Summary Of The Optometry National Board Exam (NBEO)

Today’s article serves the purpose of giving you a quick and general overview of the National Board Exams (NBEO). For more detailed information about the boards refer to future articles.

** Keep in mind, I took all of this information from and Newsletter – The OFFICIAL website for the NBEO. is not affiliated or accredited with the NBEO. My goal was to summarize everything so it’s not so overwhelming! **

What Are The National Boards?: The “Comprehensive National Boards” is the 3 part exam you must pass in order to become a certified optometrist. The parts are meant to test the full range of your abilities as an optometrist, from your communication skills to your cognitive abilities.

Who Creates The Exam?: A broad range of subject-matter experts in the optometric community developed the test; Optometry School faculty members, state board members and OD practitioners.

How Is The Test Graded?: Each part of the boards has a pass-fail standard that must be met.



Part I – Applied Basic Science

(Official NBEO Part 1 Link Here)

About: Applied Basic Science tests/measures a candidate’s fundamental knowledge and understanding of the scientific principles upon which optometric practice is based so that subsequent mastery of clinicalcontent,  both systemic and ocular, can occur.

Administration: Multiple-choice format and the scores are determined by summing the number of correct responses. Part I will be four sessions in length, each session 3½ hours long containing 125 items, for a total of 500 items. Calculators and mechanical pencils will be provided.

Overall: A blend of basic science test items most of which will have the requirement of referencing a clinical condition, either explicitly or implicitly.

Grading: Each question receives one point if correct and ZERO if incorrect.

When: Spring of the 3rd academic year.

Where: View Locations (signing up early allows the testing center of your choice)

Cost: $625

Helpful Links:


Conditions discussed in these topics will be related to…

  1. Refractive Status / Sensory Processes / Oculomotor Processes (175 Questions)
  2. Normal Health / Disease / Trauma (325 Questions)

Anatomy (gross, neuroanatomy, histology and development)

  • 12% – 18%

Biochemistry / Physiology

  • 10% – 14%

Immunology / Microbiology / Pathology

  • 22% – 30%

Optics (geometrical, physical, ophthalmic, physiological)

  • 31% – 35%


  • 11% – 17%



Part II- Patient Assessment and Management

(Official NBEO Part II Link Here)

About: Patient cases for the PAM examination are targeted to assess entry-level competence. Therefore, patient cases generally focus on either typical presentations of relatively high-frequency conditions or conditions with low-frequency but high-criticality.

Administration: Multiple Choice- Consists of 60 simulated patient cases and is administered over 2 sessions, each 3.5 hours in length. Each patient case begins with a scenario in which the patient history and clinical data are presented. The patient case scenarios are followed by either 5 or 6 related multiple-choice test items, for a total of 350 items. Each test item contains as many as 10 options, only one of which is correct.

Grading: Each question receives one point if correct and ZERO if incorrect. Multiple-choice format and the scores are determined by summing the number of correct responses.

When: Midway through 4th academic year.

Where: View Locations (signing up early allows the testing center of your choice)

Cost: $625

Helpful Links:

  1. Click Here For The “Content Matrix”(A Chart That Summarizes Subject Areas & Their Relative Emphasis For Part II)
  2. Click Here For Sample Patient Assessment and Management Cases
  3. Click Here For A List Of Drugs Referenced By Trade Name & Generic Name (These lists will be provided on your test booklet)
  4. Click Here For A List Of Clinical Abbreviations(These abbreviations will be provided in your test booklet)
  5. Click Here For Scenario Templates (Disease Trauma) & (Refraction/Sensory/Oculomotor Condition)


Disease/Trauma (60% – 70% of cases):

  • Lids / lashes / lacrimal system / ocular adnexa / orbit  (2 – 4 cases)
  • Conjunctiva / cornea / refractive surgery  (6 – 8 cases)
  • Lens / cataract / IOL / pre- and post-operative care  (3 – 5 cases)
  • Episclera / sclera / uvea (2 – 4 cases)
  • Vitreous / retina (6 – 8 cases)
  • Optic nerve / neuro-ophthalmic pathways  (5 – 7 cases)
  • Glaucoma  (2 – 4 cases)
  • Emergencies  (2 – 4 cases)
  • Systemic health  (2 – 4 cases)

