Life as a Dental Hygiene Student : Part 3- Boards

Boards were definitely the most stressful part of being a Dental Hygiene student, which is very understandable because these tests are what determine whether you truly know what you need to know in order to become a Registered Dental Hygienist {RDH}.
I took 5 exams, and I passed all of them! I’m so excited that all my hard work paid off. And yours will too!  Here’s a list of the 5 exams I took, the books I used, what the tests are like, tips from my own experience and more {intriguing, isn’t it?}.

With any big task, there comes preparation. Board exams are no exception.  Even if you don’t know it, you are preparing for this since the first day you start taking prerequisites for your program or {if your program doesn’t require prerequisite courses} your first day of your dental hygiene program.  I’m sure there are a lot of questions running through your head {How much are they going to cost? What books to I use? When should I start studying? etc.}  Here are some things I recommend knowing and doing before you start studying:
  • Know your study habits, and create a habit of studying. Know how you study, your limits, what helps you focus, etc. Also, if you don’t study regularly for school, it will be much harder for you to dedicate yourself to studying regularly once boards comes around. Do you study better with flashcards or reading textbooks? Do you learn more studying little bits at a time, or taking on a lot of information at once? Do you do better studying one subject a day, or multiple subjects a day? Asking yourself questions like the ones above can help you focus and create your study habits.
  • Know your weak points. Radiology was not one of my strong suits, so I started off by studying radiology.  Anatomy was one of my strong suits, so I saved that to study last because I only needed to review the subject rather than relearn the material. It helped me to know what my weak points were before hand so I knew how to spend my study time.
  • Study NOW. It was so much easier to study once boards came around when I knew I was just reviewing material from previous semesters rather than learning it again because I didn’t study it enough the first time I learned it. Now of course we all get rusty in different subjects and you will be required to brush up on things, but studying was much less stressful when I knew I gave it my all when studying for my classes in previous semesters.  Facts and concepts came back much quicker than if I had to memorize things all over again.

You may be thinking, “I’m not even taking boards for another year! I just started dental hygiene school! Do I need to start studying now?!” Don’t freak out. If you just started dental hygiene school or just got into your dental hygiene program, DO NOT be thinking about board exams right now.  You haven’t even learned the basics yet, let alone all the details and facts you need to know for boards.  I took my boards during my 5th semester of school {my last semester}.  I had already learned everything that I was supposed to be tested on. You on the other hand {if you aren’t even half way through your program} haven’t even been exposed to all the subjects that will be covered on your exams. Now is not the time to be studying.  I will tell you though, do your best in your classes, study well, and stay on top of your schoolwork and studying for boards will be a lot less stressful.  


Here’s a list of the textbooks/sources I used for the bulk of my studying.  I used other handouts, pre-tests, etc. but they were specific to my dental hygiene class/school.
1. Pass It! App – You can download it on iTunes.  If you download the free version, they give you access to only 2 of the 12 categories.  If you purchase the full app {I think it’s around $20}, you get access to: Clinical, Microbiology, Anatomy, Community, Dental Materials, Nutrition, Oral Pathology, Periodontology, Pharmacology, Radiology, Special Patients, & Local Anesthesia.
2. Case Studies – I used this textbook in my Case Studies class, which is how I studied for Process of Care. Each case study has 25 questions and the rationals for each question and answer are in the back of the book.
3. Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist {commonly refered to as just “Wilkins”} – this is like the Bible of Dental Hygiene. It has anything and everything.
4. Saunders Review of Dental Hygiene – This book is a great summary of all the topics covered on NBDHE.  I used it a lot to study smaller sections that were covered on NBDHE {Nutrition, Microbiology, Immunology, etc.}
5. Handbook of Local Anesthesia – I studied this and only this textbook for anesthesia written.  In my opinion, you don’t need to reference.  This has all the information you need.  I made my own handouts/study guides based off of this book.
6. Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Dental Hygiene – this book is detailed, Detailed, DETAILED. It has a practice test in the back of the book and an addition access code for more practice tests online.
*Not shown: Dental Hygiene Decks – over 1,000 flashcards that cover every aspect of dental hygiene. I loved them, but they probably aren’t the best for you if you don’t like studying flashcards.


