ABD Certification Pathway Info Center

The ABD Certification Pathway is a staged evaluation with a BASIC exam designed for first-year residents, covering dermatology fundaments; CORE exam modules testing more advanced knowledge of senior residents about dermatology’s major clinical areas; and an APPLIED exam given after residency, which tests the ability to apply knowledge in clinical situations.

This page serves as the Information Center to provide residents, program directors and program coordinators with the essential information about this new certification pathway. We will update it as new information and resources become available. 

Pathway Overview
Exam Content 
Honor Code
Fast Facts
Frequently Asked Questions
Message Archive

Pathway Overview

Residents who began dermatology residency on or after July 1, 2018 follow the new certification pathway, consisting of CORE modules throughout years 2 and 3 of dermatology training, followed by an APPLIED Exam at the conclusion of the final year. 

Refer to our NEW infographic for a visual overview of exam administrations by dermatology residency years.

Exam Content

To help residents prepare for the new examinations, we created the reference materials listed below. Please note that content information may be updated periodically. The available documents are considered DRAFTS and further revisions are expected as the ABD Certification Pathway evolves. 

Certification Pathway Content Overview To provide general guidelines about the content that may be evaluated in each exam. 
BASIC Exam Content Outline To provide an overview of the content assessed on the BASIC Exam and the relative representation of each topic. 
CORE Exam Study Guide To list the types of content that may appear in the CORE modules.  
APPLIED Exam Content Overview To provide an overview of the content assessed on the APPLIED Exam. 
 Sample Items  To demonstrate the types of content on the BASIC, CORE and APPLIED Exams. 

Honor Code

When applying to take each exam, residents will be required to read and sign the American Board of Dermatology Honor Code. On Exam Day, they will be presented with the Honor Code again and asked to affirm their understanding and willingness to abide by its requirements. 

Fast Facts

The table below succinctly answers some of the questions you likely have about the differences between each exam and their methods of administration:

2021 Cert Pathway Fast Facts Updated 012021

Click the table for a full resolution view.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will exam outlines be available beforehand?
ABD will publish content outlines and sample items for the exams in order to help residents and programs prepare. 

How will the cost of this Exam differ from previous exams?
ABD Directors are committed to making the Certification Pathway cost neutral for residents.  For most, it will likely be less costly than the current certifying exam because travel to Tampa will not be needed.

Do residents have to pass the BASIC Exam?
Residents do not have to pass the BASIC Exam.  It is informational only.  There is no pass/fail score. 

How do residents prepare for the BASIC exam?
Learning from their clinical experiences, attending their program’s educational conferences, and using the BASIC Exam content outline as an aid in self-study.  

What if a resident hasn’t had a subspecialty rotation?  Aren’t there questions about pediatrics, surgery, and pathology?
There is a detailed content outline for the BASIC Exam that should facilitate self-study, and the level of difficulty is lower than that for the CORE or APPLIED Exams.  A program director will take into consideration a resident's previous experience when evaluating  scores.  The BASIC Exam is not pass/fail and has no effect on a resident's standing at ABD.  


At what point during residency are residents eligible to take the CORE modules?
Residents become eligible for the CORE Exam during their second year of residency, after having completed at least 1.5 years of training. 

At what point during residency are the CORE modules offered?
For residents who began training in July, the first opportunity to take the CORE is late winter of the second year of dermatology residency.  At that administration, candidates may only take up to two modules.  The CORE modules are offered three times during the third year of residency.  In those administrations, candidates may take any number of modules they wish. 

In what order are the modules administered?
Residents may take the modules in any order they choose. 

Are there basic science questions?
Yes, the science underlying the clinical practice of dermatology is content that is tested.  It is incorporated into each of the clinical modules.

How long does it take to complete a CORE module?
A CORE module is approximately 2 hours long. 