Refractive Status/Sensory Processes/Oculomotor Processes (30% – 40% of cases):

  • Ametropia  (3 – 5 cases)
  • Ophthalmic optics  (1 – 3 cases)
  • Contact lenses  (3 – 5 cases)
  • Low vision  (1 – 3 cases)
  • Accommodative / vergence / oculomotor anomalies  (2 – 4 cases)
  • Amblyopia / strabismus  (1 – 3 cases)
  • Perceptual function / color vision  (1 – 3 cases)
  • Visual and human development  (1 – 3 cases)



Part III- Clinical Skills Evaluation

(Official NBEO Part 3 Link Here)

  1. Click Here For The Main Information Document For The CSE Part III – It is highly advisable you download this form. This form contains links for other forms related to part III such as – (station evaluation forms, case history data interpretation form, opthalmic lens evaluation form, ocular disease management: patient education script form).

Administration: Strictly performance and students will not answer any questions. Student candidates will examine a different patient at each of four 30-minute stations, in the performance of 18 clinical skills. The exam is administered in one 3.5 hour session. Examiners will evaluate each candidate on more than 300 performance items. Exams will be primarily videotaped, without the examiner in the room (including videotaped BIO/SL camera feeds). This way multiple remote examiners can have a say in your performance by reviewing the tape, not just one.** Note this is for class of 2012 and on, not 2011**

The examination primarily measures psychomotor skills and contains an assessment of affective clinical habits and attitudes and communication skills as well as interpretation of clinical findings.

Grading: Each evaluation item is worth 1-10 points based on how critical the procedure is. These items are graded on an absolute basis, so it’s either full credit or no credit is given.

When: Student candidates are permitted to take Part III just before they graduate from an ACOE-accredited institution.

Where: (Charlotte, North Carolina For 2012 Students and On) — (Click Here For 2011 Students)

Cost: $625


Station 1:
(click here to see the evaluation form Station 1)

1. Case History / Patient Communication

2. Near Cover Test

3. Binocular Extraocular Muscle Motility Evaluation

4. Blood Pressure Measurement

5. Ophthalmic Lens Evaluation

Station 2:
(click here to see the evaluation form Station 2)

6. Pupil Testing

7. Biomicroscopy

8. Goldmann Applanation Tonometry

9. Gonioscopy

10. Collagen Implant Insertion and Removal

11. Ocular Disease Management: Patient Education

Station 3:
(click here to see the evaluation form Station 3)

12. Retinoscopy

13. Distance Subjective Refraction

14. Heterophoria and Vergence Testing at Distance

15. Accommodation Testing

Station 4:
(click here to see the evaluation form Station 4)

16. Binocular Indirect Ophthalmoscopy

17. Dilated Biomicroscopy and Non-Contact Fundus Lens Evaluation

18. Soft and GP Contact Lens Insertion, Evaluation, and Removal

**NOTE** For Students Taking Part 3 In Charlotte North Carolina** – As time approaches to begin the one-site, a list of optometric instruments & equipment will be dispersed to all students taking the test  in the new one-site test center in Charlotte. The NBEO will also add DETAILED “how-to-use” videos to the NBEO website that will demonstrate use of the equipment, and there will be time allotted in each CSE test slot for candidates to try out the instruments.




When To Register?
Students should always sign up early for their various board exam parts.  Early registration avoids the extra late registration fee.  Also, late registration can put a student up against a full-to-capacity test site, which means students are placed in test sites other than those they’d prefer to use.  This can result in extra travel expenses for these students who fail to register in a timely manner.

Click here for registration deadlines!

So that is a summary of the 3 part National Board Examination!

Do you have any questions? – Post them in the comments below and we will do our best to provide response from OD’s who have taken the boards and passed them.

Let’s get the ball rolling! Post some questions, comments and experiences below!



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