The Medical Board Certification Test Guide

By Missy Spangler, Tests.com Contributing Writer

The medical field is divided into 36 specialties and 88 subspecialties. Some doctors choose to be primary physicians, while others choose to focus on one part of the body. Those who elect to focus can earn a designation of specialization from the American Board of Medical Specialties. Certification is granted after passing an exam.

Allergy and Immunology

Anesthesiology

Colon and Rectal Surgery

Dermatology

Emergency Medicine

Family Medicine

Genetics

Internal Medicine

Neurological Surgery

Nuclear Medicine

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Ophthalmology

Orthopaedic Surgery

Otolaryngology

Pathology

Pediatrics

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Radiology

Surgery & Vascular Surgery

Thoracic Surgery

Urology

Allergy and Immunology

The American Board of Allergy and Immunology’s certification exam has tests for certification, maintenance of certification (MOC) and home study. The certification test has 300 multiple-choice items, and seven hours are allotted for completion. It is computer based and focuses on basic and clinical sciences. Those taking this test can also obtain a dual certification with pediatric pulmonology, adult rheumatology and pediatric rheumatology. Cost for the exam is $2,700.

Anesthesiology

  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Pain Medicine

The American Board of Anesthesiology exam’s first section includes 250 multiple-choice questions, and the second section has both a written and oral exam. The test discusses real-live situations to see how the test taker will react, determining his or her ability to practice anesthesiology. Costs for the exam include a $750 application fee, $500 exam fee for the first portion and $1,850 exam fee for the second portion.

Colon and Rectal Surgery

The American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery’s certification exam comes in two parts – written and oral. The written test assesses how much the candidate knows about colon and rectal surgery, including radiology and pathology practices. The oral exam is given by board members or designates. It aims to evaluate clinical experience, problem-solving and other aspects of the field. Test fees include a $400 application fee, written examination fee of $700 and $800 oral examination fee.

Dermatology

  • Clinical and Laboratory Dermatological
  • Immunology
  • Dermatopathology
  • Pediatric Dermatology

The American Board of Dermatology uses a comprehensive exam that includes 36 slides that test takers will examine on microscopes. A written exam, including 132 multiple-choice questions, covers basic science and clinical aspects of dermatology. The image-associated exam focuses on clinical, laboratory and surgical dermatology and uses 160 digital images, each followed by a multiple-choice question. The fee for this exam is $2,200.

Emergency Medicine

  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Medical Toxicology
  • Pediatric Emergency Medicine
  • Sports Medicine
  • Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine

The American Board of Emergency Medicine’s certification includes a written and oral exam. Application fees range from $370 to $1,140, depending if the candidate meets the application deadline. Exam costs range from $800 to $1,800.

Family Medicine

  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports Medicine

The American Board of Family Medicine’s certification exam covers diagnosis, management and prevention of illness. The computer-based test has four sections that candidates must complete in a full day. The first section has 120 multiple-choice questions and the time allotted is two hours. After that, there are two sections of 45 multiple-choice questions to be done in 45 minutes each. After a 75-minute break, students complete the final section of 160 multiple-choice questions, which include 20 field-test items that are not scored. Exam fees start at $1,200.

Genetics

  • Clinical Biochemical Genetics
  • Clinical Cytogenetics
  • Clinical Genetics
  • Clinical Molecular Genetics
  • PhD Medical Genetics
  • Medical Biochemical Genetics
  • Molecular Genetic Pathology

The American Board of Medical Genetics’ exam fees range from $600 to $700, depending on how many specialties for which the candidate is testing. The test includes both a general and specialty section.

Internal Medicine

  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Gastroenterology
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Hematology
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Infectious Disease
  • Interventional Cardiology
  • Medical Oncology
  • Nephrology
  • Pulmonary Disease
  • Rheumatology
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports Medicine
  • Transplant Hepatology

The American Board of Internal Medicine exam is $1,230, but subspecialty exams also are available for extra fees. The American Board of Internal Medicine administers the test, and about three-quarters of the tests are based on patient presentations. Topics include adolescent medicine, allergy and immunology, cardiovascular disease, critical care medicine, dermatology and palliative medicine.

Neurological Surgery

The American Board of Neurological Surgery exam covers content on clinical skills, critical care, neuroanatomy and neurobiology. The three-hour exam covers diagnosis, management and the outcome of the nervous system’s surgical and medical diseases and is followed by an oral exam.

