Tonight on AC360: Prescription for Cheating
Radiology residents must agree not to share test material, but a CNN investigation found that is widely ignored.
January 13th, 2012
12:06 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: Prescription for Cheating

Editor's note: The CNN investigative story "Prescription for Cheating" will air tonight at 8 and 10 p.m. ET on AC360.

(CNN) - For years, doctors around the country taking an exam to become board certified in radiology have cheated by memorizing test questions, creating sophisticated banks of what are known as "recalls," a CNN investigation has found.

The recall exams are meticulously compiled by radiology residents, who write down the questions after taking the test, in radiology programs around the country, including some of the most prestigious programs in the U.S.

"It's been going on a long time, I know, but I can't give you a date," said Dr. Gary Becker, executive director of the American Board of Radiology (ABR), which oversees the exam that certifies radiologists.

Asked if this were considered cheating, Becker told CNN, "We would call it cheating, and our exam security policy would call it cheating, yes."

Radiology residents must sign a document agreeing not to share test material, but a CNN investigation shows the document is widely ignored. Dozens of radiology residents interviewed by CNN said that they promised before taking the written test to memorize certain questions and write them down immediately after the test along with fellow residents.


Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Tom

    The above comments are ingnorant to what is really happening. I am a board certified internist and when any physician takes a board exam they have to sign an agreement that states they will in no way convey or discuss the information contained in the test with any other individual. This is where the problem stems from. There is no mystery for anyone taking one of these test as to subject matter and potential content of the test. ie- If you went completed residency (which is required to take these tests) then you should have been introduced to all the material that could potentially be tested. Where the cheating comes in, is in knowing how the questions are asked and how the subject matter is presented. It would surely be a tremendous help to anyone taking the test to know what is being tested and how. This would allow better preperation on subjects tested and more effecient preperation so that time is not spent on subjects not tested. (ie – if there are 10 questions asked out of a possible 1000 questions, having prior knowledge of those 10 questions would surely make preperation easier). For those who still think its not cheating, I would refrence you to a physician that lost his medical license because he ran a test prep course that had similar practices of providing test questions. He was sued by the American Board of Internal Medicine. This is for sure cheating and those that participate should either lose their license or have to retake the baord test.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  2. najeweh

    Some say that this method is similar to SAT/ACT,etc but the truth is this has been going on for years. In the 80's,it was a known fact that the members of the majority white sororities/fraternities,social/academic had file cabinets full of former class exams. This information was privy to some and not to others.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:53 am |
  3. Bryan Lukemeyer

    I am assuming the Board is the one who writes the exams. Therefore, the Board is responsible for the situation of students being able to answer questions that were worded no differently than on very previous exam. Given that such a practice is widespread through all of academia, I was suprised to see the Board quickly turn blame on the students, when practice exam preparation is the near gold standard in education. The Board should have defended the students and take responsibility for poor test creation. If the investigative slant is true, then anyone holding a degree would be a "cheater," given their such and such professor who gave them old exams as practice exams. The writers of the LSAT, GRE, MCAT, NCLEX... etc... don't have this problem, and don't blame their test takers. Instead, they write all new exams and profit by selling old exams as prep material. Plus, with today's technology, there has to be computer programs that could write an infinite number of exam variations. The Board is to act with integrity, then they are to blame themselves and protect their students.

    January 15, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  4. najeweh

    Its about time this information has materialized for the general public to know. When I was in college at EKU in the 80's, it was a known fact that the white fraternities/sororities had files of former exams, for their members to utilize. We always informerly assessed performances, along with daily activities of students,to configure how white students filled the local bars ever night of the week,how could they possibly get the grades.

    January 15, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  5. David Cambridge

    Very informative story. I had no idea this was going on in radiology. It's definitely cheating.

