How should young radiologists spend time preparing for the ABR Core Exam?

Nearly one in 10 radiology trainees fails the American Board of Radiology Core Examination on their first attempt. So how can these young professionals be more prepared?

To better understand this question, a group of five researchers looked at the relationship between studies read by radiology trainees during their residency and first-time performance on the ABR Core Examination, sharing their findings in Academic Radiology.

“If focusing on clinical interpretation of radiologic examinations is the best preparation for the material presented on the ABR Core examination, a correlation should exist between the number of studies read in the first three years of training and exam pass rate,” Joshua P. Nickerson, MD, with Oregon Health & Science University’s Department of Radiology, and colleagues wrote.

A 2008 revision from the ABR replaced an end-of-residency oral exam with the ABR Core exam, completed during the final 36 months of training. This led to changes in the time residents spent away from clinical duties in favor of hours spent poring over material for their upcoming exam, nicknamed “boards frenzy.”

A mandate handed down from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in 2007-2008 forced radiology programs to collect case log data detailing the time residents spend away from clinical duties.

Nickerson et al. pored over these logs, which included 1,147 trainees within 179 training programs. They matched the anonymized ACGME case logs for one year against individual results on the ABR Core Exam.

The team found that, for the most part, residents who dedicated more time toward clinical exam interpretation fared better on their ABR exam. This remained true up until about 11,000 exams. Then, the researchers noted, benefits begin to outweigh “educational value” and exam performance dropped.

Nickerson and co-authors found their results “strikingly similar” to those of a recent study; that study, however, reported a negative correlation between clinical interpretations and exam performance at 16,000 exams.

“As such, the findings support the postulate that time away from clinical service and participation in examination interpretation is a detriment to the education of radiology trainees and is associated with a diminished likelihood of satisfactory performance on the ABR Core Examination,” the researchers concluded.