National ABSITE Preparation Practices: A Survey of General Surgery Residency Program Directors

Katharine E. Caldwell, Julie M. Clanahan, Mary E. Klingensmith, Paul E. Wise, Michael M. Awad, Karen J. Dickinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination (ABSITE) was designed as a low-stakes, medical knowledge examination for US general surgery residency programs. However, in practice, this exam has been utilized for higher stakes purposes, such as resident promotion or remediation, and fellowship selection. Several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of ABSITE preparation resources, but best practices for ABSITE preparation and national preparatory habits are currently unknown. The aim of this work was to determine current residency programs’ strategies for ABSITE preparation. Design: We distributed an electronic survey to program directors or program coordinators of US general surgery programs asking them to anonymously report program ABSITE educational practices and ABSITE scores. We analyzed the proportion of responses using descriptive statistics and compared the effect of various strategies using the Mann-Whitney testing for nonparametric data. An average ABSITE percentile score was calculated for each residency based on program self-reported scores. Setting: Association of Program Directors (APDS) Listserv Participants: General surgery residency programs participating at the time of distribution (278). Results: Response rate was 24% (66/278); 41 programs (62.1%) identified as university-affiliated, and 25 (37.9%) were community-based. Median intern class size was 8 (range: 3-14), including preliminary interns. Average ABSITE percentile score was 52.8% (range 36.9%-67.6%). There were no significant differences in ABSITE scores based on affiliation or program size. Educational resources utilized for ABSITE preparation included SCORE (89.3%), Q-banks (50%), and surgical textbooks (25.8%). The majority (56.1%) of programs reported using a year-long curriculum for ABSITE preparation, and 66.6% used a time-limited curriculum completed in the months immediately prior to ABSITE. Most programs reported that ABSITE scores were a low priority (63.6%) or not a priority (13.6%). The existence of a year-long curriculum for ABSITE was positively correlated with score as compared to programs without a year-long curricula (53.9% vs 48.5%, p <0.01). Programs using a time-limited curriculum demonstrated lower scores as compared to programs without time-limited curricula (51.3% v 56.1%, p < 0.01). Conclusion: General surgery programs use a variety of strategies to prepare residents for the ABSITE. Despite reporting that they utilize ABSITE scores for a variety of high stakes purposes including evaluation for promotion and as a predictor of the preparedness for the ABS QE, many programs reported that they consider ABSITE scores as a low priority. A year-long focused curriculum was the only strategy correlated with increased scores, which may reflect the value of encouraging consistent studying and spaced repetition. Additional work is needed to guide programs in optimal utilization of ABSITE scores for remediation and resident evaluation, as well as understanding how ABSITE preparatory strategies correlate with clinical performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-63
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Surgical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • in training examination
  • residency program
  • standardized testing


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