Kidding…you’ll be fine!
{I listed the exams in the order I took them…just so you know}

> Book(s): Handbook of Local Anesthesia by Stanley F. Malamed
> Studying Time: 1 month
> What’s the test like?: To me, because I read Malamed, it was easier than I thought it was going to be.  Of course I was nervous and stressed and kept saying to myself, “Ooooooh my gooooooshhh, what if I fail?!” and I came out of the test, “That ways kind of easy but what if it was one of those tests that seemed really easy but I totally bombed?” In general I felt confident going into, during, and coming out of the test because of the textbook I read.  It only took me about 35 minutes to take the exam.
* Tips:
        Go through the book more than once
        Pass It! app
        Give yourself adequate time between your exam dates.  Between this exam and NBDHE, I gave myself a month, and it didn’t feel like a long enough break because I was so burnt out.  But it’s up to you! I recommend knowing your limits and knowing how you study before you take any of your exams.

> Book(s): Case Studies in Dental Hygiene by Evelyn M. Thomson
> Studying Time: N/A; You can’t put a time on this because you’re studying for this exam the entire time you are in dental hygiene school.
> What’s the test like?: This was my second least favorite exam because, (1) There was no way to really sit down and study for it, (2) Whatever case study you get is given to you at complete random, (3) The tutorial wasn’t as helpful as I thought it would be {just my personal opinion…other people may say otherwise}. I finished the test with a good amount of time left {I don’t remember how long it took me, but I know I finished early}
* Tips:
        Practice different case studies – it’s really the only way to sit down and study.
        Study Medical Emergencies
        Study different systemic diseases that would cause treatment alterations
        Practice reading radiographs, looking at bone levels, looking at caries, etc.

> Book(s): Hygiene Decks (flashcards), Clinical Practice for the Dental Hygienist by Ester Wilkins, Pass It! App, Saunders Review of Dental Hygiene, Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Dental Hygiene.
> Studying Time: 2 weeks – that’s how much I needed. Sometimes I tell people this and they just about fall over because I studied for such a short amount of time.  You may need 1 week, 1 month, 2 months 4 months, or none {if you say “None”, you’re lying. EVERYONE needs to study at least something}.  Know how much time you need to study to feel comfortable with the material.
> What’s the test like?:  LONG. My goodness it felt like it took all afternoon…and it did.  You’re given 8 hours to take the exam, and I took 4.5 hrs including my break time.  Don’t feel bad if it takes you 3 hours or all 8 hours to complete the test. Go at a pace you feel comfortable with.
* Tips:
        The more study material you have, the harder it will be to study.  You’ll spend so much time flipping through different books and wondering which ones will help you the most instead of buckling down and doing some productive studying. I had so many books that by the time I took this exam, I hadn’t even opened a couple of them.  Try to find anywhere between 1-3 study materials and keep it at that.  Books you can try are anything by Wilkins, Saunders, Mosby, or Kaplan.  There may be others out there, but these authors are very well known.

        You don’t always need the most up-to-date textbooks.  I several of my study materials dated back to 2009.  It saved me a lot of money not buying everything brand new.  I bought the most recent edition of the main book I used to study, but that’s it.
         Take your lunch break during the test.  It’s 350 questions and you’ll get about 4 hours for each section {200 in the first, 150 in the second}. You have the option for a 1 hour break between the sections.  I went out to lunch {I got it to go and then ate it in the testing center parking lot just to make sure I wasn’t going to be late}, and I am so glad I did.  It gave my brain a much needed break.  Eat a good lunch; it will really help with your energy level during the second part of the exam.
        STUDY. Some people seem to think that after working hard for the last couple years there is no need to brush up on things for the biggest written exam of your life.  So please, do us all a favor {and yourself!}, and try your best {and that includes studying}.

> Book(s): Handbook of Local Anesthesia by Stanley F. Malamed; I did not use this book to study for giving the injections, but it was good to be able to see pictures of the injections, the landmarks, etc.
> Studying Time: N/A; You don’t need to study per se, but you will need a lot of practice giving the injections. Practice makes perfect, so practice as much as you can.
> What’s the test like?: For me, the test environment didn’t make me feel stressed, but actually made me feel relaxed. The examiners were so great to work with and were very kind. They do their best to make you feel relaxed and comfortable before you take your exam.
* Tips:
        Be a patient! I had the opportunity to be an anesthesia board patient my junior year of dental hygiene school.  It was really great being able to see the process without having to be stressed.
        Have two syringes set up.  I set up one syringe for the PSA and another for the IA. That way, I wouldn’t have to change my needle and risk poking myself, contaminating something, or disposing the materials incorrectly.
        PRACTICE. I gave as many injections as I could during my time at school, and also on the patient I had.  Don’t practice on your patient too close to the exam though! You could leave needle puncture marks and then your patient would be disqualified.  Give your patients several weeks to be safe. The last injection I gave on my patient before the exam was 4 weeks before.

