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Two Facts About ABO Standards That May (Pleasantly) Surprise You

In early May, 18 board-certified ophthalmologists met with American Board of Ophthalmology Psychometrician Sarah D. Schnabel, Ph.D., to set standards for the Written Qualifying Examination (WQE) for initial certification. Here are the two most important things they wanted you to know about ABO standards:

1) It’s always possible for all examinees to pass an ABO examination. Though it’s not likely that every examinee will pass on his or her first try, it’s important to understand that, in terms of ABO scoring and assessment, the opportunity exists. The ABO applies what’s known as a criterion-referenced scoring methodology, which means there is no “grading on a curve.” Both candidates and diplomates alike are often surprised and relieved to learn that passing an assessment is based on meeting a set of standards--not competing against the performance of peers.

“I had previously thought that the Written Qualifying Examination was adjusted along a curve based upon the performance of the cohort taking that particular year’s exam. After participating in the standard setting process, I now know that the Board uses rigorous metrics to create a fair assessment of knowledge for board-eligible candidates. With these criteria in place, a candidate’s passing or failing this examination is based on this assessment alone, providing a stand-alone bar for knowledge that is independent from an aggregate cohort performance on any given examination.”

Jerome I. Finkelstein, MD, FACS

Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences

Medical Director, Canton Ophthalmology ACU

University of Michigan - Canton Health Center

2) Examination rigor is a reflection of the high standards set by the community of ophthalmology. Another misperception about ABO examinations, such as the WQE, is that some questions are there merely to “stump” the examinee. But certification is not a demonstration of trivia mastery; it is a demonstration of the competencies necessary to practice ophthalmology. Each examination is carefully and systematically assembled to cover the body of knowledge ophthalmologists believe other ophthalmologists should know, and later reviewed to ensure this goal was met.

“Test-takers feel the WQE is difficult and there is some truth—it is a challenging test that covers a significant breadth of knowledge. However, steps are in place to assure that every candidate can pass if they have demonstrated mastery of the content. The attention to detail to the results of the test is meticulous and involves ophthalmologists of all backgrounds, practices, subspecialties and experience. The standard setting process in particular reassured me that our program’s graduates are getting a very fair chance to pass this exam."

Sumitra S. Khandelwal, MD

Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology

Cornea, Cataract and Refractive Surgery

Baylor College of Medicine - Cullen Eye Institute

The Board thanks all its 2018 WQE standard setting volunteers:

  • Jerome Finkelstein, M.D., Canton, MI

  • Shane Havens, M.D., Omaha, NE

  • Vivian Lee, M.D., Philadelphia, PA

  • Darby Miller, M.D., Jacksonville, FL

  • Vivek Patel, M.D., Los Angeles, CA

  • Mark Rolain, M.D., Sterling Heights, MI

  • Shlomit Schaal, M.D., Worcester, MA

  • Erin Schotthoefer, M.D., Charlotte, NC

  • Divya Srikumaran, M.D., Odenton, MD

  • Angela Buffenn, M.D., Los Angeles, CA

  • Courtney Crawford, M.D., Fort Worth, TX

  • Neda Esmaili, M.D., Milwaukee, WI

  • Dan Gombos, M.D., Houston, TX

  • Mitchell Jackson, M.D., Lake Villa, IL

  • Sumitra Khandelwal, M.D., Houston, TX

  • Prem Subramanian, M.D., Denver, CO

  • Martha Wright, M.D., North Oaks, MN

  • Bhavna Sheth, M.D., Milwaukee, WI

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