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Dear Debbie,

When should I sign up to take the ARDMS SPI exam? I have just completed the Physics and Instrumentation course at the college where I am enrolled in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program. Should I take it now when it is still “fresh” in my memory, or wait till I have finished the program. I want to pass it the first time.

– Maria B.

Dear Maria B.,

It’s true that you are eligible to take the SPI exam as soon as you finish a Physics course at your school or college. The benefit obviously lies in the fact that much of that physics information is still “fresh” in your mind. Another advantage is that you will have already completed one part of the ARDMS credentialing process, and will only need to take the specialty exam of your choice when you become eligible. Passing that SPI exam now would no doubt make you feel that you are halfway there already. There are, however, some disadvantages in taking it at this point in your education. Quite a few of the questions on that examination relate to experience in operation and instrumentation of the ultrasound machine. These experienced based questions may prove very challenging to someone who has not had more work / externship experience in image analysis and equipment operation. There is just no way to memorize it. It comes with experience. In addition, not all physics courses are comparable in breadth and scope. Some courses are more comprehensive and focus upon preparation for the SPI exam, while others do not. You must also ask yourself if you will have sufficient time at this point in your education to prepare and focus upon the examination.

In my opinion, if you truly feel that you have an excellent grasp of the subject matter and excelled in your physics coursework, you may choose to attempt the exam prior to completing your education. There is no penalty if you do not pass, and if you do, you will be further inspired in your educational endeavors. If, however, you do not feel 100% proficient and knowledgeable in sonography physics and instrumentation, I think it would be best to finish your training program, then take an SPI review course. Oftentimes, the second time that you review the information, it becomes much clearer and more understandable. You will also have the benefit of real life experience in Doppler and instrumentation, which will definitely help you with many of the questions.