What can you do to
maximize your chances of succeeding at your regional and national dental hygiene board examination?
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
the key words in the question (at all cost)
require clues to solve a case, and so do we. Those clues are presented as key
words in the exam questions. The key words do not have to be necessarily
difficult (e.g., verrucas vulgaris) and can be any verb, noun, adjective, or
can key words 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.
Find 1-5 key words 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
the example below:
Q: The texture of the tissue affected by chronic
periodontitis is most likely to be:
In this case, the key
word 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 lead to the correct answer.
you are reading text of a new language you just learned
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.
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!
the example below:
The following statements are true about the modified pen grasp EXCEPT:
A. Fingers form a soft C-shape
B. Ring finger rests against the middle finger
C. Pad of the middle finger rests on the instrument
D. Thumb and middle finger are placed opposite of each other on the
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
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 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%.
yourself to answer TRUE of FALSE for each answer choice, and find the one FALSE
Review the example
Q: Which of the
following is NOT true regarding fluoride varnish?
A. They are not easily washed away by saliva
B. Application requires less cooperation from the patient
C. Usually contains sodium fluoride
D. Application requires light curing
First of all, you
should take a mental note that you need to choose the 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.
you are unsure about a question, make a guess, mark the question to review
later, and move forward
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!
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.
your answers before submitting the exam using the “rewind” strategy
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.
rewind strategy consists of the following two parts:
Start reviewing the very last question of the entire section first and work
backwards (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 key words within the question statement. If those two seamlessly
match, you can be assured
that you have chosen the correct answer.
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?
D. 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.
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!
Jeong, BS, MS, RDH
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 ofSigma Phi Alpha, the dental hygiene honor society. Claire has a true
passion in 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 email@example.com.