Our Assessment Programs

In-Service Exam

The board offers an exam directed to physicians during residency training called the Otolaryngology Training Examination (OTE), commonly called the “In-Service Exam” or “In-Training Exam.” This is a “practice test” which is recommended for residents and other prospective otolaryngologist - head and neck surgeons before they embark on the Primary Certification process. The objective of the test is for physicians that intend to seek board certification to gain a better understanding of strengths and limitations in their knowledge covering the entire breadth and depth in the field of otolaryngology - head and neck surgery. The exam is 300 multiple choice questions. Detailed score reports are provided to those that take the exam which allow for comparisons to others at their training level. 

Primary Certification

After completing accredited training or “residency,” a physician wishing to become board certified in otolaryngology - head and neck surgery needs to submit an application for the Primary Certification examination process. In order to become board certified, an applicant needs to pass both written and oral exams. The passing scores on these exams are determined using a psychometrically sound process.

The first phase of the ABOHNS Primary Certification process consists of the Written Qualifying Examination. This is a written (computer-based), proctored, closed-book examination. It is designed to measure a candidate's knowledge base across the entire depth and breadth in otolaryngology - head and neck surgery. Basic science, physiology, pathophysiology, fundamentals of patient care, gathering and interpreting data, diagnosis, non-surgical management, and surgical management are all comprehensibly covered.

Passing the Written Qualifying Exam makes one eligible for the Oral Certifying Exam. This exam is conducted with multiple examiners covering all areas of the specialty. The certifying exam is intended to evaluate the candidate’s abilities to apply their knowledge of the specialty to patient care situations. It tests their reasoning skills to obtain and interpret data, formulate a differential diagnosis, arrive at a working diagnosis, and develop a management plan for a variety of conditions within the entire field of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.

Once candidates  pass the Oral Certifying Exam, they become board certified and a diplomate of the ABOHNS. This milestone is commonly called “passing the boards". 

Continuing Certification

Once a physician becomes board certified, there are certain activities they need to complete every year to maintain that certification. These requirements broadly fall under the following general categories: 

  • Professionalism and Professional Standing
  • Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment
  • Assessment of Knowledge, Judgment, and Skills
  • Improvement in Medical Practice

While some of the requirements are generalized for all otolaryngologist - head and neck surgeons, the Board works to focus the majority of the diplomate’s continuing certification requirements on the areas that are relevant to their everyday practice. 

Subspecialty Certification

A doctor who is board certified in the specialty of otolaryngology - head and neck surgery may choose to specialize even further. The process for this is similar to the Primary Certification process. To obtain a Subspecialty Certification (Subcertification), a physician first participates in an ACGME-accredited subspecialty fellowship training program. Once the fellowship training is completed, the physician follows a process of assessment that may include a written exam, oral exam, or both. After they pass the required exam, they receive subcertification. One must be board certified in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery with ABOHNS before applying for a subcertification exam.

The ABOHNS currently offers subcertification for three subspecialties, Complex Pediatric Otolaryngology, Neurotology, and Sleep Medicine. For more information on ABOHNS’ subspecialties, see What We Certify and Who We Certify.