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Considerations and Tips

In General

The following points are meant to help candidates to become better prepared for the questions and getting some ideas about what is needed in order to pass the exam.

Be prepared:

  • If you are below the 50% rate you most likely sat the exam too early.
  • The basis for your training should be at least 3 years of vigorous every-day training and studying, possibly accompanied by specific courses such as the ECVP summer school.
  • Make all efforts to ensure your writing is legible. Any doubt in the clarity of the writing and subsequent understanding will result in no points.
  • Do not use abbreviations, especially for morphological diagnosis (Transmissible Venereal Tumor, not TVT), etiology (Canine Parvovirus Type 2, not CPV-2 ; Mycobacterium bovis, not bovis), names of diseases (Feline Infectious Peritonitis, not FIP) ; otherwise you will not get points. Abbreviations should be restricted to the common scientific vocabulary (DNA, RNA, PCR) and genes.
  • If you are asked two causes, only give two, not three. 

Read the question carefully and be as precise as possible in your answers and descriptions.



Write legibly:

  • All important information should fit on one page for the histology description or in the given lines for all other sections’ questions.
  • Work on your handwriting and test it on colleagues and friends!
  • Train for speed and endurance to describe 20 slides in one session.
  • Be precise, concise and use appropriate terminology:

– for tissue identification: “muscle” is imprecise. For instance, is it smooth, striated skeletal or cardiac muscle?

In your description avoid redundancies and buzz words: “numerous..” is faster to write and will give you as many points as, than “large number of…”


Know your anatomy/histology:

  • Study recognizing endocrine organs, central nervous system and genital organs. (i.e. mammary vs salivary gland, brainstem vs neurohypophysis, pancreas vs adenohyposhysis etc.)
  • Be as specific as possible (i.e. gallbladder or urinary bladder, not only bladder)
  • Specify the anatomy also within the description. (i.e. within the renal medulla or affecting the renal cortex, in which layer of the mucosa?)

Know specific variations of different species:

  • Granulomas and inflammatory cells of reptiles, fish and certain rodents are different than those of mammals.

Look at all the tissue/whole slide:

  • Check the slide without the microscope (Subgross)
  • In the tissue around a neoplasm there may be important changes that are more relevant for the animal’s health than the actual tumor. (i.e. Leishmaniasis in a skin with hemangioma)
  • A slide may contain two organs, which are anatomically attached to each other such as pituitary and rete mirabile.
  • Make sure that there is a logical connection between your description and the morphological diagnosis.

Always include quantitative modifiers:

  • As an example for inflammatory cells: Many lymphocytes, fewer plasma cells, some neutrophils. (Use the order of decreasing of quantity)
  • Use the basic rule: What, where and how many.
  • Make sure that you are familiar with board-style descriptions. Practice this with your supervisor.

Read the question carefully:

  • Is the question name the disease or the etiology?
  • Always answer the one most likely.

Trust on what you see in the slide and on what you know:

  • Inventing things will lead to loss of points.
  • Check a finding to the size and stain when interpreting things. (i.e. Mycobacteria are not seen in H&E stains, describe the size of urates)
  • Do not fixate on a disease and make your description fitting this imagined disease. (i.e. mycobacteriosis and PMWS exist without multinucleated giant cells)
  • There are other disease-processes than tumors and inflammation.
  • It is not enough to name specific inflammatory cells without description, for example: fusion of epithelioid cells (macrophages) containing nuclei arranged in a horseshoe-shaped pattern in the cell periphery (multinucleated giant cells, Langhans type).
  • Cell sizes are given in descriptions of tumors and cytology preparations.



  • Describe everything, including normal structures (correct terminology!). This differs from the general guide lines of the histopathology exam.
  • Know how to recognize cell type/tissue.
  • Have an idea about relative sizes of structures and organisms. You need to know roughly how large a virus is in order not to mistakenly diagnose a bacterium.



  • The cytology is the only exception where the organ and the sampling method (i.e. smear from an exudate, fine needle aspiration, impression from an organ) are given. This is important in order to figure out a list of differential hypotheses (disease processes) already before looking at the slide. By reading the organ and the sampling method, you should already know what you expect to see in the slide.
  • You have to be able to classify the cells (normal, hyperplastic, neoplastic, inflammatory) and always remember to evaluate the acellular component of the slide (background, granules, crystals, etc.).
  • As in any other slide, the cells have to be recognized. Experience is fundamental in this case in order to distinguish different cell types. In cytology almost all cells are individualized and roundish and you cannot rely on architecture as you do when you read histology. However, when clustered you can often gain more information i.e. epithelial or mesenchymal. All cells have to be described and interpreted.
  • The final judgment and the morphological diagnosis must be consistent with your previous description.

Gross pathology

  • Organ: be as specific as possible.
  • Commonly asked questions include the following:
    • Morphologic diagnosis: name the lesion in specific pathologic anatomic terms including all modifiers (severe acute multifocal ulcerative esophagitis, severe visceral urate deposition). Do not forget bilateral symmetrical etc., if appropriate.
    • Etiology or likely cause: name the cause as specific as possible: Leptospira canicola, lead poisoning, genetic defect
    • Name the disease: give the commonly used appellation of the case shown (visceral gout, canine distemper).
    • Etiologic diagnosis: name the organ and the most likely disease process/cause (viral pneumonia, mycobacterial enteritis, uremic gastritis).
    • Differential diagnosis: give one diagnosis for another lesion or disease that would resemble the first diagnosis (lymphadenitis – malignant lymphoma).
    • Pathogenesis: list or describe briefly the series of pathogenetic events that resulted in the lesion or disease shown (glomerular amyloidosis > proteinuria > hypoalbunemia > decreased plasma colloid pressure > generalized edema)

General pathology

  • Read the questions carefully, especially regarding methods such as IHC, Western blot etc. is the question about the protein level, the RNA level or the DNA level?
  • Be concise in your answer.

Veterinary Pathology

  • Be concise in your SAQ answers

Laboratory animal Vet Path subsection : Q&A regarding animal models

  Lab Animal Subsection - Q&A (387.7 KiB, 1,155 hits)

Comprehensive pathology

  • Read the questions carefully – are you requested to summarize some results or to interpret the meaning of the results?
  • Be concise in your description and analysis.
  • When asked to describe and interpret for example survival curves, do not interpret other data you may be presented with.
  • Briefly means succinct and Do not waste time to fill the pages beyond the offered lines: the space we provide is mostly sufficient to answer the question.
  • Again, write legibly, if it cannot be read it won’t get any points.
  • Clearly distinguish between describing results (3 % decrease of survival rate) and interpretation (compound X administration does not alter survival rate after a 28-day study).



Last Updated: June 22nd, 2022