Nuclear Medicine

The American Board of Nuclear Medicine requires candidates to complete residency training within one year of taking the exam. Exam fees total $2,250. The test uses multiple-choice questions to test the candidate’s knowledge of nuclear medicine, and includes basic science and clinical experience. The test lasts seven hours, with a break in between sessions.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Gynecologic Oncology
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Maternal and Fetal Medicine
  • Reproductive Endocrinology/Infertility

The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology certifies physicians in the field after a successful residency. The multiple-choice exam is based on topics such as obstetrics, gynecology, preventive and primary care with many subspecialties. The oral examination is used to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to manage women’s health problems.

Ophthalmology

The American Board of Ophthalmology certifies its doctors with a written examination that includes optics, visual physiology and correction of refractive errors, retina vitreous and uvea, neuro-ophthalmology and pediatric ophthalmology. Test takers are presented with 250 multiple-choice questions that measure recall of information, understanding and application of basic knowledge, and relation of pathogenesis to disease process.

Orthopaedic Surgery

  • Orthopaedic Sports Medicine
  • Surgery of the Hand

The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery certifies candidates who have graduated from an accredited four-year medical school and completed a 60-month residency program. The written exam includes 320 multiple-choice questions. Candidates have five years to apply for the oral examination after passing the written test. During the oral exam, candidates speak of past cases and are evaluated on data gathering, interpretation, diagnosis, treatment plan, technical skill, outcomes and applied knowledge.

Otolaryngology

  • Neurotology
  • Pediatric Otalaryngology
  • Plastic Surgery within the Head and Neck
  • Sleep Medicine

The American Board of Otalyngology’s two-part test includes an all-day written examination that must be passed prior to taking the oral exam. The oral test includes 16 real-life patient scenarios, which will help the examiners see if the candidate can handle those situations when presented with similar situations on the job.

Pathology

  • Anatomic Pathology and Clinical Pathology
  • Blood Banking & Transfusion Medicine
  • Chemical Pathology
  • Cytopathology
  • Dermatopathology
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Hematology
  • Medical Microbiology
  • Molecular Genetic Pathology
  • Neuropathology
  • Pediatric Pathology

The American Board of Pathology requires that test takers complete a pathology training program prior to taking the examination. The written exam evaluates skills and diagnostic abilities. Fees for the exam include a non-refundable administration fee of $100, along with the $1,800 examination fee ($2,200 for anatomic and clinical pathology specialties, or combined with a subspecialty).

Pediatrics

  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Child Abuse Pediatrics
  • Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Medical Toxicology
  • Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
  • Neurodevelopmental Disabilities
  • Pediatric Cardiology
  • Pediatric Critical Care Medicine
  • Pediatric Emergency Medicine
  • Pediatric Endocrinology
  • Pediatric Gastroenterology
  • Pediatric Hematology-Oncology
  • Pediatric Infectious Diseases
  • Pediatric Nephrology
  • Pediatric Pulmonology
  • Pediatric Rheumatology
  • Pediatric Transplant Hepatology
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports Medicine

The American Board of Pediatrics examination for general pediatrics is given annually; the registration fee is $1,760. To take the test, the applicant must have graduated from medical school and have successful completion of a pediatric training program, including residency. The multiple choice test can be taken online.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Neuromuscular Medicine
  • Pain Medicine
  • Pediatric Rehabilitative Medicine
  • Spinal Cord Injury Medicine
  • Sports Medicine

The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation exam is given to candidates who have graduated from a medical school and also successfully completed a four-year residency program. Part I of the test, which is computer-based, consists of 325 multiple-choice questions and takes three hours. This portion tests the applicant’s knowledge of basic science and clinical management in relation to the field. The oral exam, which is the second portion of the test, is two hours with three breaks. This part of the exam will cover the test taker’s knowledge of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, along with patient management. The total fee for both sections is $3,245.

Plastic Surgery

  • Plastic Surgery within the Head and Neck
  • Surgery of the Hand

The American Board of Plastic Surgery’s certification exam includes an optional 15-minute tutorial and 400 multiple-choice questions divided into four sections. Each section takes an hour and 40 minutes to complete. Topics covered in the exam include gross and functional anatomy and embryology, pathology, wound healing, burns, trauma, metabolism, pre- and postoperative care, tumors of the head and neck, skin and breast, cosmetic and breast surgery, pressure ulcers and rehabilitation. Written exam fees total $1,300.

