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CPDO® Self-Assessment Examination

CPDO Exam Background

The subject matter included within the CPDO examination is intended to assess practice-level knowledge and experience in ocular disease and related systemic conditions. CPDO candidates have completed their formal academic education and have been out in the professional world for a wide variety of time intervals. Ideally, they have been practicing all facets of current scope-of-practice optometry as they consistently have updated their knowledge bases through continuing education activities.

However, CPDO candidates may practice at different levels across all areas of "life and sight" optometry. Therefore, the incidence and prevalence of the case ocular conditions, as well as the subtlety of the clinical findings, are of varied difficulty levels to accommodate the different professional experiences.

Since the CPDO examination is designed for seasoned clinicians, some relatively infrequently encountered disease subject matter topics are presented in this examination. Conversely, cases involving common, straightforward ocular disease conditions are equally valuable to the assessment to provide a wide range of exam material sophistication. The test material on the CPDO examination is carefully analyzed, reviewed, and updated. CPDO study topics can be viewed by clicking here. Though all CPDO subject matter is listed, any individual administration of the CPDO exam does not incorporate nearly all of the topics on the list.

The questions in this self-assessment primarily focus on the diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease. Some items may touch upon related systemic conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension, Graves disease) that affect the eye. Other items involve the clinical correlation of basic science principles.

CPDO Eligibility

Candidates need only be licensed to practice optometry in any state or United States territory to sit for the CPDO exam, given that licensure classically implies that proof of graduation from an ACOE-accredited school or college of optometry and proof of passage of the NBEO® exams designated by that state or territory have been rendered and confirmed. There is no eligibility restriction based on having completed a residency or the number of years that a candidate has been involved in active optometric practice, though potential candidates should keep in mind that the exam content targets experienced practitioners.

Purposes of the CPDO Examination

  • Periodically assess licensed practitioners' optometric knowledge regarding sight or life issues
  • Identify any existing knowledge gaps
  • Provide direction toward lifelong learning programs based on interpretation of exam results
  • Document professional development over the course of one's career
  • Provide continuing education credit when assigned by specific state boards of optometry:
    • Contact your state board for information about CPDO CEUs
    • North Carolina awards 12 hours of "Certified Credit" CEUs once every 2 years
    • North Dakota offers 12 hours of "Therapeutic" CEUs once every 3 years
  • Contribute toward the protection of the public health and welfare

CPDO registration

Candidates wishing to take the CPDO examination must register and pay the CPDO assessment fee using the NBEO's online registration system. Click here to begin the registration process. Upon completion of the NBEO online registration, candidates receive an automatic email from the NBEO that confirms that the registration was successfully received.

After the registration is processed, candidates receive a second email from the NBEO that provides the Pearson VUE instructions for selecting a test center. The candidate is asked to contact Pearson VUE to schedule the exam.

Candidates then may visit the Pearson VUE website and select a Pearson VUE test center. Click here for a list of test center locations. Candidates may schedule the exam for any time slot that is available on the test day, at their chosen site. CPDO candidates will be scheduled for a 4-hour testing time slot.


Exam Specifications

  • The CPDO exam consists of:
    • 20 patient cases (with 3-6 items each) = 80 points
    • 40 regular, individual solo items = 40 points
    • 20 minicases (each with 2 items) = 40 points
    • 160 points total
  • Candidate population is licensed optometric practitioners
  • Total Pearson VUE seat time is 4 hours:
    • 5 minutes for NDA/CA (Non-Disclosure Agreement/Candidate Agreement)
    • 25 minutes for Pearson VUE CPDO exam tutorial
    • 3.5 hours for CPDO examination
    • Candidates who already are familiar with the interactive tutorial may go straight from the NDA/CA to the exam
  • The CPDO is a computer-based testing (CBT) examination given at Pearson VUE test centers within the United States
  • Exam material is drawn from these 9 disease conditions:
    • Lids - Lashes - Lacrimal System - Ocular Adnexa - Orbit
    • Conjunctiva - Cornea - Refractive Surgery
    • Lens - Cataract - IOL - Pre-Operative and Post-Operative Care
    • Episclera - Sclera - Anterior Uvea
    • Vitreous - Retina - Choroid
    • Optic Nerve - Neuro-Ophthalmic Pathways
    • Glaucoma
    • Emergencies - Trauma
    • Systemic Health

