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Breaking Boards Part I

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At this point, you’ve probably discovered that dental school is much like drinking water from a fire hydrant. And, once you start studying for Part 1 Boards, you’ll realize why. To be entirely honest, there’s no way to feel completely prepared to take the exam—regardless of how hard you studied or how well you typically performed in your didactic classes, you’ll undoubtedly feel like you absolutely bombed it. This being said, the national pass rate is astronomically high. According to the ADA’s most recent release of testing data, only 6.3% of students failed in 2013. And, as rumor has it, CU’s pass rate is above the national average. So, to say the least, the odds are in your favor.

Format and Scoring:

The test’s format is pretty basic—a mere 400 multiple-choice questions. Although the questions are broken down into four categories (anatomical sciences, biochemistry/physiology, microbiology/pathology, and dental anatomy/occlusion), you will receive questions at random. In other words, you may have a question regarding the central incisor right after one on kidney pathology. Once you answer 200 questions, you will be rewarded with an optional one hour break—you may take as much of this as you desire. Your score is based off how many questions you answered correctly, and then it is scaled to account for differences in difficulty across exams. Although no one knows for certain, every exam is different, but similar questions do pop up between different versions.

It is rumored that a 55-60% percent score will suffice as a “passing” grade. That being said, the strategy in taking this test is very different from your typical dental exam—read on below to ensure you get that pass.

Studying tips:

  • Start early
    • It’s always best to do a small amount of studying every day instead of saving it for the last few days before the test. Many of my classmates and I began about one month out. It is generally suggested that anywhere between three and five weeks is adequate, but this all depends on your individual studying style.
  • Make a schedule
    • The more organized and diligent you are about setting and sticking to a schedule of studying, the less stress you will experience and the more likely you will pass.
    • If you’re using the decks, break them down into categories, doing a certain number of cards everyday.
    • Leave yourself the day before your exam to relax and do something fun!
    • Base your schedule and exam date off other exams for your didactic classes—it’s easy to forget about your day-to-day responsibilities!
    • Don’t reinvent the wheel—there are plenty of pre-made schedules floating around that are very easy to follow.
  • Diversify your materials
    • There are typically two main sources of study material that students utilize—the Dental Boards Mastery App and the Dental Decks flash cards (from a variety of years). I highly suggest that you use both in some capacity.
    • Chose one source to read thoroughly—use the other simply as flashcards to gain exposure at a high volume.
  • Study smarter, not harder
    • Remember—there’s truly no way to be completely prepared to take the exam. It’s important to realize that the test is extremely hard and that you will miss many questions—don’t overdo it! Understand it’s virtually impossible to get an A—all you need is to pass (actually, you won’t ever see your score)!
    • Focus on the high yield topics—dental anatomy/occlusion and general anatomy. These sections will make or break you—but if you know them well, you can almost guarantee passing. The categories of biochemistry/physiology and microbiology/pathology are so vast that developing a thorough understanding of every detail is unrealistic. Definitely study these topics, but only for surface-level understanding.
    • Implement the sandwich technique—start off with dental anatomy and general anatomy, move on to the lower yield topics, and finish with dental anatomy and general anatomy—this will give you double exposure to the high yield topics, while still making you familiar with the low yield topics.

A day in the life:

Below you will find a play-by-play of a typical day of boards studying:

7:00: Wake up, drink coffee

7:30-10:00—STUDY. Go through the Dental Boards Mastery App, reading thoroughly each card

10:00-12:00—Class

12:00-1:00—Lunch

1:00-3:00—Class

3:00-5:00—Workout or do something active

5:00-6:00—Eat Dinner

6:00-9:00—STUDY. Repeat the same cards from the morning, or use an alternate source as quick flash cards

Jamie Muldoon

Jamie grew up in Billings, Montana and graduated from Whitman College in 2012 where he played soccer and received a degree in biology. Following graduation, he joined Teach for America and taught high school science in Colorado Springs for two years before deciding to apply for dental school. He enjoys rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and the rest of the typical Colorado activities. Jamie is ASDA’s Pre-Dental co-chair, and hopes to someday incorporate his love for education into his career as a dentist.

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