Improving Health Through Medical Physics

AAPM Newsletter — Volume 42 No.5 — September|October 2017


Picture of Daniel Vergara
Begin Studying for 2018's ABR Part 1 When You Register: Now

Having recently taken ABR Part 1, the purpose of writing this article is to give upcoming examinees advice for how to study. If I can do it, certainly, with dedication to study, focus, and acquainting one's self with the appropriate material, anyone is capable of passing ABR Part 1.

The particular studying strategy for any exam will vary on the examinee's skillset and knowledge in the field being tested. However, in general I can recommend certain guidelines, which will at minimum increase your self-confidence in passing and at best increase your likelihood of passing. First, you have to be confident in yourself to pass the exam. A significant influence any examinee's test score and examination experience is their own psychology. Around the last few days leading up to the exam, the anxiety is crushing and palpable; then, every detail, procedural step at the testing center, and difficult exam question compounds that anxiety. So you must be prepared and overcome that anxiety. To do so, not only should you practice and study the topics described in the ABR Part 1 Content Guide, but also immerse yourself in the ABR examination environment if possible. Standardize your study environment.

Below are the steps to achieve this:
  1. Begin early, but not too intense too early. Burning out is possible.
  2. Download the Pearson Vue Tutorial and Demo. It emulates the conditions in which you will find yourself when taking the exam, including a timer. Most importantly, it includes the infamous virtual calculator (TI 30XS MultiView). Familiarize yourself with the virtual calculator. Become the virtual calculator. YouTube is a great source for tutorials on how to use it.
  3. I highly recommend turning on the number lock key of your keyboard and using the number pad for all of your math operations on the virtual calculator. Each second matters on the exam.
  4. Standard deviation and coefficient of variation (COV) operations may be required to answer a question on the exam. A very efficient method to acquire these values in the calculator is through its "data" and "stat" buttons.
  5. Get your hands on a marker and a miniature dry erase board, plastic cover sheet, or any kind of plastic sheet material that can be written on with a marker (dry erase or permanent is up to you). Pearson Vue will provide you with an indelible marker with which to write on a limited number of plastic sheets. It will be helpful to be acquainted with using a marker and plastic paper to solve equations.
  6. Take practice tests using the material described in the steps above and utilize the auto timer that comes inside of the Pearson Vue Tutorial and Demo in order to track your pace. 4.5 hours to answer 80 general physics exam questions is just over 3 minutes per question.

Equally as important as improving your examination skills is mastering the subject matter. Take as many Raphex practice exams as possible. The general exams encapsulate the majority of the fundamental topics covered in the board exam. The ABR Part 1 board exam is significantly more complex and difficult than any of the Raphex practice exams. DO NOT rely solely on Raphex to study for the board exam. It is equivalent to the simplest questions found on the ABR Part1. Instead, begin studying by completing a general, diagnostic and therapy physics Raphex exam to gauge your knowledge in these subjects and then master your weak subjects by reading what I would consider the pillars of medical physics education: "The Essential Physics of Medical Imaging" by Bushberg et al., "The Physics of Radiology" by Johns & Cunningham, "Physics in Nuclear Medicine" by Cherry et al. and "Radiation Physics for Medical Physicists" by Podgoršak. You should answer practice problems available in these books and be certain that the answers you attain truly are the correct answers. Leave no assumptions unverified because undoubtedly they come up on the board.

  • Diagnostic and Imaging physics topics, like Nyquist frequency and pixel size, image/subject contrast, SNR, modulation transfer function, etc. and radiation biology, like cell survival models and deterministic/stochastic effects/values: read Bushberg.
  • Dosimetry, like Bragg-Gray cavity theory and kerma vs. dose, and advanced mathematical principles, like modulation transfer function and Fourier transform: read Johns & Cunningham.
  • Fundamental radiation physics, like radiation interaction, nuclear disintegration and activity: read PodgorÅ¡ak.
  • Nuclear medicine, like activity, transient/secular equilibrium, counting statistics, detector types/uses, etc.: read Cherry.

Then, take more Raphex practice exams; answer more relevant questions from any credible source. As for what topics are most important to study, I am contractually obligated to not disclose any questions. All examinees are required to sign a contract prior to beginning the exam. However, I can state that you had better be capable of solving these problems in the dead of sleep: dosimetry, radioactivity, dimensional analysis, and unit conversion. And like a bad song from the nineties, know your calculus.

The clinical section of ABR Part 1 is an entirely different beast. Speed is not the issue. With the 1.5 hours to answer 75 questions, you will probably be able to answer all of them twice. Knowing cell survival model details, deterministic/stochastic effects and statistics, regulatory limits, and human anatomy should be enough for any examinee to fair well on the exam. The key however, is also being knowledgeable with clinical terminology, particularly with regard to diseases; suffix and prefix meanings are vitally important to know. Though the study guide does include physiology and pathology, it may not convey clearly its implication; it certainly wasn't obvious to me. There will be questions about the location of and/or cause of any human disease.

For peace of mind, if you matriculated through a CAMPEP-accredited medical physics graduate program, then most of the material should be review. However, do not worry: by heeding my advice anyone can pass the ABR Part I board exam. Apply to take Part 1 between September 1 and October 31, 2017 to take the exam in August 2018.

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Comments (1)

08-15-2021 11:43 AM

Hi Daniel, That was great! Thanks. Sanjiv