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Board Studying Strategies

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Part 1 of the National Board of the Dental Examiner is an eight-hour examination consisting of 400 questions probing across a broad range of dental and biomedical knowledge. Studying for this exam can be a laborious process enhanced by the infinite number of “resources” marketed towards first- and second-year students. Knowing where and when to begin is essential, and it can help dental students conserve their most precious resource, time.


                  While the task may appear daunting, remember that you have been preparing for this exam for years. All of your classes in dental school are topics that will be covered on the exam. The important part of board preparation is to schedule dedicated time and set short and long-term goals while studying. While there is no definite amount of time one needs to allocate to boards review, task completion can vary from person to person. Therefore, be realistic with yourself and have general goals set to determine what you need to accomplish with this process.

                  In order to establish a baseline, take a practice exam at least three months prior to taking the real exam. This is preferably completed in one sitting (I recommend a Saturday or Sunday), but can also be divided into two sections if it seems too overwhelming (200 questions in the first sitting of 3 and a half hours, and 200 questions in the second sitting of 3 and a half hours). Afterwards, review the answers in detail by reading the explanations and take note of your weaknesses and trouble zones in a notebook or computer. Reviewing the answers may take a while, even two to three times longer than the exam itself, so give yourself ample time.

                  Once you have a decent understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, begin to spend time reviewing the material that you’re least sure about. Start with a NBDE part 1 review book; I recommend First Aid. Use this as a guide to structure your studying around key concepts. Then, tap into other detailed resources and learn as much as you can about a system or discipline. Get to the point where most of the information can become intuitive. Memorizing buzz words and whatnot is a complete waste of time. You may pass the boards, but all the time spent will have been a complete waste.

The study material should flow from your brain in an eloquent manner. The only way to establish this is to dive deeper: learn why something behaves the way it does and ask how certain tidbits are related to each other. This is a thinking person’s profession and the board reflects it. Half of the exam is recalling information and the other half is being able to play with it and come up with a logical conclusion.

                  Now, once you’re all through studying, take a final practice exam a week before the real thing. During the week before the exam, review some of the less intuitive concepts and nuances that must be memorized. Don’t go too hard during this week, however. Relax, exercise regularly and get ample rest while you study to ensure that you have a clear mind before acing the NBDE!