    January 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  6. Rae

    Recall use happened in my dental school too, although there were more "recall" tests available in some subjects than others. We had access to the most recall questions in pharmacology – but those were only a fraction of the 7000+ and continually increasing number of questions in the data bank used by our professors to create our exams! Which highlights the importance of the faculty creating new questions and new exams.
    I placed 1st in my class all 4 years and graduated 1st. I almost never glanced at the recall exams – there just wasn't time! It was far too challenging trying to learn everything we needed to know for us to also take time to look at the recall tests, and I always thought it would be simply confusing to do so – reading all those incorrect answers and 2nd guessing oneself! Easier, actually, to learn the course material and apply it to the exam. I certainly don't condone the use of recall tests, but public concern may be over-rated. If I could really memorize 7000 multiple choice questions (and I doubt that I could in the time available) I probably would have had a pretty good handle on the information anyway.

    January 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Bridget Patton

    The problem is with the ABR and the test, not the test takers. The body of knowledge that a competent radiologist needs to know should not be a secret. Why should the person who has invested years of effort and loads of money have to play some sort of guessing game with the ABR? The test questions should be relevant to the material they will be expected to know in practice. The ABR is acting just like ETS and the College Board – keep everything secret and falsely claim the test is magical arbiter of who is smart enough to be a radiologist. Remember, they make a LOT of money off that test, and from repeated taking of the test.

    January 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  8. Julie

    This story really misunderstands radiology residency training in general. It is downright silly to call this cheating. Recalls are used to guide study, to find out what kind of topics have been covered in the past, as is done in practically every other field. In no way are recalls a substitute for study. Radiology residents study harder for their boards than anyone I've ever seen, and these are among the smartest people in medicine, most at the top of their medical school classes. The newly minted radiologists I have encountered in the last several years have been incredibly competent and well trained. While there may be some quirks to the radiologist training system, it actually works very well.

    January 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  9. Jonathon

    When a lawyer takes a prep course for the Bar exam, or an accountant takes a prep course for the CPA exam, this is what they are doing. If a high school student asked to take a Kaplan course so he/she could do better on the SAT, parents would wholeheartedly support their efforts. I think the rush to use the word "cheating" and trying to put words in the mouths of the people interviewed is extremely irresponsible and amounts to tabloid journalism.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Sharon Tveskov

      Exactly! In fact, by knowing the questions, they still must research and then remember the answers and by doing so they are ( drum roll?) LEARNING!! Isn't that the point ? It's really just like a take home test and we al know how hard those are. The old exams are provided, but not the answers, as far as we know, so what is wrong with that? C'mon Anderson, we share a University, you never heard of students having old exams to study off of? Was THAT cheating? Was it if the Professor gave them the exams? You guys seemed angrier about this than about the felons being pardoned!!

      January 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • TJ Lewis

      Luckily, professionalism is not something that is conferred on a group or an individual by hair boy journalists or even by the American Board of Radiology. It is an emergent characteristic that originates from the everyday working Radiologist and it is confirmed by their patients and the other physicians that they serve. The best thing we can do to reply to this event is to go to work Monday and read for an extra 15 or 20 minutes so that patients will get their important medical info in a timely manner, or teach a student (MD, DO, PA or nursing doesn't matter), or spend extra time with a patient with a question. Let your actions speak your will.

      January 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  10. Fred Shackleford

    I almost never contribute to these things but here I feel I must. First I agree with the first post prior to this that it is wrong to assume that radiologist who have used these so called cheat sheets are any less qualified than some others. Nevertheless I came from a profession that used these testing methods and cheating methods (and this is cheating) almost to the exclusion of all others. Those who submitted to test without use of the traditional cheat sheet was almost assured to fail. Some who took pride in doing it the (right) way refused to use the cheat sheets / test... but if they ever passed and went forward with promotions did so because they eventually realized that you really cant fight the system if you are going to be promoted. I dont like to use the words honesty or cheating in these matters because these terms don't really fit. If you have come to know how the system works and what it expects of you then you either join in or fail. In this regards I've always failed (the test that is) but after seven years of retirement, I really feel good and that I'm really a winner. I have no advice for others though, you still have to do what works for you and make you feel that you efforts are worth it. But I'd say try it the proper way first and if the deck is stacked against you I'm sure you'll do what's right for YOU.


