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Radbio/Physics Boards: What to study, how it is scored

Discussion in 'Radiation Oncology' started by napoleondynamite, Aug 3, 2011.

  1. napoleondynamite

    napoleondynamite Keepin' it real yo
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    We had a visiting professor yesterday who sits on the committee that writes and evaluates the ABR exams. He gave us some insight as to how the test is actually written and scored - I thought I would share. I for one had a jaw-dropping moment when I heard this, so some may find it interesting.

    As GFunk has alluded to in another thread, they use a method called "psychometrics" to evaluate questions. What happens is that experts from around the country submit questions, which are evaluated by a separate panel of experts (people who did not write any of the submitted questions). This panel sits in a room together while an exam question is presented to the group, then (no joke - this is really what happens) they go around the room and each member of the panel estimates what percentage of radiation oncology residents they think would be able to get that question right. Let's say that there are 3 members of the panel and one person says they think 90% of radonc residents should be able to answer the question, another 60% and the third 75%. Well, then that question would be assigned an "Angoff" number of 75% (the average of the three estimations). This process is repeated for each question on the exam until all questions have Angoff numbers. At that point, an average of all of the Angoff numbers gives you what the pass rate will be for the exam. They do take a look at the bell curve after the exam and if needed (but rarely) they will adjust the pass rate. But the whole point is that they do not rely on the bell curve anyway - they rely on psychometrics..their gut feeling of what they think we should know.

    So we spend 3 years indoctrinating ourselves to the evidence-based approach to everything and then our parents get together and talk about how really it's feelings that matter, not evidence at all :idea: It's like we've all been living in that movie the Village and then we get to the other side of the fence to see Santa Claus taking off his costume.

    Anyway, I simply could not believe it when this was explained to me, but in case you were dying to know, that is how it is determined whether you are smart enough to be a radiation oncologist or not.

    Now I do not know how I did on the exam yet, but I do know I passed. In terms of what to study, these were the resources I felt were most helpful:

    1) Haffty Handbook of Radiation Oncology. This resource has not been mentioned that I am aware of, but I found it to be super high yield, particularly the radbio molecular chapter. I began and ended my studying by reading these chapters and I think they are right on the money.

    2) Hall - I read it cover to cover during my PGY4 year. It is all in there, but it is also too thick to "study" from come exam time. Even though there are all the figures and the summary points, I just don't like it as an end-game resource. But certainly it gives you a good foundation if you read it. I re-read the first 7 chapters about a month prior to the exam and then looked at all the pictures in those chapters and read the summary points the week of the exam. This was high yield because there are a TON of questions from these chapters.

    3) Radbio study guides. Excruciatingly painful to do your first time through them because they are very long. However, I recommend spending the bulk of your study time with these because they are, well, the study guides for the test which are written by the teacher, so you should take full advantage! I did the most recent 3 several times. Getting through the first one took me a couple of weeks, then it got much faster after that. I had a co-resident and we divided the exams and put them into powerpoint, which was much easier to study from then paper IMO. I quickly re-did these tests in the days before the exam, which was money.

    4) Stinson and Stanton physics book (the green one). I read 3/4 of this book and cried real tears as I read it because it meant that I did not have to read Kahn. I did not touch Kahn and I do not think that you have to read any of it to pass. Anyway, I read most of this book about 3 months prior to the exam, then did all the Raphex questions I could get my hands on.

    5) Maryland Review Course - I attended it because my department sends us and thought it was good for radbio. Physics was pretty basic at the course and I did not get a lot out of it. But it was good passive sponge learning I guess.

    Anyway, my 2 cents take em' or leave em'. Perhaps others can also contribute their thoughts and if we get comprehensive guide it can be useful to future test takers.
     
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  3. CyberKnife19

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    :thumbup::thumbup: Information like this is golden. Disappointed to hear about the "psychometrics", but thank you very much for points 1-5.

    ND, as always, very generous with your knowledge to us younger residents and it is greatly appreciated.
     
  4. wagy27

    wagy27 SDN Mentor
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    Good advice above. Just passed as well so thought I would share my 2 cents on what helped. I broke down my studying into 2 parts 1) fact studying 2) questions

    Part 1: Facts

    For biology, it was all about hall for me. I read it cover to cover about 3 times over the course of my PGY-4 year and took detailed notes which were much easier to review closer to the test.

    For physics, I used Caggiano notes. I did use Khan for electrons as I think the extra depth was extremely useful.

    Part 2: Questions

    For bio, i would use the ASTRO review questions. Don't just do the tests, really study the answers/descriptions. Really helpful and you may just see a few familiar ones on your own or very similar concepts. If you are doing alright on these you are golden for the bio section IMO.

