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Handling the Details….. in Advance

You’ve studied your way through dental school and the National Board Dental Examinations. Now it’s time for your clinical exam. What’s the best way to get ready for this ever-important day? The best advice is, of course: Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Below are some suggestions on how to do just that.

Candidate’s Guide: Read and reread the candidate’s guide before the exam. This guide is your most important avenue to success—know it in your sleep! A few hints:

  • Underline important sections
  • Make notes in the sidebar
  • Make a list of questions to ask the chief examiner at orientations and/or during the exam
  • Keep your manual with you at all times during the exam.

Procedures: Write a flow chart for each procedure. Your candidate’s guide will detail what you need for each step of the exam—use it to create a schedule for yourself.

  • Include approximate desired time guidelines Create a list of instruments that your patient must bring to the examining area at each check-in
  • Print a copy for yourself and your assistant (if you choose to use an assistant).

Assistant: Clearly define the role of your assistant. And take time to practice the routine of the exam. He/she can:

  • Keep an eye on the flow chart to keep you on time 
  • Double check that your patient is sent to the examiners at the right times and with the correct equipment. 
  • Communicate that details make a difference.

Tip: Not taking your exams this year? Volunteer to assist. It can be a good way to get a feel for the examination process.

Self Testing Technique: Ask yourself questions about cavity preparation and restoration to explore possible situations

  • When do I plan to start? 
  • How much time should I allow? 
  • Based on the condition of my patient, what possible scenarios might occur and how would I handle them? 
  • What paperwork and instruments are required for the check-in procedure? What do I need to submit for the preparation grade? 
  • Is my patient required to wear a rubber dam? 
  • What do I need to look for after the grading (such as the examiner’s initials)?

List your questions and answers in a step-by-step format to avoid frantically searching through the candidate’s guide during the exam.

Schedule: Creating a schedule will help you plan and prepare in quiet surroundings (rather than putting it all together during the exam) and allow you to have the information you need at your fingertips.

Patient Forms: If the testing agency sends you patient forms prior to the exam, make copies (or print extras) and practice completing them. On the copies, complete the patient information and familiarize yourself with facts the testing agency requires. Complete the official patient forms prior to the exam if allowed, which saves valuable time on exam day.

Tip: Avoid filling out any official forms until your patient selection has been confirmed and you’ve verified your patient’s information.

Supplies and equipment: Prepare and organize

  • Double-check which materials the school or examining agency will supply. 
  • If you want or need special materials, plan to bring them along. (Don’t rely on the testing site to have what you need.) 
  • If you are renting school equipment, make arrangements ahead of time. 
  • If you plan to bring your own equipment, verify that it is functioning properly before exam day.
  • Before the exam, empty your cart of unnecessary supplies. Buy or borrow a set-up tray for each procedure you will perform during the exam. Set up each tray with all the items you will or may need for each procedure, starting with the one you will perform first. Make a list of equipment items that need to be added to each tray. (This will allow your assistant to come in each day and pull out complete tray set-ups and add missing items that have been sterilized from previous set-ups.)

Lab: If using a commercial lab, confirm the reliability of the lab and make arrangements early to have your work done. If you plan to use a school lab, know its hours of operation.

If applicable and permitted, pre-punch rubber dams for each patient and make sure they fit well. Make sure your dam is centered and free of creases during the exam. If applicable and you have the option, try to cut your gold early. This allows extra time to take a new impression and make a new inlay if the first one does not fit properly.

Patient Check: Thoroughly check your patient before the exam to determine whether any changes have occurred since your last screening:

  • Does the patient have more or less calculus than a few weeks ago?
  • Is the patient still ready and willing to attend the exam?
  • Make sure you don’t have any unexpected “surprises” on exam day.

Don’t Forget about the Logistics:

  • Confirm meeting location and time, hotel, travel and meal arrangements for you and your patient.
  • Plan a lunch break for both of you— find out if the school has a cafeteria or if you’ll need to make other plans.
  • Bring snacks to eat during the day to maintain your energy.

Your Health and Comfort:

  • Avoid alcoholic beverages and don’t eat anything out of the ordinary the day before. Try to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Plan to eat a good breakfast the morning of the exam. Although you will be nervous, it is critical that you eat a well-balanced breakfast to maintain your energy throughout the morning.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and professional clothing.

Chair-side Assistant: If you are allowed to use a chair-side assistant (and you choose to do so), select a reliable one! Have a back-up plan in case your assistant is unable to attend the exam.

Tour If You Can: If the examining agency offers a tour of the testing site prior to the exam, take advantage of this opportunity. You can never be too familiar with the facilities.

Plan for the Unexpected: As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Before the
exam, think through different scenarios you could encounter and
how you would handle each one:

  • What will you do if your patient fails to show up or if the weather causes a delay in your travel plans?
  • What if the caries are deeper than expected, your selected treatment is not accepted by the examiners, or a cusp fractures while you are performing the gold restoration?
  • Develop a plan of action for these potential situations. Realize that even the best planning cannot guarantee a perfect exam, but anticipating possible situations ahead of time is a good strategy for tackling the unexpected!

Positive Attitude: Encouraging words from a dental examiner: “Enter the process with a positive attitude. Realize that you belong there. You have just completed a course of study that has deemed you competent. Now demonstrate your competence with confidence!”

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Time Management—Before and During the Exam

It’s no secret—successfully completing dental school requires effective time management skills. These skills can also help make your clinical board examination a successful experience.

Tips to optimize your time:

  • Create a “to do” list. First decide what needs to be done between now and the date of your exam. Creating a list with clear, simple tasks helps keep you focused.
  • Determine your priorities. Identify which items are priorities based on their deadline for completion. Realistically decide how much time you will need to devote to each task, and remember: do first things first.
  • Develop an action plan. Once you have prioritized your tasks, outline the steps you must take to complete them. This helps you progress from simply thinking about the test to taking action. How will you go about recruiting patients? How should you be spending your time when you are not in class or in the lab? The action plan will serve as your road map. Creating a plan of action is one way to manage your time so that it doesn’t manage you.
  • Develop a schedule for exam day. Detail your schedule as much as possible to avoid unnecessary anxiety on the big day. Find out how much time is allotted for each portion of the exam and use any extra time constructively.

If procedures are assigned in timed blocks, plan how you will work within that  time frame. Plan for setting up the unit, checking the medical history, anesthetizing the patient, etc. Structure your day so that you arrive at the test site with time to spare.

If your exam is an open block schedule, you will need to allot time for the  different procedures appropriately. Estimate how long each procedure will take, then plan carefully so you can begin work on another patient as soon as you  finish the first. Tell your patient when to arrive based on your planned schedule.

  • Make a check list for each day. What time do you need to be at the school? What time should your patient arrive? What supplies and equipment must you bring? What supplies do you need to obtain from the school supply window before beginning the procedure? List all the forms and instruments that must be submitted with your patient.
  • Bring a watch. Even though there may be a clock in the exam room, you’ll appreciate having your own watch as time draws to a close. Your cell phone may not be permitted on the clinic exam floor.

Effectively managing your time will help you feel prepared and bringing you peace of mind as you work towards your license.  

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