What happens if a resident fails a module?
Residents who fail a module more than the allowable number of times as a resident, may continue to take the module(s) after graduation from residency.  Because passing the CORE is necessary to qualify for the APPLIED exam, they will not take the APPLIED until they have completed the CORE.   They are considered Board Eligible because they have completed training.  Their window of opportunity to become Board Certified is 5 years. 

Will a DRY 3 resident with CORE Exam modules still outstanding at the conclusion of residency training be able to take the CORE Exam in July 2021 and receive results in time to know whether s/he is eligible to take the 2021 APPLIED Exam?
No. Results from the July 2021 CORE Exam will not be available in time for graduating residents to confirm their eligibility for the 2021 APPLIED Exam. Residents should plan accordingly when scheduling their modules across the 3 CORE Exam administrations each year.  

If a resident does not pass all 4 CORE Exam modules during residency training, what is the fee to take the remaining module(s)?
When a candidate applies to take a CORE Exam module after residency training, there is a fee of $125 per module. This fee only applies to exam applications submitted after residency. If a candidate submits an application for the CORE Exam while still in training, even if the exam will be administered after training ends, the candidate will pay the regular resident fee for the module(s). Only when the candidate submits an application after their residency ends will the increased pricing apply. Example: A candidate's residency ended on June 30. The candidate submits an application in September, to take the November CORE Exam. The candidate will pay a fee of $125 per module. 

What is online proctoring?
Online proctoring simply means that the proctor is not in the same room as the candidate. The proctor monitors the exam in real time via the candidate's webcam. Online proctors are employed by the exam administration vendor, not the ABD.  

Why did the ABD decide to offer Online Proctoring for the CORE Exam?
The American Board of Dermatology began offering Online Proctoring to diplomates taking the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) Exam in 2014. This method of exam administration has proven to be highly secure while offering diplomates a convenient method for taking the exam. Travelling to a test center often requires diplomates to miss time in clinic and incur expenses associated with travelling to the nearest available test center, which could be in a distant metro area.

When deciding how to best administer the CORE Exam to residents, security was a top priority. Minimizing the impact on clinic schedules and resident costs were also important factors. Online Proctoring adequately addresses all considerations, allowing the ABD to ensure the integrity of exam content, confirm the identity of the test taker and monitor candidate activity during the exam, while also limiting resident absence from clinic and eliminating the need for residents to travel to distant testing sites. This exam administration method has been vetted and approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties for our CORE Exam.

Where can an Online Proctored exam be taken?
An Online Proctored exam must be taken in a quiet and private location, such as in a home office or in a restricted room at an institution. The location must be free from interruptions and distractions from family members and colleagues. The workspace must not contain notes or reference materials. 

What are the technical requirements for taking an exam via Online Proctor?
Taking the exam via Online Proctor requires a desktop or laptop computer* with the following components:
1. Reliable broadband internet access 
2. A webcam + microphone
       * The exam cannot be taken via a tablet

Why does the ABD recommend a hardwired internet connection for Online Proctor exams?
A hardwired internet connection (as opposed to wireless) is strongly recommended, when possible, because even a temporary loss of internet connectivity can interrupt or shut down an exam. Recognizing that a hardwired connection is not always possible or practical, the ABD cautions candidates against taking an exam on a wireless network with spotty internet coverage, or where other broadband-intensive tasks are happening simultaneously, such as family members streaming movies. 

How does Online Proctoring work? 
A video overview of the process outlined below is available for your review. 

On Exam Day, after logging on to to the Pearson VUE website, candidates will download the OnVUE Online Proctoring program.
The candidate will then be prompted through the self-service check-in process, which consists of the following steps:
1. Take a self portrait headshot using a mobile phone. 
2. Take a picture of a photo ID using a mobile phone.
3. Snap pictures of the exam room surroundings (front, back, left and right), using a mobile phone to demonstrate compliance with exam guidelines (i.e. no notes, text books, electronic devices).

For the duration of the exam:
The webcam and microphone capture candidate activity for the Pearson VUE professional proctor to monitor in real time. Candidates must remain in the proctor's view for the duration of the exam and can only leave the room between modules. The proctor is available for questions via the "Chat" command at the top of the exam window.

