Section 5 - Exam Strategy

The Board believes that it is an advantage to develop a strategy for taking the certification examination. We have noted in the past that candidates have, through a number of oversights and errors, penalized themselves heavily, in some cases heavily enough to make a difference between success and failure on the examination.

While we do not believe that our suggestions, given below, are the only possible ones on examination strategy, we do believe that they are sound and that at least they should stimulate the development of a suitable plan of your own.

Part I

Part I is a multiple choice examination, lasting three hours and requiring the answers to 150 questions. Some of the answers require calculation.

  1. Budget your time so that you are answering about 1/3 of the questions in each hour.
  2. Begin at the beginning and go through the whole examination, answering the questions you are sure of, in order. Pass over the difficult, uncertain questions, saving them until the end. Do not lose time by getting bogged down on a few difficult questions.
  3. An intelligent guess is better than no answer; there is no penalty for an incorrect answer.
  4. If you are uncertain about an answer, it is probably true that your first choice is the correct answer. Do not change an answer unless you are certain that the first answer is wrong.

Part II

  1. The first section of the examination consists of six core questions. All questions of this section will be graded. Each perfectly answered question is awarded 50 points for a section total of 300 points. Candidates may wish to "scan read" the entire examination, rank the questions, and start work.
  2. The second section of the examination consists of eight specialty questions, but only the four selected by the candidate will be graded. The point value for each perfectly answered applied section question is 100 points for a maximum section score of 400 points. 
    Some candidates may favor the greater point value of the specialty questions, the selectivity of four out of eight, and start with the applied section. 
    As in the Part I examination, make a conscious effort to budget your time.
  3. Before beginning to answer a question, read it again carefully so that you can be certain you are answering the question that is asked.
  4. Think carefully about numerical constants and assumptions that you use. Try to be sure that they are accurate and reasonable. If you are unable to remember a constant or equation, make a reasonable estimate and clearly state this as an assumption.
  5. Do your best to demonstrate a professional approach to the problems.
  6. Organize your answer in a logical outline form to use as a check list to assure efficient and complete subject treatment. A concise, neat, well-organized answer is much more impressive than a rambling ten page dissertation. Try to scale your answer to the length of the sample questions.
  7. Reread the question after completing it to be sure you have answered all the portions of the question and have provided all the information requested.
  8. Remember, the onus is on you to prove your mastery of the material through your answer to the grader.

Additionally, the following test-taking tips were compiled for Part II Candidates based on graders' collective experience grading many Part II exams. These tips are provided to help you avoid problems that have adversely impacted previous candidates.

  • Read questions thoroughly. Determine what the question is asking and what information is necessary to answer that question.
  • Respond in an organized, logical manner. Develop a clear and logical plan for a response, especially for calculations. Lay out a plan or sequence to get partial credit.
  • Work step by step according to your plan. Number steps or sub-steps to keep your response orderly.
  • Use at least one line per step, more if necessary. Do not cram information in a small space.
  • Use as many sheets of paper as necessary.
  • Do not erase; line out completely. Lining out is neater and takes less time. Incomplete erasures show up on copies and may be confusing and misleading to the graders.
  • Write clearly. Use your best penmanship. Some responses are difficult to interpret and grade because they are hard to read. Don't make the grader have to work too hard to figure out what you wrote.
  • Use radiological terms when possible. Sometimes a single phrase of a few key words is all that is needed to convey a response, such as high LET, low specific activity, GI syndrome, etc.
  • Reference standards or regulations to explain and clarify your response if necessary.
  • Use the correct units in your calculations.
  • When using units, clearly state which numerical value is associated with that unit.
  • Stick with technical responses and data. Do not add any editorial or personal comments.
  • Use the equations and formulas provided in the Useful Equations, Formulas, and Constants Sheet when applicable.

For general test taking strategies, check