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Description of the Oral Examination in Ophthalmology

The Oral Certification Examination in Ophthalmology is an opportunity for the Board to examine your ability to diagnose and treat patients requiring medical, surgical, and refractive ophthalmic care. The cases you will be presented will be based upon real or hypothetical patients. For each case you will be given a brief history of the patient's present symptoms or complaints. You may need to probe for more information, develop a differential diagnosis, request laboratory tests or diagnostic examinations. You will be expected to describe the treatment process. Additionally, the examinee may be questioned regarding the risks related to a treatment process or what other treatment options might be considered. In obtaining the information, you should speak clearly and be cognizant of time constraints applicable to your handling each case. You may ask the examiner to repeat information that you did not hear clearly. Be certain that you understand what is being asked of you before responding.

The examination consists of four or more cases. For each case study a threshold score has been established. The threshold score represents the minimum passing score that is expected of a practicing physician in Ophthalmology. The threshold score for each case has been established prior to its administration. Board Diplomates in Ophthalmology, with the guidance of a psychometrician, have estimated the expected minimal performance for each area within each case. These minimal performance expectations are combined to obtain the minimum expected score on a case.

For each case, an examinee is scored in several areas. An examinee's performance is typically scored in each of the following areas:

  • History of the patient ĚThe examinee is expected to probe for the history of the patient (e.g., onset/course/location/associated symptoms, allergies, medications, past medical history; social/family history, surgical history, and psychological history)

  • Physical examination ĚThe examinee is expected to request information about specific aspects of the patient's physical condition (e.g., neck, chest, heart, back, neurological, skin, abdomen, musculoskeletal, and other areas applicable to the case)

  • Requested laboratory tests and diagnostic examinations ĚThe examinee will order appropriate laboratory tests and diagnostic examinations; the examinee will be provided the results.

  • Diagnosis of the patient ĚThe examinee will be expected to propose a differential diagnosis/diagnoses for the case presented.

  • Management of the patient ĚThe examinee will indicate what treatment is recommended, including non-operative, operative, and post-operative management. The examinee may be asked to provide a rationale.

  • Disposition/Pathophysiology ĚThe examinee may be presented with follow-up conditions of the patient, including complications Ěto which the examinee will be asked to recommend appropriate actions; or the examinee may be asked to describe possible complications/outcomes and appropriate corrective actions. Additionally, other related questions regarding the patients condition may be asked.


A candidate's score on any one case is completely independent of his or her score on any other case. To pass, the examinee must minimally obtain a total score (sum of the scores from all cases) that equals or exceeds the sum of the threshold scores for the cases. Therefore, it is possible that an examinee may score less than the threshold score for one case, but still pass the examination, provided he or she scores well on the remainder of the cases to offset the lower score.

The four or more cases presented will address a variety of situations. No two cases will address exactly the same topic. Topics presented to the examinee may include, but not limited to:

  • Refraction and Contact Lenses
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • NeuroOphthalmology
  • Retina & Orbits
  • Lids & Orbits
  • Pediatrics & Strabismus
  • Cornea and External Disease
  • Uveitis
  • Intraocular Tumors
  • Pathology


Examiners will not indicate whether you have passed a case or not. No comments made by the examiner should be interpreted by the examinee as implying that he or she has either passed or failed a case.

Examinees should plan to arrive one-half hour before the scheduled beginning of the examination and expect to be in the examination room for nearly two hours. For this examination you will be given pencils and paper to use during the course of the examination. Also, you will not be permitted to bring into the examination room books, electronic devices, backpacks, or parcels. The only thing you will absolutely need to bring is a government-issued photo ID card such as a Driver's License or Passport for examination check-in.

Drinking water will be available in the room. A restroom break is permissible, but only between cases.

ABPS will provide reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, provided the disabilities are documented and the accommodations requested are applicable to the disabilities. Requests for special accommodations should be made to ABPS at least two months in advance of the examination. ABPS will forward specific instructions for the documentation that will be needed from the examinee or the evaluator of the examinee's disability. Any requests for special accommodations less than one month before the examination will not be honored since there will not be sufficient time to review the documentation and arrange for the special accommodations.

All ABPS examinations are administered only in English. Responses from examinees to examination questions must be in English for the candidate to be eligible to receive credit towards his or her examination score.

The results of the examinee's performance on the Oral Examination are mailed within 75 days of the examination. A careful review of the scoring and analyses of the results are conducted after the examination and before issuing reports, to verify the accuracy and validity of the results.

Examinees who fail to pass an Oral Examination have the opportunity to take an examination consisting of three different cases at the next scheduled administration. At the current time, an examinee is permitted no more than three attempts to pass the Oral Examination.

Should you have any questions, please call the ABPS Executive Offices at 813-433-2277.

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