Skip to content
    All posts

    Why Are FM Boards Pass Rates Suddenly So Low?

    There’s a lot of chatter about declining pass rates for the ABFM board exams, and you might think we’re in some sort of educational crisis with Family Medicine.  But as with medical diagnosis, the devil is in the details.  

    Year Total Pass Rate
    2020 91.2%
    2021 91.2%
    2022 88.9%

    The overall pass rate for last years exams, both Spring and Fall, for example, was 88.9%, a failure rate of roughly 1 out of 11 people taking the exam. The two years before that, 91.2%.

    Normal failure rates for boards, in FM or most any other specialty, is more like 1 out of 20 or lower, 95% to 98% pass rates are the norm - so what’s going on with the ABFM exam? Did they change the exam? Does it include stuff not covered in Challenger or other study programs? Are the ITE’s insufficient to prepare for the certification exam?

    Nope. It’s the way that they report it. In 2022, the overall pass rate was 88.9%, but the pass rate for first time test takers from a US residency was 98.2%.

    Year Total Pass Rate First Time US Residents
      2020     91.2%   98.3%
      2021     91.2%   98.6%
      2022     88.9%   98.2%

    The pass rate for repeat US test takers was 70.8%, and the pass rate for international repeats was 42.1%. Aha. You don’t have to average in a lot of 42%’s to bring the average down significantly.

    The problem is not with residents taking the certification exam for the first time, it lies in the nature of changes made to continuous certification, and how the ABFM formats it’s examination results reports.

    Recertification pass rates are low across the board - 80.8% for US recertification. However, you now have two options for recertification - the FMCLA, or taking the one-day full examination every 10 years. The FMCLA was approved for full implementation in 2021, and does away with the high stakes exam, replacing it with a smaller, 25 question exam every quarter.

    So the recertification pass rates being reported by the ABFM include a lot of physicians that are not eligible for the FMCLA, as they have a lapsed certification. But all the people eligible for FCMLA have signed up for the easier and less stressful option.

    In other words, the exam hasn’t changed, the make-up of the population taking the test has changed. Good news for our 2023 candidates. Spring tests show the highest pass rates for first time test takers, the Fall exam the lowest.

    This doesn’t mean you don’t need to study, but it does mean that there is nothing that has drastically changed about the exam, and that a good residency preparation and good study materials will leave you well prepared to face the initial certification exam.

    The Fall exams are coming up in a few weeks, and they have a fairly high failure rate. 1 out of 12 US first-time resident test-takers failed the Fall exams last year. It’s off season, the residency isn’t preparing you for the exams, there’s a lot less focus on study.

    Med-Challenger’s Family Medicine is the perfect study tool, with years of history and updates behind getting residents through the boards for the first time, predictive learning, adaptive learning, extensive reporting, and lots of media. Give it a trial.

    PS - here are the last three years of ABFM reports, if you want to see where the data is coming from:

    Free Trial
    Is it family medicine group or program education that you seek? Med-Challenger for Residency Programs can help with that too!