How can residents prepare for a seamless Online Proctoring experience?
In preparation for taking a online proctored exam, candidates will be instructed to perform a system check and take a sample test using the SAME computer and network that they plan to use for the exam. Doing so allows candidates to resolve technical issues in advance of exam day. As our initial administration of the CORE Exam approaches, we will publish additional information about the process and provide links to a system check and sample test.

What if a resident is unable to take the exam via Online Proctoring?
Residents without access to a compliant exam room and the necessary equipment to take an exam via Online Proctor, have the option to take the exam at a Pearson VUE test center.  Pearson VUE test centers are located nationwide, but appointment times may not be as plentiful as those available for Online Proctoring. 

Where can I learn more about Online Proctoring?
Review the OnVUE Online Proctoring FAQs on the Pearson VUE website for a comprehensive set of helpful information about the Online Proctoring process. 

How do residents prepare for the APPLIED exam?
Learning from clinical experiences and educational conferences, and reviewing content outlines for assistance with self-study.  Reviewing clinical cases and challenging themselves to think through carefully the diagnosis and management options. It may also be helpful to review consensus and evidence-based practice guidelines.

What advice can you give about how to answer these questions?
Think about what a physician would actually do when treating the patient in real life, and answer the question accordingly.  Do not try to second-guess what the ABD “wants” residents to answer.  Do not assume a question that seems simple is actually complex or is a trick question.  “Trick” questions are not psychometrically valid and should not appear on exams. 

Who decides what the correct answers are?
In some cases, there is a strong evidence base to support particular choices.  In other cases, there is not a sufficiently robust evidence base, and the correct responses are determined by consensus of experts.

Does the APPLIED Exam include Basic Science content?
The clinical decisions that you make on the exam (and in real life) may benefit from knowledge of the scientific basis of dermatology.  For example, understanding the mechanism of action of a medication may help you in making a clinical decision.  

Message Archive

The ABD is committed to sharing information about the new exam process as it becomes available. To ensure you do not miss an important announcement, we will maintain an archive of all announcements in the table below. 





Survey Results Summary

Program Directors 


Exam of the Future Information: 2018 Dates

Program Directors and Coordinators


Exam of the Future Information Follow Up: Faculty Exam-Takers

Program Directors and Coordinators


Exam of the Future Fees for Programs, 2018

Program Directors and Coordinators


Survey Follow Up

Program Directors and Coordinators


2018-19 Exam Administration Overview

Program Directors and Coordinators


Content Overview, Sample Items and BASIC Blueprint

Program Directors and Coordinators

5/10/2017 Q & A for Senior Residents Senior Residents
Program Directors 
and Coordinators
7/25/2017 Online Practice Exam + Upcoming Exam Dates Program Directors and Coordinators
7/31/2017 Introduction to First Year Residents

First Year Residents
Program Directors and Coordinators

9/11/2017 Online Practice Exam Administration Options - Survey Invitation

Program Directors and Coordinators

9/21/2017 Online Practice Exam Administration Options - Survey Results Program Directors and Coordinators
6/11/2018 CORE Exam Study Guide and New Visual Overview of Exam Pathway Program Directors and Coordinators
6/11/2018 CORE Exam Study Guide and New Visual Overview of Exam Pathway First Year Residents
7/11/2018 CORE Exam Proctoring Methods and Pearson VUE Proctoring Fees 2019 - 2020 First Year Residents
Program Directors and Coordinators
10/11/2018 Change to the Exam of the Future Timeline

Program Directors and Coordinators

06/26/2019 2020 BASIC and ONLINE Practice Exam Dates Program Directors and Coordinators


Contact Us

American Board of Dermatology
2 Wells Avenue
Newton, Massachusetts 02459
Office Hours: Mon-Fri,
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. ET
(617) 910-6400 (Phone/Fax)

Our Mission

To serve the public and profession by setting high standards for dermatologists to earn and maintain Board certification.