Tips and Tricks for the ABOto Qualifying Exam



Guest Post by Parker Velargo, MD

The process of preparing for the ABOto Qualifying Exam can be quite overwhelming without adequate organization and insight. The most grounded realization one can make early on in the preparatory process is that you can’t learn everything! While reading Cummings or Bailey cover to cover would prepare one well for the exam, it is an unrealistic and unnecessary tactic for most. Being a graduate of an ACGME accredited Otolaryngology residency who participated in the annual ABOto In-Training Exams is the biggest advantage one can have when sitting for the ABOto Qualifying Exam. The 2012 ABOto Qualifying Exam had a > 92% pass rate (290 / 314 candidates passed), which means that nearly all candidates that fell into the aforementioned category passed. This fact, however, shouldn’t give you a false sense of security!

In my opinion, focused preparations should start 1-2 months prior to the ABOto Qualifying Exam. Set some realistic goals for yourself with particular focus on weaknesses identified in your prior ABOto In-Training Exams as well as commonly tested subject matter. Unlike studying for USMLE Step I where many of us holed ourselves in coffee shops for 8 hours a day for 30 days straight, most of us will have to balance studying for the ABOto Qualifying Exam with the stressors of a new practice or fellowship. Plan accordingly!

Working though questions and reading explanations is, by far, the best manner in which to prepare for this exam. In terms of a hierarchy for studying, I would recommend the following (in order of importance):

  1. Questions (e.g. BoardVitals, Academy Q, practice questions you’ve used in the past…).
  2. Chapter 46 (Highlights and Pearls) in KJ Lee’s Essential Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery, 10th ed.
  3. M. Bowden’s Otolaryngology Board Review: Pearls of Wisdom, 3rd ed.
  4. Read more detailed chapters in review books (e.g. KJ Lee, Pasha, Lange, etc…) or texts to supplement your weakest areas of knowledge.

While the Osler review course is a very popular tool in the preparatory process for many residents, one should not feel compelled or obligated to purchase and attend a course such as this because most non-participants also obtain a passing score on the ABOto Qualifying Exam. If you utilize the aforementioned hierarchy, obtaining a passing score should be a VERY achievable goal.