    January 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  11. Sheralyn Wood

    Terribly incomplete and lacking in true journalism. To skew a story which unfairly diminishes the years of hard work and training that many of these doctors perform is disheartening. The test banking is not unlike what is done with SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, etc. So, if I follow the basic logic presented in this story, I should probably toss the SAT prep books and practice tests that I bought for my son as there will surely be repeats? No, it's simply another tool for him to prepare for that final testing phase. The fact is the vast majority of these doctors are honest, hard-working individuals who have chosen to serve others, not the cheaters portrayed in this one-sided story.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • najeweh

      I think not terribly incomplete but it addresses one issue for one study. This has been a problem for many years because everyone hasn't had the opportunity to utilize same study materials @ the same time,humiliating others as though they weren't smart enough to cut the mustard. Don't be offended, it's truth across the board.

      January 15, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  12. Rick Lewis

    I suggest that Anderson Cooper accuse the American College of Physicians for helping individuals taking the Boards because they provide the MKSAP as an educational tool which includes hundreds of questions to test a physicians knowledge. By his definition that would seem to be cheating. Whether these are questions from prior exams is not clear but certainly the content of the practice tests are very similar. Apparently the American Academy of Radiology does not have a similar service. Because of this, physicians are taking the initiative and sharing the the knowledge.

    I wonder if Anderson Cooper will explain that various Medical Professional societies have educational testing materials. Probably not, that would make the story less interesting. This is an example of "nonproductive labour" just making trouble so as to obtain wealth and prestige. This was one of the slllier stories I've heard.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  13. Lisa Sidor

    Fraternities, tutoring agencies, athletic departments, families even, keep old tests to use as study guides. Some teachers don't return tests, which doesn't seem fair to students. The onus is on the schools, teachers, or the military in this case, to refresh tests. A test that dan be memorized, isn't very good to begin with. At my little private school in Seattle, we were REQUIRED to deal with this. ABR ought to be able to do as well. Is the recall process inappropriate?I suppose so, but that's not the important issue here. I mean, If my colleagues and I can give a different test during different periods in a school day,

    January 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  14. Dara Singh

    Use of past year questions and sample questions has always been normal and in no way compromises knowledge. This is just sensationalising a method of learning. There is only that many ways you can ask a question about a Chest X ray for example.

    January 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  15. Charlie

    Of course students use past papers.
    What is crazy is that this is seen as cheating.
    If the ABR does not heavily weight practical assessments over theory knowledge, that is their negligence.

    January 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  16. Joe Batta

    How do you think services like Kaplan developed their banks of questions?

    January 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  17. Kate

    Having taken the test, I can say that it is irresponsible to assume that one can pass the test simply by studying the recall questions. Multiple references, clinical experiences, and hard work are all required to pass the written board exam, none of which are mentioned in this article. If the American Board of Radiology is truly troubled by this, maybe they should consider putting in the effort to write new, relevant questions rather than simply recycling old questions from the last 20 years.

    January 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  18. ahmad hussain

    I wonder if any of CNN editors, and Anderson himself has taken SAT or GRE tests. They must have done so without any guide and Q/A books available in open market.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  19. Prakash Malkani

    The slant in the article very skewed not balanced. These questions are used as a study guide similar to the preparatory questions for SATs, GMAT, MCAT etc. This would make the public think that all the radiologists are substandard when in fact the radiologists in USA are among the best in the world.

    January 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Will White

    This story unnecessarily scares patients. The process for using recalls is a valid form of studying and is no different than sending your kids to KAPLAN to learn how to study for the SAT/ACT by reviewing previous exam questions. Part of good academia is learning how to take a test– what to prepare for. If the ABR is so concerned with this common practice it should rewrite the test every year. And the public should understand that this exam is only PART of an extremely long, focused and intense training to become a radiologist. The 5 years in residency is a hell of a lot more important to their training that that one exam!

    January 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm |