Lessons Learned From Students Who Have Recently Passed The NBDHE!
dental hygiene exam prep

Lessons Learned From Students Who Have Recently Passed The NBDHE!

Preparing for the dental hygiene boards can be a struggle. Sometimes, you might get very anxious simply because you have absolutely no idea what the boards would be like. ? But don’t worry, our team at StudentRDH is here to help put your mind at ease.

We reached out to some students who took and passed the boards and we asked them to share what it was like when they took their boards. Read on and you might find something useful for when your big day comes! 

Were you nervous on the day of the exam? What did you do to make yourself feel better? 

“I was really nervous the day of the exam. I’m not always the best test taker. The people at the exam site were really nice and very helpful so that helped calm my nerves a little bit. I chose to take the tutorial before starting the exam. Right before I hit the start exam button, I took a deep breath and thought, ‘This is it, the last test. This is what I worked and studied so hard for and I’m going to pass.’” – Tara from Philadelphia, PA

“I was actually so nervous I started running late and freaked out a little. I took big deep breaths, focused, and managed to get to the testing center on time. I recommend leaving way earlier than you need to. Since I had been running late, I was very nervous as I started the exam, but I did the same thing- deep breaths, and managed to concentrate again.” – Yanet from Houston, TX

“I have never been so nervous in my life. I have experience writing standardized tests but I felt like I didn’t know a lot about the board exam so I was extremely nervous. It would have been helpful if I knew about the room and the setup. For me when I wrote it was in a bunch of different rooms with computers and the person monitoring the exam randomly sat you. They gave out earplugs. I found my screen very bright which was distracting.” – Alana from Toronto, Canada 

“I don’t really get nervous, but I was for this exam. Because what is on it is unknown. In school, you know what’s expected for you to know on the exam. Before the exam, I stood in the Super Woman pose for a good 30 seconds in the bathroom mirror 🙂 ” – Emily from NJ

“I was VERY nervous the day of the exam. To make myself feel confident, I got up and got ready as if it was a regular day, wore clothes that made me feel more confident in myself. I took the exam question by question, flagged the ones I didn’t know and came back to them at the end. I realized I had more than enough time and was able to slow down and read each question many times. I took all my breaks and even would take a quick break in front of the computer. I would just close my eyes and take deep breaths.” – Sunny from Spokane, WA

“I was so nervous!! I didn’t drive alone. My boyfriend actually took off work to drive me to the testing center. He really calmed my nerves. I wouldn’t recommend testing on the same date as all your friends. I liked not knowing anyone else in the room so I was able to focus on myself. I woke up nice and early and drank a coffee with a good breakfast.” – Sydney from IL

Almost everyone we talked to was nervous – even those who are not the type of person who gets nervous. Some students said the fact that they have no clue what would appear in the exam contributed a lot to their anxiety. The board exam is the biggest exam of every DH student’s life, so it’s totally normal to be very nervous about it! ✌

So what can you do about anxiety. Here are some of the students’ best ideas:

  • Be prepared – this is not just about studying ahead of time, but even with planning what you’ll be doing on the big day.
  • Simulate what the exam conditions would be like. You can start by studying through a computer screen, because you will be taking the boards through a computer too.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep and have a good breakfast before you go. Try to leave for the exam site a little early to avoid possible traffic, and also so you don’t end up rushing (which could add even more anxiety).
  • Ask someone to drive you to the exam site so you can focus on the exam. A few students also said it was better to no take the exam on the same date as their friends because that helped them focus on themselves during the exam.
  • Stay positive. Remind yourself that you worked very hard in DH school and as you reviewed for the boards, so you are definitely ready for this! If you are unsure about a question, flag it so you can review it later, then move on to the next question.
  • Relax and take a deep breath. If meditation usually works for you, then go ahead and do it.

⏰ Did you take any breaks during the exam?

“I took all the breaks because I felt my eyes needed the break from the computer screen. It also helped to just get up and stretch a little by walking around.” – Yanet from Houston, TX

“No, but that’s the kind of studier/test taker I am. I highly recommend taking the breaks if you are used to studying in shorter increments and don’t usually do long marathon sessions.” – Amber from Colorado Springs, CO

dental hygiene exam prep

“I took every break available during the exam. During the short 15-min breaks, I would go on a walk around the building or take a bathroom break for about 5 minutes. During the 30-min break in the middle of the exam, I ate lunch in my car.” – Reagan from NJ

“I took one bathroom break but I felt very confident during the test because I had seen most of the questions before from StudentRDH and school so I was able to power through them.” – Janessa from Tallahassee, FL

“I took 3 bathroom breaks during the exam which made the exam a little longer but it was crucial for me to take those breaks in order to keep my focus on that computer screen and the questions that were being asked.” – Jacqueline from CO

“I took my first two breaks and had snacks for brain fuel on both! I should’ve taken my last break during the case studies but went forward to get them done. I guess I didn’t realize how long the last section would be.” – Sydney from Springfield, MO

Most of the students took every break they were given, while a few only took short breaks to go to the bathroom. The breaks are also great for when you need to rest your eyes, to stretch or relax and walk around a bit, or for a light snack. ?

