The years of studying and training required to become a professional dentist may present some of the most difficult challenges of your professional life. For dental students, one particularly dreaded part of this phase may be taking the National Board Dental Examination.
The National Board Dental Examination or NBDE is a two-part test required to practice dentistry in the United States. The NBDE is typically structured as two 400 question tests taken over three days and covers various aspects of dentistry such as dental anatomy, endodontics, microbiology, oral surgery, pathology, periodontics, and pharmacology. Students must score at least 75% to pass.
If you hope to take and pass the NBDE, preparation is typically the key. Along with preparation, consider these ten study strategies to help prepare you for the NBDE the first time you take it:
1. Stick to a Routine
Developing and sticking to a routine can be a helpful time management tactic and a way to prioritize studying. According to a Forbes Magazine interview of 29 top students at some of the nation’s more prestigious universities, diligent time management, including social media blackouts, was a key to test preparation.
When planning your routine, consider keeping your goals realistic. Look at the recommended total study hours, then compare that with your schedule and the amount of time you have left before the exam. Studying for eight hours a day over a few weeks probably may not be as practical as consistently studying for smaller blocks of time over a period of several months.
2. Take Lots of Practice Tests
Of the many online resources available to help dental students, practice tests may be especially valuable although not all are available free of charge. A simple online search for “NBDE practice questions” presents a variety of helpful resources, including the American Dental Association’s 40 question practice test exemplifying the four major disciplines of the dental board exams.
3. Stay in Touch With Your Teachers
Your professors and advisors can be another valuable resource as you face the dental exams. They’re already invested in your success and may have advice to share from years of helping students prepare, as well as their own personal experience.
4. Start Early
Passing the dental boards may not be anything like taking a final in high school or college. These exams are not just the culmination of years of education and preparation, they’re an important screening process to ensure you can safely care for patients. It’s generally recommended you begin preparing months in advance, in order to pass it the first time.
5. Balance Classes and Test Prep
Many dental students will be taking their last semester of classes while preparing for their board exams. Plan to split your study time between your current classes and your upcoming exam. Doing so may mean temporarily cutting back on time spent in other areas of your life that have the flexibility to be put on hold.
6. Join or Organize a Study Group
Working with a group helps some students to focus, make time to study and to better comprehend the materials. According to Florida National University, working with a group also helps students to understand material at a deeper level by giving an opportunity to seek help from peers.
7. Ask the Professionals
Nobody may understand the challenges you’re up against better than practicing dentists. Every working dentist in the U.S. may have had to pass a version of the examinations for which you are preparing. Asking a practicing dentist about their experience with the examination may not only give you important insights and advice, it may also present an opportunity for networking in your field.
8. Schedule Your Test
Until you schedule your test, you might not feel the urgent need to open those books and comprehensively study. If you’re more effectively motivated by a concrete deadline, schedule your test well in advance.
9. Use Visual Aids
Flashcards, charts, diagrams, and graphs are helpful visual aids for exam prep, particularly if you're a visual learner. In addition, simply organizing the information and preparing your visual materials can also help you to retain the information more effectively.
Nearly 10% of students fail this exam on their first try. Prepare, strategize and understand what you’re up against, to increase your chances of passing. For those 10 percent of students that won’t pass, the ADA explains that retaking the licensure exams is a relatively minor setback with rules and options that vary regionally.
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