Preparing for the NBDE: A 3-Month Study Plan [Part I]


NBDE Study Guide

So you have finally made it halfway through your dental school curriculum and are getting ready to take the NBDE Part I.  But how do you even start to approach studying for the exam?

While the task may appear daunting, remember that you have been preparing for this exam for years. All of the classes in dental school are topics that will be covered on the exam. The important part of board preparation is to schedule dedicated time and set short and long-term goals while studying. Remember that starting early (I recommend at least 3 months in advance) helps to provide enough time to review the majority of the information, focus on your weaknesses, and also gets you mentally confident to take the exam. In order to get started, here is a general outline for a 3-month study plan.

So that you have a basic understanding, please review the current Examinee Guidelines on the ADA website, which can be found here.

Key Exam Details

Exam format: 400 exam items, approximately 80% items are discipline-based and approximately 20% are interdisciplinary testlet-based items

Exam content: 4 topics (not separated by topic, but intermixed amongst all 400 questions)

  1. Anatomic Sciences
  2. Biochemistry-Physiology
  3. Microbiology-Pathology
  4. Dental Anatomy and Occlusion

*Professional Ethics/ Patient Management will also be incorporated into each of the disciplines listed above


Month 1: Setting a baseline and understanding your weaknesses

This month should be focused on understanding the test construction, getting used to the testing format as well as recognizing your weaknesses and starting to focus on them.

Week 1: Take your first practice exam. This is preferably completed in one sitting (I recommend a Saturday or Sunday), but can also be divided into two sections if it seems too daunting (200 questions in the first sitting of 3.5 hours, and 200 questions in the second sitting of 3.5 hours). Afterwards, review the answers in detail (read the explanations) and take note of your weaknesses and trouble zones, preferably in a notebook or computer. Try to categorize them into the 4 topics above. Reviewing the answers may take a while, even 2-3 times as long as the exam itself, so give yourself ample time.

Week 2: Focus on a weakness in the Anatomic Sciences section and also start to review the Anatomic Sciences from a general textbook. I recommend using the Mosby’s NBDE Part One as a rough guide, and make notes in the guide for additional information you may find in from the practice exams. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review the Anatomic Sciences, 1.0 Gross Anatomy.

Week 3: Focus on a weakness in the Biochemistry and Physiology section and also start to review the Biochemistry and Physiology from a general textbook. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review 1.0 Biologic Compounds, 2.0 Cellular and Molecular Biology, 3.0 Membranes, 4.0 Metabolism, 5.0 Connective Tissue and Bone, 6.0 Nervous System, 7.0 Muscle, until the end of 8.0 Circulation.

Week 4: Focus on a weakness in the Microbiology and Pathology section and also start to review the Microbiology and Pathology section from a general textbook. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review 1.0 Immunology and Immunopathology, 2.0 General Microbiology, until the end of 3.0 Microbiology and Pathology of Infectious Microbes.

Month 2: Continue to review the topics and challenge yourself with more practice questions and exams

Week 5: Focus on a weakness in the Dental Anatomy and Occlusion section and also start to review the Dental Anatomy and Occlusion section from a general textbook. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review 1.0 Introduction to Dental Anatomy, 2.0 Development of Human Dentitions, 3.0 Chronology of Primary Dentition, 4.0 Morphology of Primary Teeth, 5.0 Chronology of Permanent Dentition, 6.0 Morphology of Permanent Teeth, until the end of 7.0 Development of Dental Occlusions.

Week 6: Take another practice exam (the full 400 questions). At this point, you should have a stronger baseline knowledge of the topics. Remember to review the exam afterwards and read the detailed answer explanations. Reviewing the answer explanations will help you understand how to approach other questions and also understand why the other choices were wrong. Take notes of repeated wrong answers and areas of weaknesses.

Stay tuned next week for Part II – Week 6-12 of our NBDE study plan. 

Have questions about the exam? We’re here to help – ask us a question. Try out the BoardVitals NBDE 1 practice questions for free and sign up to take a full practice exam.

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