ensured an understanding of exam access, it did not enable examinees to feel comfortable with exam navigation.

To improve the examinee experience, the RO trustees considered a variety of options. Developing an actual complete practice exam, with usable questions, was not felt to be feasible or appropriate. Instead, in anticipation of the 2022 QE administration, examinees will have the opportunity to access previously used exam questions now removed from the available question inventory. This question availability should enable examinees to attain a level of comfort with the variety of possible question types and with navigation of exam controls. The overwhelming majority of exam questions will remain A-type (multiple choice), consisting of a stem (the question statement), key (correct response), and distractors (incorrect choices). Other less frequently used question types, such as drag and drop, and fill in the blank, will also be available. Every question is subjected to editorial and clinician review. Negative or vague questions are avoided. The new question access will enable examinees to test themselves with the various zoom, contrast, scrolling, movement, and cursor controls. Examinees will be instructed to ignore what might now appear to be outdated or incorrect information in the practice questions.

With each administration of the remote QE and certifying exams, ABR staff and trustees carefully review examinee comments obtained from post-exam surveys. Where appropriate, we will continue to modify exam preparation and delivery instruments to improve the experience for examinees, while maintaining secure, relevant, and timely exams.

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