    For physics, would recommend RAPHEX. Not at the same level as the boards but at least gives you a feel.

    Reviews....do them, get familiar. I started looking at them a month or so in advance and it proved extremely helpful.

    Other things...I went to Maryland Review. I thought it was very helpful for bio, not so much for physics (not sure what would have been helpful for physics this year). For 300 bucks definately worth it. Also, I found that my fellow colleagues across the country were an amazing resource- with lots of info to share and problems to work on. I met a lot of them at various meetings and Maryland and it helped keeping in touch with them.

    Best of luck to the new PGY-4's.
     
  5. shogun0660

    shogun0660 New Member
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    Figured I would post my strategy as well. managed to pass despite calculator's inability to do negative exponentials, and computer freezing with 15 questions remaining. as some background, i feel i am of average intelligence within the rad onc resident community (although, admittedly, the in service scores put me at below average for radbio and physics).

    Physics:
    1)Read that green book (stanson or whatever) cover to cover.
    2) Reviewed certain concepts in more detail in caggiano notes (electrons, wedges, TMR, etc)
    3) Then just raphex questions. Was thankful to have a powerpoint some crazy (but obviously helpful) resident at FCCC made a few years ago containing >1000 raphex questions. then touched up by doing 2008-10 in a timed, closed book fashion.
    never opened kahn, it did make a good weight to put on my air conditioner to stop it from buzzing though.

    Radbio:
    1)Read hall cover to cover. About a chapter per day.
    2)Was able to get a summary of hall from another resident, reviewed appropriate summary depending what chapter I read that day.
    3) Did astro radbio questions. 2006-8 are almost identical to 9-11.
    Once i got through the questions, just cycled through again with the summary and questions. Used hall to brush up on some areas. Spent necessary time a week or two before test to memorize the molecular pathways, cancer syndromes, etc.

    hope this helps.
     
  6. XRTmonster

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    Been awhile since I posted but here's what I did:

    Physics
    1. RAPHEX, RAPHEX, and more RAPHEX. Not only did I do the exams but went through each question afterwards and read the answer explanations. I paid closer attention to questions i got wrong.
    2. Physics class notes. At my program we have a pretty comprehensive physics course so I went through a lot of powerpoints.
    3. I used Khan for reference but did not study it per se. I did have Stanton & Stinson but found it a bit too basic. I think its a great book if you never studied physics earlier in your residency or if you are just getting started.

    RadBio
    1. Did ASTRO practice exams 2007-2009. Again went thru the answers carefully and tried to understand questions I got wrong and why.
    2. Read Hall cover to cover over the month of May. Paid special attention to chapter summaries. 1st half of the book is definitely where a lot of emphasis was. 2nd half is important but not as much as the first half.
    3. Maryland course was helpful in pointing out certain topics & concepts that had been stressed in the past that were not obvious by simply reading Hall. I think it was worth the money although my program did pay for it. The physics part was kind of blah. Didn't stay for half of it.

    Overall, I thought physics was a MAJOR biatch. Radbio was ok, some iffy stuff but overall not as horrendous as physics was. Walked out thinking I failed for sure and in a total daze. Later I just got s-faced and felt better. Passing was a huge relief. I'm thinking of taking my copy of Khan to the range and "ventilating" it a bit. :smuggrin:
     
  7. RadOncDoc21

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    Congrats to all of you and thanks for the advice and strategy tips... definitely going to start preparing sooner rather than later.

    -R
     
  8. outoftheloop

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    Somehow passing, here is my advice. Not too different from the excellent advice posted above.

    Physics:
    1. I used Caggiano notes as my base. The 2009 version has ridiculously hard questions as the end of each chapter. You don't need to know how to do all of these. I agree that the electron chapter is somewhat light. RAPHEX questions helped me learn alot of the electon concepts.

    2. Do all the RAPHEX, and learn the rationales carefully. I feel that although the test was harder than these, if you can get >70%, you will pass.

    3. I did not use Khan.

    4. I went to the Maryland course. It was okay. I didn't get that much out of the physics half. I don't know if I would pay for this again. I later looked over some of the Osler physics notes and those are WAY better. It succintly spells out the important details and makes them easy to understand. I would sometimes look up questions I missed on RAPHEX, and sure enough, they were in the Osler notes. Maybe I should've gone to this course.

    This test sucked big time. I too got tanked after the exam..and it helped...until the next morning. The next 3 weeks were agonizing. My best to all that have to re-take in September!

