Hygiene students with Aspen Dental hygiene team members.

Advice for passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination

Jan. 23, 2023
Taking your national boards doesn't need to be overwhelming. Arming yourself with the right mindset, tools, and support groups can help things go smoother.

Being a dental hygienist is extremely rewarding. Every day, I get to build rapport with patients, educate them about good hygiene habits, guide them to become active participants in their preventive dental care, and share in their journeys toward optimal oral health. 

But when you’re anxiously preparing for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE), it can be easy to get bogged down with studying and forget about the light at the end of the tunnel—making a difference in people’s lives through meaningful work. 

While it’s crucial to take the NBDHE seriously, that doesn’t mean you have to spend every hour of every day for months on end studying. With the right tools, support systems, and mindset, you’ll pass your boards with flying colors and be working with patients before you know it.

Start with the right study tools

Everybody has a different way of studying, and flashcards worked best for me. When I studied, I organized the cards into questions I found easy and difficult. I then alternated between the two stacks, building my confidence with an easy question before challenging myself with a hard one. Every time I got a question correct, I set the flashcard aside, and when I missed one I returned it to my notes to focus on the tough topic.

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I also regularly consulted my copy of Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Dental Hygiene by Michele Darby, which provides a more general guide to the topics covered in the NBDHE. While these are excellent tools, I wouldn’t recommend breaking out the flashcards or your Mosby’s book more than four to six weeks before the exam. I’ve found if you study too early, you may forget what you’ve learned. Unless you’re working in addition to studying, four to six weeks of concentrated study time is all you need.

Join a supportive study group

Even though we must take the NBDHE alone, that doesn’t mean we have to study alone. Having a group to discuss tricky topics and challenging questions with can be extremely helpful, but only if you’re prepared. 

Before I found the right study group, I was committed to learning the material on my own. I studied hard, but it wasn’t until I heard several of my classmates discussing a radiology lecture that I realized I wasn’t studying efficiently. They had created all sorts of memorization techniques, such as acronyms, that proved very helpful for the test. If I’d joined their group, I would have saved myself hours of study time. 

After that, I made it a point to join more study groups, but only after I’d studied the material on my own. While study groups can be beneficial, they can also be a distraction if people aren’t prepared. The best study groups gather to discuss the material, not learn it for the first time.

Have a positive mindset

You can study day and night for weeks, but if you walk into the exam thinking you’re going to fail, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Mindset is one of the most important factors for success, and it’s also one of the least recognized. As you prepare for the exam, picture yourself confidently selecting the correct answers and easily passing the test.

By the time you step into the exam room, you’ve been planning and preparing for a long time. You’re ready, so you can take a deep breath and relax into the rhythm of answering questions. Instead of overloading yourself with anxiety or stress, tell yourself you’re excited to demonstrate the firm grasp you have on all your dental hygiene knowledge. 

When you put it all together—the right tools, the right people, and the right mindset—you set yourself up to pass the NBDHE. Yes, getting through dental hygiene school and board exams is tough, but if you put in the hard work and don’t make excuses, you’ll be rewarded.

Preparing for boards is even easier for dental hygiene students who work in an Aspen Dental-branded practice. Besides the hands-on learning provided by real-world experience, Aspen practices have cutting-edge technology, free online courses, and a wealth of providers happy to answer questions and provide mentorship. 

Best of luck to all you dental hygiene students preparing for your exams. You can do this!