ABSITE Quest: Transforming How Busy Surgery Residents Retain Knowledge and Master In-Service Training Examination

Jason Weinberger, trauma surgeon and founder of ABSITE Quest, partnered with Qstream, a microlearning pioneer to develop an innovative approach to exam preparation. The result is ABSITE Quest, a program that delivers continuous learning and knowledge retention for successfully mastering critical exam curriculum.

The Challenge

Each year general surgery residents measure their progress and clinical knowledge through the American Board of Surgery In-Service Training Examination (ABSITE). This extensive multiple choice exam is administered every January to general surgery residents throughout the country. Since the exam can only be taken once a year, it’s crucial for test takers to be well prepared.

To say that surgical residents have busy schedules is an understatement. While they are studying for the ABSITE, they’re also clocking hours on the floor, completing training courses, and being bombarded with both technical and hands-on knowledge every day. Between busy schedules and stressful days, it’s hard to make studying for a far-off test a priority. After surveying over 150 residents, ABSITE Quest identified the top six barriers to success on the exam:

  1. Not enough time to study = 84%
  2. Anxiety on the day of the exam = 78%
  3. Breadth of knowledge needed = 72%
  4. Difficulty of exam content = 65%
  5. Feelings of inadequacy = 40%
  6. Lack of study resources = 24%

The primary goal of ABSITE Quest is to eliminate these educational barriers through a convenient and manageable study program for general surgery residents.

The Solution

ABSITE Quest gives general surgery residents the opportunity to engage in daily learning via Qstream’s mobile friendly learning platform. Up to 10 context-rich questions, answers, and explanations are delivered to trainees every day to practice and maximize their knowledge, understanding and apply what has been taught both on paper and in the operating room. By using an engaging microlearning platform that promotes daily learning, ABSITE Quest improves knowledge retention using a scientifically proven learning methodology:

  • Testing Effect: Every time you retrieve information, you are building new connections between synapses in your brain, which in turn enables you to access the information easily in the future. It’s important to be able to retrieve knowledge and apply it to different situations, and in most cases, consistent testing and practice is the most effective way to learn. ABSITE Quest provides strategic, low-pressure practice questions that prepare residents for the day of the exam far in advanced.
  • Spaced Repetition: This evidence-based learning methodology improves long-term memory by refreshing information in intervals. Initially developed and studied by Harvard Medical School Associate Professor, Dr. B. Price Kerfoot, ABSITE Quest and Qstream utilize this technique to deliver an exclusive learning experience on a mobile application.

“I knew there had to be a better way to study and build a solid knowledge base for the ABSITE exam and beyond. Sure, I could emergently repair a ruptured aneurysm, resect intestines, or dissect out a gallbladder—but in over two decades of structured education, I realized no one ever really taught me how to learn, recall, and apply what’s taught. Finally, Qstream provides that efficiency and surgical approach to learning that trainees need.”

– Jason Weinberger, Trauma Surgeon and Founder, ABSITE Quest

The Approach

The key to ABSITE Quest’s success lies in its ability to fit into the busy schedules of surgery residents. Qstream’s microlearning platform sends push notifications with at least three questions a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. This facilitates learner engagement throughout the year without significantly disrupting day-to-day activities.

The question sets are given on a daily cadence and mimic the difficulty and style of the actual ABSITE exam. The learner gains extra assistance through a detailed answer explanation, so they know how to approach the problem in future situations with patients.

Qstream’s microlearning platform tracks the learners’ responses to questions each day. Correct answers are repeated every 21 days until answered correctly twice. With two correct answers, the question is considered mastered and “retired” from the question deck. Incorrect answers are repeated every 8 days until the learner gains proficiency. If needed, the learner is able to access any retired questions anytime they want for further review.

Qstream’s microlearning platform incorporates game mechanics which displays a leaderboard competition where the learner earns points for each question attempt and bonuses for all correct answers. They get weekly emails showing their progress in comparison to their peers, and a $100 monthly prize is awarded to the top scorer. Game mechanics and leaderboards help keep students engaged in the ABSITE Quest program year-round allowing them to compete against other students across the country to stay motivated

On the administrative side, the resident’s faculty members receive weekly performance summaries and instant access to their residents’ learning activity statuses. Additionally, they have the ability to view heatmaps and dashboards that allow them to have a complete view of each residents’ current proficiency levels and improvement overtime on specific curriculum topics. Qstream enables faculty the opportunity to craft messaging based on their resident’s proficiency to offer personalized coaching suggestions in real time.

The Results

Over 20 peer-reviewed clinical trials have been conducted to test the effectiveness of spaced learning utilizing Qstream. The platform has been adopted by many of the country’s top healthcare institutions to educate their employees, boosting up to 93% daily user engagement, increase in proficiency by 17% on average, and improved knowledge retention up to 170%.

Across the country, more than 1,200 residents and 210 residency training programs have utilized ABSITE Quest. On average, surgical residents take under 5 minutes to complete their microlearning challenges each day. Some key takeaways indicating how ABSITE Quest increases clinical knowledge retention and neural network development are as follows:

  • Over 76% of ABSITE Quest users saw an increase in their ABSITE score & the average percentile score increased by almost 16% from 2019-2020.
  • Qstream’s spaced learning methodology increased surgical resident’s ABSITE proficiency by 23% as the average ABSITE correct answer proficiency increased from 68% on the first attempt to 91% on second spaced attempt.


“I absolutely love the notifications! It has helped questions become a part of my routine, even on a busy service so that I can have a more longitudinal study schedule. I also love the repetition algorithm that helps cement the concepts.”

– Kevin, Residency Student, ABSITE Quest User


Looking Ahead

As we move toward 2021, ABSITE Quest is introducing some exciting new advancements to the program to build upon their success and the success of general surgery residents across the United States. These updates include options for 3, 5, or 10 daily questions as well as a 125 question Mock-ABSITE exam that mirrors the breadth of topics covered on the real test. The results will provide national benchmarking for residents’ performance to keep people informed on their progress before the actual exam in January. The mock test can be administered anytime and completed on any mobile device.

Learn more about ABSITE Quest and try out a free ABSITE Quest demo!

About Jason Weinberger

Jason Weinberger is an attending trauma surgeon and surgical intensivist at Lehigh Valley Health Network. Jason remembered what it was like being a busy surgical resident a few years back and knew there had to be a better way to study for the ABSITE exam. He realized he never truly knew “how to learn” until he found Qstream. Through his collaboration with Qstream’s microlearning platform and his passion for surgical education, ABSITE Quest was established.

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