Congratulations! You have survived your first year of dental school and are now ready to take on your first standardized examination in becoming a dentist.
The National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) Part 1 is a one-day exam that is composed of 400 questions from the basic sciences, taken over a seven-hour period. About 20% of the test is grouped into testlets with interdisciplinary focus and clinical application.
The subject areas tested on Part 1 of the NBDE include:
- Anatomic Science
- Dental Anatomy
The exam specifications, schedule, registration, fees, and the rescheduling and cancellation policy, etc. can all be obtained from the ADA’s 2016 NBDE Part 1 Guide.
How do you prepare and study efficiently for this exam, building up the stamina to test for seven hours and ensure passing? By now, you will have developed strong study habits that you will need to call upon during this time. You will also need great time-management and organizational skills to continue to manage your dental school course load; studying for those pesky pop quizzes, intra-sessional, mid-term and final exams all while preparing for the NBDE (assuming you are taking your test during the regular semester and not over a break, i.e., the summer).
The key to being successful in practically anything in life is to have a plan. Be mindful that a failure to plan is always a sure-fire plan to fail.
So, the NBDE Part 1 is on the horizon for you. The first thing to do is to go to the ADA’s Guide for the NBDE Part 1, which can be found at the following link: http://www.ada.org/~/media/JCNDE/pdfs/nbde01_examinee_guide.ashx. Go through the guide thoroughly and carefully so that you get a general overview of what the exam is all about.
The next thing you should do is apply and schedule your exam. By scheduling your exam, you have now locked in your deadline and have a timeframe to complete your preparation. This will be the motivation behind your studies! Follow this link to apply to take your exam: http://www.ada.org/en/jcnde/examinations/nbde-general-information.
I would recommend giving yourself one to three months to prepare and study for this exam, depending on your individual study habits. Some people may need three months while others can get it done in a much shorter time. In my opinion, it is better to study and learn some new things over a period of time rather than cram information in at the last minute. You do not want to be cramming for this exam!
Now that you have gone through the guide and have scheduled your exam, it is time to develop a game plan. You must now breakdown and designate time to dedicate towards studying. Get out your calendar and start scheduling!
Starting anything is usually the most difficult thing to do. Don’t know where to start? I would highly suggest starting with some old questions. A good source for old exams is the ASDA – NBDE Reprints.
Start at Day 1 and test yourself. This will not only give you an idea of the testing format and the types of questions that are asked, but you will also be able to see how much of the information you know. You will get a pretty good idea of your weak areas and where to place more focus during your studies. Be careful not to rely on these questions as the basis of your studies. The questions can be a bit outdated and concepts might have changed, but it is a good place to start. You can get ASDA NBDE Reprints at the following link: http://www.asdanet.org/store/nbde.aspx. You will have to create an account in order to purchase.
Now that you have a good understanding of the exam, the types of questions that are typically asked, the format, and your deadline, IT IS TIME to kick start your studying. Your lecture notes and textbooks have a world of information. Everything you need to know to pass the NBDE may very well be in there! However, there are many resources that have streamlined all that information in a way that makes it more efficient for you to study and pass this exam.
I will outline a few resources that have been very helpful in my success with the exam. I have also interviewed a few students from my alma mater who have recently took the exam. Rest assured, you are receiving the most up-to-date information:
1. First Aid for the NBDE Part 1
This resource offers a good foundation in all the subject areas and is perhaps one of the most concise. Thus, this is a good place to start your studies. Since it is an easy read, try to get through this book quickly and ensure you are paying attention to key concepts.
2. Mosby’s Review for NBDE
This is another resource that has proved very helpful to many. Some dental students I know have either used the Mosby’s resource or the First Aid book as their starting point. I personally used Mosby’s as a reference book.
3. Dental Decks
This is a must have! After getting the foundation from the resources above, the Dental Decks can be used to both study from and test yourself. Every dental student I know that has passed the exam has credited this resource to their success. Dental Decks are flash cards that are concise, yet packed with high-yield information.
4. Kaplan dentEssentials: High Yield NBDE Part 1 Review
While I did not personally use this resource, dental students have said that it is akin to the Mosby’s or First Aid and covers most of the subject areas well.
5. Dental Boards Mastery
This resource is also highly sought after. While I have also not used this, they have had very good reviews among dental students I interviewed. It was created by dental students in partnership with the University of Iowa, coming equipped with practice questions and quizzes accessible online or by download as an app to your iPhone or Android smartphone. You can use this to break up your studying, and since you can access it via smartphone you can take quizzes and exams anytime, anywhere.
6. BONUS: THE NEXTDDS
THE NEXTDDS will very soon be launching its self-testing tool where you will have access to a bank of over 5,000 questions and answers. You will be able to take practice tests that are structured to align to the NBDE Parts I and II. The question formatting will be flexible to include MCQs, short answer, fill-in-the blank, and video/visual recognition and response, and you will have real-time feedback and coursework scoring. This is all very exciting! Stay tuned for the launch.
Now that you have the resources, here’s some advice:
- Outline your plan of action. Schedule time to study, manage your time wisely, and stay organized.
- Start with the easy subjects and get those out of the way. Review them so that you can move on and spend more time on the more challenging subjects. This will boost your confidence and motivate you to delve into your studies.
- Don’t acquire too many resources. Unless you are super-organized, this will only confuse you and cause stress. Get a few resources and focus on getting through those. You can use your textbooks and school notes as a reference.
- Try to get the most updated study materials. Information gets updated all the time, and while there may not be drastic changes year to year, you want to ensure that you are reading the most updated information on any topic.
- Upperclassmen are your friends. Speak with other dental students who have taken the exam before. Ask them for advice, the resources they used, and what their study habits were.
- As it gets closer to test day, take practice exams. Remember that this exam is seven hours with a scheduled 30-minute break. Pretend as though it were the real exam and go for the full scheduled time. You will be glad you did this come test day.
- This is a serious time, so avoid distractions during studying. You have a deadline and you must stay on task. During your studies you may have to go online to do some research, but do not get side-tracked and end up on YouTube or social media!
I have taken many standardized exams and have always followed the above approaches. They work for me and can hopefully be a guide for you. Ultimately, you have to come up with an approach that works for you. However, any endeavor towards success includes having a plan, getting and staying organized, and managing your time well.