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You'll Like These Changes to Next Spring's ABFM Exam

November 22, 2016 11:10 am Cindy Borgmeyer

This summer, family physicians learned about a number of changes the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) was making to its Family Medicine Certification process (formerly, Maintenance of Certification for Family Physicians). One such change was the decision to uncouple the clinical simulation portion of the Self-Assessment activities (previously known as Self-Assessment Modules [SAMs]) from the knowledge assessment portion.

[Chalkboard with words Old way, New way]

The move, which was based on feedback from ABFM diplomates, means that rather than requiring diplomates to complete a SAM that includes both a 60-question knowledge assessment plus a clinical simulation, the Knowledge Self-Assessment will now be the minimum required self-assessment activity.

On Nov. 22, the board announced additional modifications it will be making to the certification process -- this time, to the Family Medicine Certification examination that forms the cognitive expertise component of certification.

Beginning with the April 2017 administration of the certification exam, the modular portion of the exam will change from a two-module to a single-module format.

Candidates will choose from among the eight content-specific modules currently available (e.g., Ambulatory Family Medicine, Care of Children and Adolescents, etc.), each of which includes 40 multiple-choice questions.

According to ABFM President and CEO James Puffer, M.D., the change is based on analysis by ABFM psychometricians that indicated use of the one-module format likely will prove more beneficial to family physicians' exam performance than the previous model.

"It turns out that our analyses have shown that some candidates are actually disadvantaged by selecting two modules," said Puffer. "Thus, next year, candidates will only select one module from the eight options.

"Our data would suggest that this will result in about 2 percent to 3 percent more family physicians passing the exam than if they had selected two modules."

And there's more. The April exam will also mark changes to the overall examination day schedule, as well as to the total number of questions posed. Whereas the exam to date has consisted of five distinct sections of varying lengths -- with three scheduled optional breaks -- the new schedule will consist of four symmetrical sections of 100 minutes and three more flexible break periods. The single modular component will be contained in the second section of the exam.

Moreover, in contrast with the 370 total questions previously covered in the exam, each of the four sections in the revised exam schedule will encompass 80 multiple-choice questions. In essence, candidates who sit for the exam beginning in 2017 will have the same amount of time to answer 320 questions that they previously did to answer 370 items.

"This is yet another in a series of improvements designed to make the certification process more equitable and efficient for our diplomates," said Puffer. "We look forward to introducing our new continuous knowledge assessment tool and revised performance improvement platform early next year."

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