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Claire J

Test-Taking Tips To Help You Pass The NBDHE (National Board Dental Hygiene Exam)

Test-Taking Tips To Help You Pass The NBDHE (National Board Dental Hygiene Exam)

11/11/2018 6:28:12 PM   |   Comments: 0   |   Views: 638


Test-Taking Tips To Help You Pass The NBDHE
(National Board Dental Hygiene Exam)


What can you do to maximize your chances of succeeding at your regional and national dental hygiene board examinations? Here are 5 strategies that have proven to work with students I mentored at StudentRDH, and I would like to share them with you so you can also successfully pass all of your examinations.

Find the keywords in the question (at all cost) in every single question of the NBDHE.

Detectives require clues to solve a case, and so do we. Those clues are presented as keywords in the exam questions. The keywords do not have to be necessarily difficult (e.g., verrucas vulgaris) and can be any verb, noun, adjective, or adverb.

How can keywords help us? By making us focus on what the question statement is trying to achieve and muting the background noise that distracts you from properly understanding the true meaning of the question. Also, questions are made by humans who intentionally or unintentionally leave you hints. So identify those hints, and let them lead you to the correct answer.

Strategy: Find 1-5 keywords in the question even if you have to read the question again and again. Then circle those words and focus your attention on the purpose of those words.

Review the example below:

Q: The texture of the tissue affected by chronic periodontitis is most likely to be:

 1.) Smooth

In this case, the keyword is “chronic.” In an acute phase, the gingiva will appear swollen, red, shiny, and smooth. When the condition persists, scar tissue makes the gingiva become fibrotic, lighter in color, and tough. Therefore, the word “chronic” was the one clue that leads to the correct answer.

2.  Pretend you are reading a text of a new language you just learned (when you read a question on the NBDHE)

When you have just learned a new language, you usually take the time to understand each word and comprehend the meaning of sentences. Questions in your exam deserve the same amount of attention. You may ask yourself why you should do this because your English is already perfect. The answer is because we all have the natural tendency to rush through the exam, being concerned about not finishing on time. As a result, our mind let our eyes skip words that could be the critical clues leading to the correct answer. Rushing through questions in the exam is like building a car without thoroughly reading the instructions.

Strategy: SLOW DOWN. Statistics show that the majority of students finish the exam before the given time (session one – 4 hours, session two – 3.5 hours) in the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam (NBDHE). Therefore, there is no need to rush!

Review the example below:

Q: The following statements are true about the modified pen grasp EXCEPT:

1.) Fingers form a soft C-shape 
Ring finger rests against the middle finger 
Pad of the middle finger rests on the instruments
4.) Thumb and middle finger are placed opposite of each other on the handle

The answer is D because it is not the “middle” finger, but the “index” finger that is placed opposite from the thumb in a modified pen grasp. This example illustrates how one word in the answer choice can make all the difference.

3.  When you see words such as “NOT,” “EXCEPT,” or “FALSE” in the question, read every answer choice and assess if it is TRUE or FALSE.

Have you ever made the mistake of not paying enough attention to the “NOT,” “EXCEPT,” or “FALSE” in the question and selected a “correct” statement when you were supposed to select an “incorrect” statement?  We all have experienced this at some point. In fact, this is one of the most common mistakes that test takers make.

Why is this mistake so commonly made? It is because the majority of exam questions are about detecting the “correct” answer. So naturally, your brain is trained to recognize and to choose a correct statement. Making such a mistake is costly because approximately 10-15% of the exam questions are framed with “NOT,” “EXCEPT,” or “FALSE” words. On the other hand, if you can recognize every single one of those question types, you can increase your overall exam score by 10-15%.

Strategy: Force yourself to answer TRUE or FALSE for each answer choice, and find the one FALSE statement.

Review the example below:

Q: Which of the following is NOT true regarding fluoride varnish?

1.) They are not easily washed away by saliva
The application requires less cooperation from the patient
Usually contains sodium fluoride
The application requires light curing

First of all, you should take a mental note that you need to choose one false statement. Now let’s look at the answer choices. A: True, fluoride varnishes stick to the teeth and are hard to remove. B: True, the varnish is easily applied with a brush. C: True, sodium fluoride is common. D: False, fluoride never needs light curing. Therefore, the answer is D, the only false statement.

4.  If you are unsure about a question on the NBDHE, make a guess, mark the question to review later, and move forward

Do not waste time on questions you have trouble answering because spending more time will not solve the problem. Instead, make a guess and move forward. For the NBDHE and regional boards, selecting the wrong answer does not count against you. Since there are 4 or 5 answer choices for each question, your guess has a 20 - 25% chance of being correct!

Also, it is psychologically proven that when you start struggling, your confidence level goes down. Do not let the negativity affect your performance, and carry on with your positive attitude.

5.  Review your answers before submitting the exam using the “rewind” strategy.

The NBDHE consists of two sections (section one - 200 questions, and section two - 150 questions). At the end of each section, before you submit your exam, use the “rewind” strategy to double check your answers. The rewind strategy consists of the following two parts:

- Start reviewing the very last question of the entire section first and work backward (e.g., #200, #199, #198 and so on). Our ability to focus is usually high in the beginning and gradually diminishes as the exam progresses. As a result, we are more likely to make mistakes towards the end of the exam. The REWIND strategy allows you to pay attention to questions that may have been overlooked.
Verify each question by reading your answer first, then the question statement next. Think about what your answer choice means, then test if your thoughts match the keywords within the question statement. If those two seamlessly match, you can be assured that you have chosen the correct answer.

Review the following example:

Q: The clinician is measuring the distance between the maxillary anteriors and mandibular anteriors using the probe horizontally. What is the clinician measuring?

A. Overjet
Classes of occlusion

Let’s say you have selected A. Overjet. 

Recall from your knowledge that overjet is how much the upper anteriors project “forward” compared to the lower anteriors. Since the information you have gathered from your own thoughts matches the key words in the question “distance between anteriors and probe horizontally,” most likely you have chosen the correct answer.

Practice those 5 strategies described above with school exams, until they become part of your regular test taking habit. If you are able to do so, you will do fantastic on your big day!

Author: Claire Jeong is the founder of StudentRDH, a dental hygiene boards review solution. She graduated from MCPHS University, Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene; served as a student delegate for the ADHA; and is a member of Sigma Phi Alpha, the dental hygiene honor society. Claire has a true passion for education and has been mentoring students from all around the country for the dental hygiene board examinations. Claire is licensed in the United States and Canada. She provides personalized mentorship at StudentRDH and can be reached at



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