Why test recalls should not be considered cheating

I was appalled recently by the coverage of radiology “test recalls” by CNN, amplified by Dr. Gary Becker of the American Board of Radiology (ABR). For decades, residents have studied for their rites of passage Board examinations at the end of residencies. Radiology being no exception, I vividly remember spending innumerable hours with my co-residents, heads buried in books, papers and other study guides, to ready ourselves for the magic moments of test-taking. Never once did we feel that any of that excruciating time spent was “cheating.”

The public’s perception of radiologists has been unfairly diminished by the recently published media report. The fact that the ABR has latched onto the issue as a topic of serious import is understandable, as a testing body, though disturbing, as it elevates study guide material to the level of cheating. “Recalls,” if my memory serves, were simply study guides comprised of regurgitated salient facts based on information they studied leading up to and including the board examinations. These techniques form the basis of such well-known programs as Kaplan and BARBRI.

In contradistinction to the popular perception of cheating, “recalls” were in no way the same or even similar to the sordid test-stealing that we have all read about, where a student sneaks into the teacher’s drawer, copies the test and distributes it to friends before the test.

Who determined that “recalls” are a form of cheating? Are we to say that all studying not sanctioned by reviewing a published text is cheating? Is it legitimate to point to a particular type of study guide and eliminate it as a reasonable way to learn the material? Why is a published text more “ethical” to use than a document containing just the “bold-faced items?”

I maintain that “recalls” help students to learn the material that was originally intended for them to learn by their attending physicians, professors and other educators. The fact that some people may not appreciate their benefit should not have led the ABR to denounce such forms of learning as “cheating.” Such a false determination and judgment has diminished us all.

Paul Dorio is an interventional radiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, Paul J Dorio, MD.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2LRZNHDZS6DU45WQ567LPQ7CMI ninguem

    Same here. I don’t even consider recalls to be cheating in the first place.

    The Boards are simply trying to distract from the many legitimate complaints doctors everywhere are having about specialty board policies.

  • westeasterly

    I completely agree; quality of instruction and breadth of experience during residency varies tremendously, as does what one might gain from reading one review book vs. another.  Yet any standardized test attempts to hold every physician everywhere in the country to a single standard, and it’s easy to see how one could easily be blind sided.  Whether studying review books, “legitimate” question banks, or recalls, in either case, you either know the material going into the test or you don’t.  Isn’t that the purpose of testing in the first place, to gauge knowledge?  Does it really matter how you gained that knowledge?  If so, aren’t more “prestigious” programs “cheating” by giving their residents a better education?  Is a student who has more cash to spend on review materials cheating?  Are board-certified physicians cheating every time they teach their residents; after all, they’ve taken the exam and they know what to expect….

  • http://www.alittlehappi.blogspot.com/ Sophie

    The boards are designed to see if you’re qualified to take care of patients. The questions are deigned to test your knowledge. If you know the information, then shouldn’t you pass the boards? Whether you know one useful fact or one useful fact and a million other facts has no bearing on how you can treat a patient. So why is remembering guided/pertinent information considered cheating? So long as the doctor is adequately prepared, what’s the issue?


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2LRZNHDZS6DU45WQ567LPQ7CMI ninguem

    Look here to see how much money the Board organizations rake in.


    Tax returns of the various specialty boards, as well as the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

    Hundreds of millions of dollars all told. The individual specialty boards sitting on tens of millions of dollars in assets. Look at the American Board of Family Medicine, actually one of the worst offenders. In 2009, they reported sitting on $72.4 Million Reported in Total Assets. Gross receipts $34.4 Million on their Form 1099 in 2009.

    The President that year, James Puffer, paid himself over half a million a year, plus retirement and bennies. Downright obscene salaries and fees, collected on the backs of young doctors crushed by debt and struggling to survive in practice.

    It’s downright obscene. Doctors are starting to realize they’re being ripped off, they’re fighting back, and so the Boards raise these side issues as a smokescreen.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HSIMVPNZYT67UBE42HDLN2EHHA Joyce

    Well if recalls are cheating then everyone who ever used a Barron’s Regents Study Guide in a NYS high school is a cheater!!  I’m an RN and I studied for my boards using a NCLEX based study guide. It’s how test prep is done. CNN is being stupid. Again.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JYZSGDUXTNSTJUV5WJB3ZIY23M terminator

    i remember taking ECFMG all over again because of a “cheat”!!! that hurt many of us who studied for the 2nd time and put out hundreds of dollars and study hours. this was in early 1980″s. it discouraged alot of good students born in USA and had to attend med-school abroad….that really hurt!!!!!!!!!
    to this day i never cared anymore and so i practice as a dr. without borders and in europe….i felt ripped off by these money making organizations and they have the NERVE to classify us as ‘CHEATS”?????
                                                  I symphatize with you.

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