Oral Examination

The Oral Examination is the second of two evaluations in the Board Certification process. Upon successful completion of the Written Qualifying Examination (WQE), candidates receive specific registration instructions for the Oral Examination. Oral Examinations are offered twice each year. (Check the Dates and Deadlines page for information about current examination opportunities and registration deadlines.)

The Oral Examination is an in-person, timed evaluation in which candidates are presented with a series of Patient Management Problems (PMPs) and asked to identify how they would care for that patient. The entire assessment takes one half-day to complete and is divided into six 25-minute "mini-examinations" focused on specific topic areas.

Each mini-examination is administered by a different Examiner, all of whom are experienced practitioners and Board volunteers. Examiners are not compensated for their role in the Oral Examination and pay their own expenses out of a deep commitment to the mission of board certification. The group of Examiners assigned to each candidate is referred to as a Panel, which is overseen by a Panel Leader, who also serves as the candidates' on-site guide for the duration of their examination.

For more than 50 years, the Board has administered the Oral Examination in hotels around the country. For examination security and candidate privacy, the Board uses individual hotel rooms to house each mini-examination. Each room has been carefully rearranged to allow candidates and examiners to comfortably sit face-to-face at a table or desk. Panel Leaders and other authorized ABO personnel may visit exam rooms for quality control purposes. To navigate the examination, candidates will be assigned to a Panel operating on a designated floor of the hotel, within a specific block of adjacent rooms. Candidates will transition from room to room until they have completed all six mini-examinations that make up the Oral Examination.

The six major examination topic areas are:

  1. Anterior Segment of the Eye
  2. External Eye and Adnexa
  3. Neuro-Ophthalmology and Orbit
  4. Optics, Visual Physiology and Correction of Refractive Errors
  5. Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus;
  6. Posterior Segment of the Eye

PMPs are presented on tablets for photographic or video patient simulations. Examiners will control the presentation of materials, so no additional training is necessary for candidates.

Please review the Sample Question and Oral Examination Simulation Video for more insight on the format of the Oral Examination.

Scope of Examination

The Oral Examination includes clinical scenarios affecting the eye and its surrounding structures.

Aspects of the Candidate's Ability Tested on the Oral Examination

The Oral Examination is designed to simulate how candidates care for patients in a clinical setting. Candidates are assessed with regard to their ability to incorporate the cognitive knowledge demonstrated in the written examination with judgment on caring for a patient. A candidate is presented with a series of PMPs, each of which represents one patient or clinical situation, and is asked to identify how he/she would care for that patient. The Examiner assesses a candidate's ability to demonstrate patient care skills in the following areas:

  • Data Acquisition: Recognition by the candidate of depicted abnormalities and diseases that affect the eye, ocular adnexa and the visual pathways. Candidates will be asked for historical information and examination data that might be obtained on a patient with a particular condition depicted or described.
  • Diagnosis: The ability of candidates to synthesize historical and physical evaluation information, along with the appropriate laboratory data to arrive at correct diagnoses and differential diagnoses.
  • Management: Candidates will be expected to provide a reasonable and appropriate plan for medical and/or surgical management of patients with the conditions depicted or described and be able to discuss the prognosis and/or therapeutic complications for the particular condition.

In addition to medical knowledge, the Oral Examination focuses on the competencies of professionalism, patient care and procedural skills, practice-based learning, interpersonal and communication skills, and systems-based practice. Refer to the Test Blueprint for more details on examination content. 


Candidates who successfully complete the Written Qualifying Examination will be notified of their Oral Examination assignment and sent registration instructions. The fee for the Oral Examination is $1950. Active United States military service members pay 1/2 the total fee. Active duty paperwork should be sent to info@abop.org to claim a partial refund.

Click here for dates and registration deadlines of upcoming Oral Examinations. 

Special Accommodations
The ABO complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to mitigate the effects of an ADA-qualifying disability on the testing activity. To accommodate individuals with disabilities, the ABO will make reasonable modifications to its examinations that do not fundamentally alter the requirements of the examination or the measurement of the skills or knowledge the ABO examinations are intended to test. Click here to review the ABO's ADA policy and download the accommodation request form.

Oral Examination Scoring

Results of your Oral Examination will be provided as pass/fail only. To ensure fairness, your performance in each of the six mini-examinations is reviewed by all Examiners in the panel at the end of each session and is used to calculate an overall pass/fail result. A pass in all topics is not required to pass the examination; however, individuals who are not successful are required to repeat the entire examination.

The score required to pass the Oral Examination is determined by a standard-setting methodology. This method requires a group of peers to estimate the minimum level of clinical decision-making and medical knowledge an ophthalmologist requires to practice competently. The examination employs a criterion-referenced passing standard, which means scoring is not done  "on the curve," i.e., that a certain percentage of candidates will pass or fail. For every administration, it is possible for all examinees to pass if they achieve a score at or above the passing standard.

The pass/fail result of your examination will be issued to you within 6-8 weeks. Please keep the Board Office apprised of any changes to your contact information during this time.

Successful Completion of the Oral Examination

A candidate who successfully passes both the Written Qualifying and Oral Examinations has completed the requirements for Board Certification and is awarded a certificate valid for 10 years. Physicians who have received the certificate are known as Diplomates of the Board and engage in a program of lifelong learning and continuous improvement in order to remain certified.

Failure to Complete the Oral Examination

The Board Eligibility Policy requires successful completion of board certification requirements (written and oral examination) within seven years of residency graduation.