How to Prep and Pass Your NBDE

Dental Student PracticingSo you have finally made it halfway through your dental school curriculum and are getting ready to take the NBDE Part I.  It’s scary, life-changing and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way – take this one day at a time. With adequate preparation and frequent study sessions, you will be ready. Where do you start?

Here’s a 3-month study plan to help you prepare. Don’t forget, you know all of the material, you’ve been prepping for this for years, just take it bit-by-bit and you’ll conquer it without breaking a sweat.

An important key to remember for 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.

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

12-WEEK STUDY PLAN

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). Afterward, 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.

Pat yourself on the back — that was a huge step, and completing it is a great step forward. The next few weeks are going to really hone in on weaknesses you may have, so be sure to identify anything and everything you felt weak on.

Mosby's NBDE Part 1Week 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.

Your exam is just two short months away, time to hustle and keep focused. You’ve done a lot so far to identify weakness and strengthen your overall knowledge.

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 afterward 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.

You’re halfway through your three-month study push. Take yourself out for some ice cream, you’ve earned it, and a little sugar never rotted anyone’s teeth… right? 😉

Week 7: Review the remaining sections of the Anatomic Sciences. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review the Anatomic Sciences, 2.0 Histology, 3.0 Oral Histology, until the end of 4.0 Developmental Biology. Review practice questions (and the answers) specific to the Anatomic Sciences section. I recommend completing 50-100 practice questions to test your knowledge.

Week 8: Review the remaining sections of Biochemistry and Physiology, and Microbiology and Pathology. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review from Biochemistry and Physiology 9.0 Respiration, 10.0 Renal System, 11.0 Oral Physiology, 12.0 Digestion, until the end of 13.0 Endocrine System. Also, review from Host Defense, Microbiology, and Pathology 4.0 Systemic Pathology until the end of 5.0 Growth Disturbances. Review practice questions (and the answers) specific to the Biochemistry and Physiology, and Microbiology and Pathology sections. I recommend completing 50-100 questions to test your knowledge.

“The part 1 questions were great! Overall this is a great collection of questions and medical/dental knowledge by dentists for future dentists.” – Jane Shin, former Harvard Dental School Student

Month 3: Complete your reviews and fine-tune your knowledgeDental Practice

Week 9: Review the remaining sections of Dental Anatomy and Occlusion, as well as Professional Ethics and Patient Management. If you are using Mosby’s NBDE Part One, review 8.0 Occlusal Contact Relations and Mandibular Movements, 9.0 Anatomy, Physiology, and Function of the Temporomandibular Joint, 10.0 Masticatory Muscles, until the end of 11.0 Masticatory System and Role of Occlusion. Review practice questions (and the answers) specific to the Dental Anatomy and Occlusion section. I recommend completing 50-100 questions to test your knowledge. TIP: One question from each discipline will incorporate Professional Ethics and Patient Management — don’t forget to briefly review this!

Week 10: Take your third full practice exam (400 questions, in one day). Really try to simulate the testing conditions. Find a quiet area where you can take it undisturbed, use earplugs if needed, and utilize one full day (with a 30 min-1 hour break in between 200 question sections). Afterward, review your answers and read the explanations. The more you understand why your answer was right or wrong, the more you solidify your knowledge and start to see patterns in the questions and formatting. In addition, continue to take notes and write down questions that reappear or weaknesses you have to remind yourself to review them later.

Week 11: Take your fourth (and last) full practice exam (400 questions). Again, take this exam under the best exam-like conditions. At this point you have reviewed all of the core topics, and also have a better understanding of the testing format and question structure. Review the answer choices. Create a cheat sheet that summarizes important points to review immediately before the exam.

Week 12: Final Countdown. Congrats for making it thus far! At this point in time, you should have compiled a list of notes/questions that continue to reappear or that have highlighted your weaknesses, as well as have a cheat sheet with a summary of important points. Now is the time to solidify your knowledge base and review those. Try not to stress too much immediately before the exam, knowing that you have spent the past three months studying and you are well prepared.

Get a good night’s rest the one to two days leading up to the exam (since you may not sleep well the night before). Wake up, have a good breakfast and take your time, you know the material, but now you’ve really learned how to access it in the knick of time! Good luck!

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.


BoardVitals is a leading provider of online board review, maintenance of certification, and continuing education activities for physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. BoardVitals has served 100,000 medical and healthcare professionals and 300 institutions since it was founded in 2013. With over 1000 NBDE I questions, (and 1700+ NBDE II) a Free Trial is a great place to start reviewing. This bank has been written and reviewed by licensed dentists who have recently taken the exam.

Written By Daniel Lambert, CEO, BoardVitals.