It’s also important to try to not rush through all the questions and skip breaks, although there were a few who opted not to take breaks because that worked better for them. Do keep in mind that the cases portion can be very draining, so you may want to take the break before tackling that part of the exam. ☝

How difficult was the exam? How many hours did it take you to complete the exam?

We asked the students to rate the difficulty of this year’s exam from a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is difficult), and they rated the difficulty at 7.42 (average based on 24 student respondents). Many said they were pretty confident during the exam because of the preparation they’ve done months before, including the practice exam in StudentRDH which helped make the board’s exam format a bit more familiar. ?

On average, the students took about 5.64 hours to finish their exam. Some of them noted that they realized they actually had enough time to go back to some questions and review them carefully, so they really did not need to rush too much. 

How did you feel after the exam? What did you do afterwards?

“That was the first time I have ever left a test unsure of whether I passed or not. I drove home pretty numb but relieved it was over. Got home and fell asleep” – Tara from Philadelphia, PA

“I truly felt like I failed and like I did a terrible job, and so did most of my classmates. The exam was overwhelming because it was so long and contains 2 years’ worth of information! Even though I felt bad, I tried to relax and spend time with my family.” – Yanet from Houston, TX

“I felt rewarded! I felt really good that I was finally done. I was the first to take the exam in my class, so that was also relieving! Afterwards, I came home and relaxed! I think the next day I caught up on so much sleep, it was great!” – Michaela from RI

“I was fairly confident after the exam. Waiting for the results was the hardest part and the longer I waited the more I began to second guess myself.” – Reagan from NJ  

“After the exam, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I just sat in front of a computer screen for 7 hours taking one of the most important exams in my life. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved that I was done with it or to freak out not being able to receive my scores for 2+ weeks. Afterwards, I ate a nice meal and just relaxed knowing that I did the best I could do and prepared as much as I could have.” – Jacqueline from CO

“I felt pretty good overall. I felt very prepared for the first multiple choice questions. I went out to eat with my boyfriend and went shopping. For sure do something fun to take your mind off of it!” – Sydney from IL

A lot of the students felt a range of emotions when they finished the exam – from relief, to worry, to feel confident and rewarded. The board exam is designed to test you on 2 years’ worth of information after all, so it can be overwhelming. But once that’s done, all you need to do is wait for the results. ?

For some, waiting for about 2 weeks to get the results was the hardest part. The waiting period gave them time to mull over some questions that they were unsure about, or to keep second guessing themselves even though they were very confident right after the exam. A few opted to eat out, shop or do other things to take their minds off of worrying. ?

✍ What would you do differently if you were to take the exam again?

“I would definitely start studying earlier, but I wish I would’ve known about the memory techniques that I learned in StudentRDH earlier. I would’ve liked to be able to make up memory techniques for remembering the material from the beginning of the year.” – Yanet from Houston, TX

“I would definitely practice more with the clinical portion of the exam – example: looking at radiographs and pictures. This is what I struggled with most because orienting yourself to the pictures is what frustrated me the most. I obviously knew my tooth numbers and everything, but the orientation of the pictures was frustrating!” – Michaela from RI

study planner dental hygiene exam prep

“I would definitely start studying StudentRDH sooner than I did. I did study for 3 months but it wasn’t as consistent as I should have been and felt like during the week before my test I was cramming trying to complete each topic in StudentRDH while also trying to study for finals preparing for graduation.” – Jacqueline from CO

“Dedicate more daily time to studying. I seemed to study better in large chunks when I could gain focus. Having focus to think clearly to study was my biggest challenge.” – Sydney from Springfield, MO

“I would have done more case studies. The radiographs were very difficult to diagnose. Pay attention in pharm and path class!”Sydney from IL

Almost everyone said they would have started studying for the exam earlier, instead of doing it only a couple or about three months before they took the exam. Aside from simply reading and reviewing their notes, books, etc., they also recommended dedicating more time for practicing with the mock exams and reviewing cases thoroughly.

Having some organization when studying would help a lot too. If focusing can be a challenge for you, you can try the Pomodoro Technique for starters. ?

Everyone had a different approach to how they took on their exam day, but to be honest, there really is no “one way” to go about this experience. We hope their thoughts gave you great ideas that you can use while you’re studying, or on the day of your exam.

Good luck, and keep pushing on. You can do it! 

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Related article: Test Anxiety, what it is and what can you do to overcome it

(Disclaimer: StudentRDH is NOT affiliated with the NBDHE, NDHCE, CSCE, CDCA, WREB.)

Written by
Claire Jeong, RDH, MS

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