> Book(s): Dental Hygiene Examination Candidate Guide
> Studying Time: N/A; you can’t study for this exam, but there are a lot of things to do to prepare.  Read the Dental Hygiene Examination Candidate Guide {you will have one mailed to you, and you can download it from the WREB website}.  You can take this booklet into the exam with you, so take notes in it!  There’s a lot of valuable information in there: what papers you need, what needs to be filled out, patient qualification guidelines, etc.
> What’s the test like?: Like Local Anesthesia, the environment was great.  No examiners are standing there over your shoulder watching you; it’s really just you and your patient.  At my exam location, they had everything: ultrasonic tips, basic set ups, everything to set up your operatory, anesthetic…you name it, they had it. That was really nice because I had absolutely everything I needed to make the exam go smoothly for me.
> What instruments did you bring?:

  • 2 Basic set-ups (mirror, probe, explorer); one for me to use, and one for the examiners to use.
  • Ultrasonic tips: triple bend & thinsert
  • Syringe and hemostat
  • Graceys
  • H 6/7 sickle scaler, Montana Jack, 204S, 5/6 Barnhart curette
  • Bite block {this was a lifesaver; I wouldn’t do the exam without one}
  • Air/Water tip
  • Slow speed Handpiece

* Tips:
        Have a back-up patient.  Whether your school does this or you are responsible for finding one yourself, it’s not worth the risk to not have one.  Fortunately, it was a requirement for school that the students were to find a back-up patient, and it was even more fortunate that I didn’t need one. But it’s always important to have a back-up plann.
        Sharpen. Your. Instruments. I cannot emphasize that enough. Thankfully {as a gift} my clinic coordinator sharpened one set for us as a graduation gift. It made a world of a difference.
        Give yourself enough time for probing and recession. Recession is hit or miss when it comes to the points {you either get all the points, or you don’t} so you’ll want to do your best to get it right.
        Use a bite block! When your patient needs to have their mouth open for almost 2 hours, the least you can do is make it as comfortable for them as possible.

When this is all over {and you’ve received the results of you passing your exams} you’ll apply for your license! Which is another story in itself. Each state is different.  Many states require a jurisprudence test, so that’s another exam you may have to take depending on what state(s) you want to be licensed in.


It’s a crazy process of going to school, taking boards, paying for boards, applying for your license, etc.  Make sure, if you haven’t started already, that you start saving up money for your exams.

Here’s what my fees were for my exams.  Fees depend on your exam location, so not everyone will be paying the same amount. This is what I paid in 2014.

WREB Application Fee: $50.00
Anesthesia Written: $55.00
Process of Care: $70.00
NBDHE: $400.00
Local Anesthesia WREB Exam: $300.00
Dental Hygiene WREB Exam: $1,075.00

Total: $1,950
NOTE: It is very likely {almost guaranteed} that you will end up paying your Dental Hygiene WREB patient.  This can usually be anywhere between $150-$300 depending on where you go to school, whether your classmates all pay the same price, etc.  So you will need to save around $2,200. Hopefully I’m not forgetting anything…

Also, when it comes to applying for your license, please be aware that there is an application fee associated with that as well.  Not only that, but you’ll pay for transcripts, letters, etc.  I was told to save $3,000 to be on the safe side.  Now, I passed all my board exams. If you need to take an exam more than once {either you didn’t pass, you missed your exam time, or anything along these lines}, it will cost you more. 

Here’s an example so you can get the idea of how much more it will cost: Say you don’t pass Dental Hygiene WREB Exam.  The next exam available will probably not be at the same exam site where you made your first attempt to pass, meaning you will need to travel.  At maximum, you will be paying for the exam fee, your travel, your patient’s travel, your hotel stay, your patient’s hotel stay, your food, your patient’s food, plus you may have to pay your patient depending on what they are sacrificing in order to be your patient {they may be a student, work full time, etc.}.
NOTE: YOU WILL PASS! So don’t worry.  I would worry if you aren’t working hard, or studying, or attending your classes, or passing clinic. But that’s none of you, so you will be just fine.  Your hard work will pay off.

BIGGEST TIP OF ALL: BE CONFIDENT! You have been preparing for these exams for a couple years now.  You’ve adequately prepared for your exams by studying, attending class, and seeing difficult patients. You’ve worked hard, and it will pay off. Be confident in your abilities. You can do it!

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave a comment or go to the top of the page and click the icon that looks like this:

This will connect straight to my e-mail and you can ask questions to your heart’s content {or message me on Facebook!}
P.S. No, I will not think you are weird or think it awkward if you come across this post and want to ask a bunch of questions. Ask away! I’m more than happy to help 🙂

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