ASBMB certification of proficiency in BMB
Once a program has been accredited by the ASBMB, its students become eligible to earn ASBMB certifiation of proficiency in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. To achieve this certification, students must:
- Be in their final year of study for their BMB degree, and
- Exhibit satisfactory performance on the ASBMB certification exam.
ASBMB certification exam
All students who are enrolled in an ASBMB-accredited program are invited to take the certification exam in their junior or senior year. Students may attempt the exam only once during their undergraduate career regardless of outcome.
The certification exam has been designed to test students’ knowledge and understanding of the core competencies in biochemistry and molecular biology developed by the ASBMB and its members. Questions have been structured to assess these concept and skill areas at both foundational and advanced levels of cognitive processing.
Preparing for the exam
The exam is administered electronically and includes 12 questions, primarily free response format, to be completed in 60 minutes. Please refer to the following for information on the learning goals and objectives around which exam content is built by a community of ASBMB Education Associates and the practice questions provided:
Each year, registration instructions and proctoring guidelines will be emailed to faculty contacts at all accredited schools. If you are a student in an ASBMB-accredited program, contact your faculty coordinator for more information about registering for the exam. Students cannot register directly with the ASBMB.
There is a fee of $45 per student for the certification exam to help defray the costs involved in the preparation, administration and scoring of the exam. Accredited programs must submit payment on behalf of their students.
A new certification exam is constructed each yaer. The 60 minute exam is administered within a three-week period in spring. Exact dates of the exam period change each year to avoid conflict with the ASBMB annual meeting. Key dates associated with the current exam cycle are provided below.
Scoring and results
A volunteer team of scientist-educators scores the exams using detailed rubrics. Every evaluator participates in a training experience to enhance uniformity of scoring. Each student's response is reviewed by multiple independent scorers. Answers exhibiting unusually disparate scores are investigated further to resolve the outliers. Learn more about our scorers and scoring process.
The ASBMB compiles all scores and reviews national performance on all questions in conjunction with the certification exam steering group prior to finalizing results. We communicate the results to each student individually via email. In addition, each program receives a report of the aggregate scores achieved by their students on each question.
Categories for exam results
The exam consists of a total of 12 questions assessing core competencies that span the areas of energy and metabolism, macromolecular structure and function, information storage and transfer and scientific skills. One of these questions is used for piloting and does not count towards the student’s score. The number of questions a student answers correctly (i.e., at a level of “proficient” or above) determines the resulting scoring category.
Beginning in 2023, the ASBMB now reports student exam results using the five categories described below. This change means that all students who take the exam, as well as their accredited programs, receive information about the student’s exam performance. Previously, only students whose exam scores placed them in the top two categories were notified that they had achieved either Certification or Certification with Distinction; students whose scores were below the certification threshold were simply informed that they had not attained certification. These additional assessment data should provide a more complete picture of student exam performance and learning.
The list below explains the current criteria for each ASBMB scoring category:
- Mastery: 10 or 11 core exam questions answered correctly (corresponding to Certification with Distinction in prior years)
- Proficiency: 8 or 9 exam questions answered correctly (corresponding to Certification in prior years)
- Approaching Proficiency: 6 or 7 exam questions answered correctly
- Developing Proficiency: 4 or 5 exam questions answered correctly.
- Emerging Proficiency: 3 or fewer exam questions answered correctly
Each of the four core concept and skill areas is typically represented by three exam questions. To achieve a score of “Proficiency” or “Mastery”, a student must correctly answer at least eight questions (of a total of 11 exam questions). Thus, both a breadth and a depth of knowledge — together with the ability to clearly express this knowledge in response to the exam questions — are required to demonstrate proficiency or mastery of BMB core concepts. In comparison, correct answers on six or seven questions are required to place in the category “Approaching Proficiency”. A student attaining a score of “Approaching Proficiency” would have exam responses that demonstrated either breadth or depth of BMB learning.
Interpretation of exam results
Like any assessment tool, the ASBMB certification exam provides one perspective on performance. Exam results should therefore be used as only one part of a holistic evaluation of learning. Certain technical, research, and oral communication skills, for instance, cannot be fully assessed using this exam format.
While multiple factors may contribute to a score below the certification threshold, it is important to note that performance on this exam is not a measure of an individual’s potential to grow as a scientist. Instead, the score is a snapshot of academic performance on the day of the exam, in response to the questions selected for the current exam. The society expects that completion of an ASBMB-accredited undergraduate program will have given students the opportunity to build a foundation as a molecular life-scientist.
Additionally, not all students graduating from ASBMB-accredited programs will have an exam score to report. The ASBMB does not require accredited programs to administer the exam, and each accredited program which chooses to offer the exam may make it optional for students completing that program.
Each year, the success of exam development and scoring is largely dependent on a volunteer community of scientist–educators. In recognition of their time and efforts, volunteers are appointed ASBMB Education Associates. To find out more about what this work entails and to sign up to volunteer, see below:
- Exam question writing — Specific details coming soon; general information about exam development can be found in a 2021 publication about the ASBMB certification exam.
- Exam scoring
2023 exam results by the numbers
- 926 exams administered at 80 ASBMB-accredited programs
- 294 total students achieved mastery or proficiency
- 65 students achieved mastery of core concepts
- 229 students demonstrated proficiency of core concepts
2024 dates and deadlines
More information about the 2024 exam cycle will be provided in October 2023.
If you have any questions regarding the ASBMB certification exam, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.