The second portion of the test is an oral exam, taken in Phoenix, Arizona. This exam includes a nonrefundable $625 fee for case list reviews. Applicants must have Internet access to complete the oral examination. They will submit cases to the board to discuss during the test. These cases will involve operative and hospitalized patients the applicants worked on during a seven-month period, so the applicant will have to have a medical license to perform surgeries well in advance of taking this test.

Preventive Medicine

  • Aerospace Medicine
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Public Health and General Preventive Medicine
  • Medical Toxicology
  • Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine

The American Board of Preventive Medicine’s exam covers core aspects of preventive medicine and specialty practice through 150 multiple-choice questions. Applicants are given three hours to complete the examination. Cost for the exam is $1,950.

Psychiatry and Neurology

  • Neurology with Special Qualifications in Child Neurology
  • Addiction Psychiatry
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Clinical Neurophysiology
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Geriatric Psychiatry
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Neurodevelopmental Disabilities
  • Neuromuscular Medicine
  • Pain Medicine
  • Psychosomatic Medicine
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Vascular Neurology

The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology’s psychiatry exam includes two sections. In the patient section, the applicant is evaluated in physician-patient relationship, conduct of psychiatric review, organization and presentation of data, phenomology, diagnosis and prognosis and etiologic, pathogenic and therapeutic issues. The vignette section includes a sample written vignette, written vignette sample questions with diagnostic focus, written vignette sample questions with treatment focus and a video sample.

The neurology certification exam has two sections and takes a total of seven hours, with a mandatory one-hour break in between the sessions. Part I of the test, which is written, has a total cost of $1,650. Part I includes 420 multiple-choice questions covering neuroanatomy, neuropathology, neurochemistry, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, neuroimmunology/ neurovirology and neurogenetics/molecular neurology/neuroepidemiology. Part II involves the examination of patients. Test topics include basic science principles, special diagnostic procedures, management recommendations and risk assessment. This test is divided into six one-hour sections.

Radiology

  • Diagnostic Radiology
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Radiologic Physics
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Neuroradiology
  • Nuclear Radiology
  • Pediatric Radiology
  • Vascular and Interventional Radiology

The American Board of Radiology certifies physicians in radiology with an exam taken 15 months after successful completion of a residency program. The exam fee is $1,905. The exam includes a written test that includes multiple-choice questions and also an oral examination that is taken after the written test is passed successfully.

Surgery & Vascular Surgery

  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Pediatric Surgery
  • Surgery of the Hand
  • Surgical Critical Care

The American Board of Surgery certifies its applicants using both a multiple-choice exam and oral exam. The computer-based exam included 300 multiple-choice questions that evaluate the applicant’s knowledge of general surgical principles and sciences applicable to the field. This exam lasts eight hours and is given in five 90-minute sessions at various computer centers throughout the US. The exam costs $900.

The oral exam is the final step before certification and is taken after the written portion is passed successfully. Applicants will take the test in three 30-minute sessions, and they are tested on their clinical skills relating to common surgical problems and determining the right therapy to use.

Thoracic Surgery

  • Congenital Cardiac Surgery

The American Board of Thoracic Surgery certification exam is comprised of one multiple choice test and one oral exam that are taken after residency. The computerized test assesses the candidate’s knowledge of thoracic surgery using 250 multiple-choice questions. The exam lasts five-and-a-half hours and is given in two equal sessions. The oral exam evaluates the test taker’s knowledge and skills relating to general thoracic and cardiovascular surgery. Test fees are $1,100 for the multiple-choice exam and $1,225 for the oral exam. The application fee for the exam is $475.

Urology

  • Pediatric Urology

The American Board of Urology certification exams include a multiple-choice exam with 300 questions and an oral exam. Test topics include physiology, immunology, molecular biology, hypertension, infections, inflammatory diseases, calculus disease, neoplasms, pediatric urology and anatomy. There is a $400 application fee for the test. The oral exam also has a $400 application fee, and is the final stage of certification for most doctors. The test is taken in Dallas, Texas, and evaluates the candidate’s knowledge using three different protocols relative to clinical urology.