    Rad bio:

    1. Hall is key and actually very readable.

    2. ASTRO study guides will help you learn everything important when you read the rationales.

    3. Maryland course was good in this regard.

    4. Miller notes and questions are succinct but great. Would recommend getting your hands on these. There is a nice question that very nicely shows you how to find Dq, Do, n, blah blah from a survival curve. I don't even know what these mean anymore.

    Very fair exam. Calculations were actually super hard, but more than enough easy questions to make up for it. Spend more time on physics.

    Good luck!!!:luck:
     
  9. napoleondynamite

    napoleondynamite Keepin' it real yo
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    This is great. It would be sweet if we had something similar for the written clinical boards (hint, hint). I for one would love to know how people studied for that one.

    Shogun, I laughed out loud at the FCCC power point comment because I know exactly what you are talking about! I used the same resource and many times during my studying would ask myself "WWPD?"

    And XRTMonster, let me know when you want to go to the range - count me in!!!!
     
  10. MadamCurie

    MadamCurie Glows in the Dark
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    A few additional thoughts:

    1. All the questions on the annual ACR In-Training exam also go through review by fellow question writers from the different disciplines (i.e., physicists and biologists get to comment on clinical questions vis-a-vis scope/content/importance/writing style/clarity etc., and vice versa), and then are also run by a psychometrician. Still, the process overall is not as rigorous as for the actual ABR exam.

    2. The questions on the free ASTRO practice exams are, if anything, pegged a little bit above the difficulty level of actual ABR biology questions, but get way less vetting (i.e., quite a few of those questions would probably be rejected by the psychometricians). However, the range of content on the exam is reasonably matched to that of the ABR exam.

    3. The newest version of Hall and Giaccia (7th Edition, 2011) is a timely improvement.

    4. A second biology text that is also a very good resource, and much more focused on clinical radiobiology – as opposed to the rad bio field as a whole – is Basic Clinical Radiobiology (4th Edition) by Joiner and van der Kogel.
     
  11. seper

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    5 1/2 weeks and clinical writtens haven't been yet scored. Is there a problem?
     
  12. Gfunk6

    Gfunk6 And to think . . . I hesitated
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    Scored as in "pass/fail" or "what's my percentile breakdown?"

    The former result has been out for a couple of weeks.
     
  13. seper

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    oops :) who says it's impossible to live on a virtual island these days
    my score was held up 'cause an email from ABR bounced
    thanks!
     
  14. iradi8u

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    Thanks for demystifying this a bit (as much as can be with such a crazy system!). I'm a PGY-4 and, based on my RAPHEX scores, I need to start your system for studying asap. Ugh. Now I just hope some of the psychometrics panel only expect us to know what little I know:laugh:
     
  15. radoncmonkey

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    bump

    Any additional thoughts/advice here guys? I'm a captive PGY4..

    GFunk, we should sticky this thread for easy access each year
     
  16. Leapfrog80

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    hi guys thought i'd post my experience now that I got my percentiles back from the ABR and found out I comfortably passed (mostly 4's, meaning upper quartile). SDN was helpful when I was studying for my exam, especially a post I read here from another testtaker who passed without opening Khan (which became my strategy also). This is what worked for me:
    1. I started studying about 6-8 weeks before the actual exam for both and intensified my studies during the last month. My knowledge of both radbio and physics prior to this time was almost nil I'm embarassed to say.
    2. I find it hard to read textbooks so I focused on questions. For radbio, I did the ASTRO practice exams and thought they were excellent in preparing me for the exam. The key is to carefully read the answers. Over time the questions start repeating similar concepts so doing several years worth of ASTRO questions over and over was very helpful and eventually I learned the material solely by reading the detailed answers. For those of you who do better with textbooks, Hall may be the way to go, but it just wasn't working for me.
    3. I did lots of RAPHEX questions for the physics. I also did the SALLII questions. I read the green book (Stanton and Stinson, I think it's called?). I can't say what helped and what didn't because the actual exam seemed incredibly hard and covered material not present in the RAPHEX questions or the green book. I'd know the QA for linacs, SBRT well for easy points. I didn't read Khan because the sheer density of it scared me, nor did I use Caggiano so I can't comment on the usefulness of these texts, though I suppose it would have helped.
    4. I wasn't sure about 40-50% of the physics questions after I walked out of the exam. I probably narrowed down half of those questions to two choices. I'm thankful I passed because I left the exam center thinking I failed.
     
  17. Adjuvant

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    I met Burmeister in ASTRO, he mentioned a book from which he teaches the hysics course ... I couldn't get the name of author.... Anybody can guess what that scan be?

    Thanks
     

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