Dental board exams can be challenging and anxiety-producing, but they're a critical step in becoming a dentist, and most dental students are focused on passing them the first time around.
According to the NBDE, 10.6% of first-time dental exam takers fail Part I of the test. In 2017, 8.3% failed Part II the first time they took it. Since it's pass/fail, here's are some things to consider while you prepare:
1. Plan to Study for 100+ Hours
To pass your boards, don’t minimize the amount of time you’ll need to study. The recommended amount of time to study for the exams is 2-3 hours per credit, per week, throughout the marking period as your exam date approaches.
That can add up to more than 100 hours for dental students who are in school on a full-time basis. If you space out those hours of study, you'll be prepared when your exam date arrives and can feel confident in your knowledge.
Studying doesn't just mean looking at your textbook and notes or creating flashcards — you'll also need to keep practicing any procedures to develop muscle memory along with informational memory.
If you're not able to handle procedures correctly and efficiently, you could end up having to retake at least one part of your dental board exams, which can delay beginning your career.
To ensure you have enough time to study, we recommend that you:
- Create a calendar that balances your class time with dedicated study time, blocking out those 100+ study hours in advance.
- Ensure you have the locations and resources necessary to practice procedures.
- Work with peers to keep your schedule and actively review information.
- Consult recent graduates and mentors to ensure your plans are sufficient.
2. Go Back to the Basics
There's plenty of specialized knowledge in dentistry, but there are also many basics to learn and build on, including a clear understanding of anatomy and physiology, along with basic science and clinical dentistry information.
Don’t assume specialized procedures will make up all of your boards: anything you've learned during your time in dental school can be part of the exam. Dental anatomy, anatomic sciences, pathology, occlusion, and microbiology are all areas that may be included during your dental board exams. Some of these topics may have been from your earliest classes.
Actively studying over time, instead of cramming right before exams, can help you recall and retain these basic, essential pieces of information. That will reduce your stress and give you a better chance of passing.
3. Review Your Previous Exams and Practicals
As you study for your dental board exams, make sure to re-examine your past evaluations to see where you did well and where you need to improve.
Some areas of dentistry will come easier to you than others. Ultimately, you'll need to have at least a realistic level of competency in all the areas the dental board exams require. By looking back at your past exams, you can see where you need to focus more study and practice hours.
Looking back on your past practicals and exams helps to create "guideposts" for you, so you can see the information that has to be reviewed in-depth, versus what you already know well.
You can spend less time on the areas where you're already comfortable and competent, and devote more of your time to areas where you may be struggling. Not only does that give you more confidence in those areas, but it may also make it easier for you to pass your dental board exams on the first try.
4. Sleep & Decompress
Studying is a crucial part of your success in the dental board exams, but there's more to doing well on those exams than just knowledge of the subject. You also have to make sure you're properly taking care of yourself.
One of the best ways to do that is to get enough sleep. Having a regular sleep schedule, along with setting aside time to unwind, gives your brain and body a break. Dental school can be very intense, and studying for exams only adds to the stress you’re already feeling.
In fact, it's important to note that napping prior to taking an exam may even help improve your memory recall. It can offer the same effect as cramming for information.
What's Next in Your Career?
Getting through dental board exams can take a huge weight off your shoulders. School will be done. Tests will be done. Then, it'll be time to consider what comes next for you. Are you ready to think beyond your exams?
Not everyone wants the same type of post-school experience, and you're the only person who can decide yours.
Of course, that's a lot easier to do when you've got all the knowledge you need to truly make an informed decision. Let us help you get that knowledge, and get started on your dental career. Download the post-dental school survival guide to understand what life is like after dental school. Not only can this guide help you be more prepared, but it can get you thinking about how you want to move forward.