Assessment Results

CPDO self-assessment results are available to candidates in the same scoring format as the Part II PAM® exam. Scores are broken down by the 9 disease conditions (shown above) to provide examinees with insightful information that can lead to logical, useful choices in CE subject matter. Candidates may look up their scores online by going to CPDO RESULTS ARE NOT MADE AVAILABLE TO STATE BOARDS WITHOUT EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION FROM CANDIDATES. Scores are released ONLY to the candidate him/herself. When a candidate wishes to receive continuing education credit from a state board, the board is informed ONLY of the date that the candidate took CPDO. CEUs from the North Carolina and North Dakota Boards of Optometry are granted independent of examinees' results.

Interactive Pearson VUE CPDO Exam Tutorial

The Pearson VUE CPDO exam tutorial (click here) introduces candidates to the many proprietary features of the Pearson VUE computer-based exam presentation. Among other functions, it escorts a candidate from the basic use of a computer mouse to highlighting reasonable answer options, striking out unneeded answers, flagging items, accessing reference tabs at any time during the exam, and to navigating among the 3 types of CPDO exam material. Following a description of the many Pearson VUE digital features, candidates are able to take a short practice exam that includes 1 patient case with 4 items; 4 solo items; and 2 minicases with their 2 items each. It is highly recommended that all CPDO candidates study the tutorial and then take its practice exam shortly before test day to become familiar with the CBT program capabilities. This preparation will allow candidates efficiently to make their way through the exam. For a last-minute refresher course, the same tutorial is available immediately before starting the exam on test day. Candidates who do not wish to sit through the tutorial on test day are welcome to skip the tutorial and proceed directly to the exam after completing the NDA/Candidate Agreement.

Description of CPDO Item Types

Solo items are relatively straightforward, knowledge-centric, independent entities. They include a question and generally 4-6 answer options, though there may be as few as 3 and up to 10 answer options per question. Click here to view 5 sample CPDO solo items.

  • The CPDO exam contains 40 solo items.
  • The entire solo item section of the Pearson VUE exam appears on a pale blue background to help distinguish this section from the patient case and minicase sections.
  • Solo items may be multiple choice, with a single correct answer, or they may be multiple response, with up to 4 correct answers.
  • Both multiple-choice and multiple-response items are worth one point per item; it is necessary to select all of the correct answers, and only the correct answers, in a multiple-response question to receive credit for that question.
  • The 40 solo items, worth a total of 40 points, are presented on the Pearson VUE test center computer screens one at a time.
  • Click here to view 1 sample solo item as it appears on the Pearson VUE computer screen.

Minicases are somewhat more complex than solo items but not as detailed as patient cases. They each consist of a paragraph of patient findings and 2 related questions. Click here to view 2 sample CPDO minicases.

  • The exam contains 20 minicases.
  • The minicase section of the Pearson VUE CPDO exam appears on a pale orange background to help separate this section from the patient case and solo item sections.
  • On the left side of the Pearson VUE minicase computer screen, the paragraph of patient findings is presented while on the right side of the screen, either of the 2 associated items is shown, one at a time.
  • Minicase items can be of the multiple-choice or the multiple-response type. To earn credit for multiple-response items, all and only correct answers must be selected.
  • The 2 minicase items are worth 1 point each; therefore, each minicase potentially is worth a total of 2 points. The 20 minicases provide 40 total points
  • Click here to view 1 sample minicase as it appears on the Pearson VUE computer screen.

Patient Cases are the most clinically sophisticated item type within the CPDO exam. They include a lengthy, comprehensive scenario of simulated patient data, multiple supportive photos, and 3-6 items per case, each with 4-10 answer options. Click here to view 3 sample CPDO patient cases.

