Qualifying (Core) Exam Study Resources

Qualifying (Core) Exam Study Resources

New Qualifying (Core) Exam Study Resources Now Available on the ABR Website

Donald J. Flemming, MD, Chair, ABR Board of Trustees; and Desiree E. Morgan, MD, ABR TrusteeBy Donald J. Flemming, MD, Chair, ABR Board of Trustees; and Desiree E. Morgan, MD, ABR Trustee


In response to feedback from the ABR Diagnostic Radiology (DR) and Interventional Radiology (IR) Initial Certification Advisory Committees, the American Alliance of Academic Chief Residents in Radiology (A3CR2), the Association of Program Directors in Radiology (APDR), and the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR), the ABR has updated the website resources available to candidates preparing for the Qualifying (Core) Exam. The purpose of these updates is to improve DR and IR/DR candidates’ understanding of what to expect and how best to prepare.

The Qualifying (Core) Exam is designed to assess a candidate’s skills and knowledge over the broad scope of diagnostic radiology and interventional radiology. The content covered includes clinical practice domains across all imaging modalities, imaging physics, and noninterpretive skills. The broad nature of the exam is intimidating for many candidates. To help improve understanding of the exam’s scope, the new website resources define it at both a general and a more detailed level.

For each clinical practice domain evaluated on the Qualifying (Core) Exam, three components are described: 1) Critical Concepts, 2) Blueprint, and 3) Overview. Each component provides a different level of detail and serves a different purpose, as follows:

Domain Critical Concepts

The Domain Critical Concepts specifies the skills and knowledge that a candidate is expected to know at the end of the third year of training and that are, therefore, likely to be assessed on the exam. It is short and uses language that is similar to required goals and objectives for residency rotations.

Domain Blueprint

The Domain Blueprint provides an estimated percentage of specific content that a candidate can expect to see on any administration of the Qualifying (Core) Exam. It is longer than the Critical Concepts section and provides the candidate with a sense of what emphasis is placed on each topic.

Domain Overview

The Domain Overview is the longest section. It is not intended to be a study guide. It comprises a list of diagnoses that could be assessed on the Qualifying (Core) Exam and defines the scope of the domain for candidates and residency program directors. It is important that residents and educators understand that unusual diagnoses are not emphasized on this exam.

Separate noninterpretive skills and updated medical physics preparation materials are also available.

In addition, a new set of sample questions is under development and will be available in early 2022. The purpose of the sample questions is to allow candidates to view the types of questions they will encounter on the Qualifying (Core) Exam. The sample questions should not be used by candidates to assess whether their knowledge of the domain is sufficient to pass the exam.They are solely offered so that candidates may get a sense of how their knowledge and skills in a given domain may be assessed.

It is important for candidates to understand that the preparation resources offered on the ABR website are informational. This exam is image rich. It emphasizes image interpretation, which is best learned through clinical experience1 supplemented by in-depth reading to improve the understanding of the range of presentation of any disease. Each candidate should decide what additional materials to use to prepare for the exams with ABR information as guidance. Candidates who use practice tests or other review materials developed by other organizations or commercial entities should not expect any ABR exam to align with those materials regarding scope, format, or difficulty.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the diverse group of ABR volunteer content experts who help to create the Qualifying (Core) Exam, we welcome feedback from candidates and program directors to help us improve the exam experience. We hope that the resource updates prove useful in planning and preparing to sit for the exam.

  1. Nickerson JP, Koski C, Anderson JC, Beckett B, Jackson VP. Correlation Between Radiology ACGME Case Logs Values and ABR Core Exam Pass Rate. Acad Radiol. 2020 Feb;27(2):269-273.

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