April 22, 2020 - Primary Certification

Context and Considerations for 2020 ABPMR Computer-Based Examinations

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABPMR has expanded application and enrollment windows for exams and longitudinal assessments, postponed the Part II Examination, offered full fee carryovers to future exam administrations, and more.

What’s missing in these logistics announcements is the context of these decisions, including the careful consideration of several issues affecting our computer-based examinations. Today, we want to provide a window into these conversations so that our candidates and diplomates can better understand those issues over which we have some control, those we don’t, and all of the complex factors affecting examinations for the rest of 2020.

Computer-based testing during a pandemic
The secure testing center vendor for ABPMR computer-based exams, Pearson VUE, is an international vendor providing exam services to many industries and clients, many of whom are much larger than the ABPMR. When determining exam schedules, we work with Pearson VUE to set exam dates about two years in advance. We request rough timing of exams according to our desired calendar, and Pearson VUE determines its capacity based on the projected number of candidates and their other clients with exams scheduled around the same time.

Currently in the COVID-19 crisis, Pearson VUE is in the midst of a 6-week shutdown of its testing centers in the United States (currently through April 30, 2020; although it could be extended). When they reopen, it will likely be at reduced capacity with social distancing protocols in place. In addition, Pearson must abide by each state’s shelter-in-place orders, which may result in centers opening in some states but remaining closed in others.

Upon reopening, Pearson VUE will be addressing the backlog of candidates affected by the March and April closure, as well as determining capacity based on COVID-19 restrictions.

Why we can’t easily move exam dates In a typical year, it would be extremely difficult to simply shift an exam date a few months into the future, since Pearson VUE seats are reserved years in advance. This year, it may be all but impossible given Pearson’s efforts to clear their backlog, operate at reduced capacity, and keep candidates and staff safe.

These issues are the reasons we’ve been communicating that we are hopeful that we can still hold exams in late summer and into this fall, but even the currently scheduled dates may be disrupted depending on the trajectory of the pandemic.

What about remote proctoring or other solutions?
While remote proctoring or other virtual exam options sound like perfect solutions for a shelter-in-place reality, there are a few reasons why they are not possible for near-future ABPMR examinations.

Most importantly, certifying examinations are the chief way the ABPMR fulfills its mission to protect the public. At this time, we are not confident that security risks inherent in remote proctoring can be mitigated to the level of exam security provided by a testing center. In order to assure the public that ABPMR–certified physicians have met the standard for board certification, as well as assuring candidates that they are all being measured by the same standard, we need to have confidence in the security of the examination method.

Even if these security concerns could be addressed completely, many other organizations and entities are flooding the remote proctoring market due to the pandemic, resulting in capacity problems for these vendors as well.

Doing the best we can with today’s information
As you all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about our lives in a very short time — and the unknowns of the virus itself have resulted in rapid changes in information and future projections.

During a global crisis, we understand that for some, examinations and certification fall down the priority list. But for many of you, becoming board certified remains an important and essential step in your career, and for some has implications for employment in the near future. We take seriously our responsibility to the public, and we want to continue providing our examinations to as many physicians as possible provided that appropriate health and safety precautions are being taken. However, many factors external to the ABPMR may limit our options.

In all of this, the ABPMR pledges to release any new information to our candidates as soon as it is available, including Pearson VUE capacity issues that may affect examinations, potential changes to exam dates, cancellations, and more.

We thank our candidates and diplomates for their patience during this unprecedented time, and we ask for your continued trust that we are doing everything we can to deliver the examinations you need to become credentialed and serve the patients that need you.