  • There are 20 patient cases on the exam, and they collectively provide 80 items, for a total of 80 points.
  • The patient case section of the Pearson VUE CPDO exam appears on a standard white background.
  • The scenario is found on the left side of the Pearson VUE computer screen. The case images appear at the bottom of the left side of the screen, beneath the scenario. The 3-6 items present one at a time, on the right side of the screen. Candidates are able to view the scenario/images on the left side of the screen at the same time that they work with a case item on the right side.
  • Patient case images typically provide a considerable amount of essential patient information. Photos or short video clips may supply normal or abnormal case details; candidates are expected to correctly interpret the visually presented findings. Images may include, but are not limited to, color ophthalmic photographs and such testing results as VFs, FAs, OCTs, ultrasonography, radiologic imaging, etc.
  • Questions may be multiple choice or multiple response, and each is worth 1 point; candidates must choose all of the correct multiple-response answers, and only the correct answers, to receive credit for those items.
  • Click here for 2 views of 1 sample patient case as it appears on the Pearson VUE computer screen.

Multiple-Response Item Stems

The question portion (stem) of each multiple-response item indicates to the candidate how many of the options should be selected. For example, when an item stem asks, "Which 3 of the following ...," the stem concludes with the phrase (Select 3 answer options) to make it unmistakable to examinees that this is an MR item that requires 3 correct responses.

Item Subject Matter Content

A chart of item content descriptions follows. Patient case items, solo items, and minicase items all are drawn from these categories:

Type of Test Item Item Content
Diagnosis Indicates the most appropriate diagnosis
Related to Diagnosis Relates to data supporting or correlating with the diagnosis; or the correlation of possible additional data; or indicates additional data or the next test needed
Clinical Correlation of Basic Science Principles Relates to pathophysiology, etiology, anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, immunology, microbiology, pathology, optics, epidemiology or pharmacology
Treatment/Management Indicates the most appropriate treatment or management
Related to Treatment/Management Relates to the treatment mechanism; describes additional data needed to treat effectively; indicates additional next test needed; describes patient education; relates to follow-up; or forecasts prognosis

Terminology and Abbreviations Used in the CPDO Exam

Universally known medical terminology is utilized within the CPDO examination. When this verbiage is abbreviated, the abbreviation is included within the Clinical/Laboratory/Dosage Abbreviations list, which can be reviewed here. This reference source is available to candidates during the exam through use of the reference tab at the top of the Pearson VUE computer screen, as is described in the interactive Pearson VUE CPDO Tutorial.

Patient Case Template

To demonstrate a classic CPDO patient case with its standard written portions, a patient case template (click here) may be accessed and reviewed. Not all segments are included in all CPDO cases, and many CPDO cases contain additional section headings.

Medications Used by Patients

All patient case medications are listed under the heading Medications used by patient. Medications are identified by either generic or trade name, but not both. A searchable drug list is available to CPDO candidates as they take their exams, primarily to assist examinees with those generic drugs on the exam that have frequently utilized trade names. Common, well-established generic drugs typically used in optometric practice may not be included on the list since they are universally known.

For reference purposes, the searchable list of drugs (generic and trade) is available on the website (click here) and will be available to candidates while taking the exam at Pearson VUE test centers. Examinees may practice accessing this reference list in the practice exam within the Pearson VUE CPDO tutorial (click here). It should be noted that the drug list includes all drugs used within all NBEO exams. The CPDO exam does not incorporate nearly all of the drugs on the list.

When drugs are mentioned in the CPDO exam, dosages for systemic medications or ocular medications may or may not be specified. When they are indicated, Latin abbreviations are used (qid, hs, po, q2h), with the exception of "qd" in accordance with the JCAHO "Do Not Use" list. "One time per day" or "daily" is used rather than "qd." These abbreviations are included in the main abbreviations list (click here), which also is available during the exam.

Role of Images in CPDO Patient Cases

CPDO cases and test items are intended to emphasize image presentation of clinical data. Image data are preferred over verbal descriptions, as image data are more representative of the clinical information that optometrists regularly obtain and interpret, regardless of whether they depict significant pathology or clinical observations that are unremarkable. Written findings are best for clinical data that may not be observable, such as some chief complaints and other case history data, refractive findings, and intraocular pressures (IOPs).

Typically, the images follow the scenario and provide additional data from the examination of the patient. In a few patient cases, images may be used as part of test items. For example, candidates may be shown a fundus photo and then asked about the etiology of the visible condition.

To maximize clinical realism, bilateral images are provided when appropriate and possible, even when the case condition involves only one eye. This provides an opportunity for the candidate to assess the contralateral eye via the image rather than written description. Candidates should keep in mind that not all images provided within the CPDO exam reveal abnormalities.

Revised 02/07/2019

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