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By The Next Step

10 tops tips to prepare for dental exams

6 min
Young female sitting on floor by table with laptop and paperwork holding pen

Very few people actually like exams. But if you’re studying to become a dentist, they’re likely to be a big part of your course.

Studying for your Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) can be particularly stressful – especially when there are other pressures to deal with in your final year.

In this article, we share our 10 top tips to help you prepare for your OSCEs and other exams.

It's never too early to start revising

As a final year student, it can be tempting to put off studying until a later date – but this is rarely a good idea. Leaving revision until the last minute will only add to your stress and potentially affect your performance.

To make life easier for yourself, start your revision as early as possible. Reviewing your notes regularly will help to keep information fresh in your mind. When it’s all over and done with, you’ll be glad you took this approach.

Make a revision timetable

Create a schedule that allows you enough time to cover everything leading up to the exams. Your timetable should allow you to work smarter, not harder, so make sure you break up your revision into manageable chunks.

When you’re drawing up your timetable, be realistic. Relentless revision can feel soul-destroying, so factor in time to see friends and explore other hobbies.

It’s also wise to identify the topics you feel least confident about and tackle these first. Mastering these areas will help boost your overall confidence.

Make sure your timetable allows you to revisit topics regularly. Adopting a ‘one and done’ approach won’t keep things fresh in your mind.

It’s best to space out larger subjects over several weeks to help you better retain information. You could also try starting each session by recalling what you learned in the previous one.

Get organised

Identify the topics that your revision needs to cover. Your course syllabus is a good place to start. As well as helping you to find out what subjects to cover, it will also tell you the level of detail you need to know.

Take a look at the Student Fitness to Practice Guidance from the GDC. It outlines the standards of professionalism expected of dental students and dentists.

In the SJT exam, you’ll be assessed on whether you can demonstrate appropriate professional behaviour as set out in the guidance, so it’s essential to familiarise yourself with it.

Once you’ve done so, you can choose a revision tool to use, such as the Oxford Assess and Progress: Clinical Dentistry. There are also a number of helpful websites available, including a series of webinars called ‘Headstart to Finals’ from Dentinal Tubules.

Running through past papers is a great idea too. Websites such as Pastest provide access to these resources. You may also want to consider trying an online course aimed at helping you with your final exams. There are usually free options if cost is an issue.

Learn GDC guidelines and standards

As you probably know, your case presentation is all about understanding good ethical practice. The exam is designed to assess non-academic skills, such as professional quality, coping with pressure, teamwork and putting patients’ needs first.

The GDC guidelines can be used as a revision handbook, as the exam questions are based on their content. When it comes to case presentation, bear in mind that it is about assessing your fitness to practice, as well as your ethnical judgement. It may be tempting to show off everything you’ve learnt, but it’s best to keep it simple.

Revise your way

If you already have an idea of which revision style suits you best, play to your strengths. If you’re a visual learner, invest in some new highlighter pens so that you can colour code everything. You may also find that mind maps work well for you.

You may prefer to record the information you need to learn to listen to it. If you’re using your phone to record information, you could also consider using an app to help with your revision. There’s a whole variety available – from games to revision timetables.

Study groups can be helpful too, but remember that you’re under no obligation to join one. Whatever your learning style and preferences, choose the method that you find most beneficial.

Shadow others

Spending time shadowing others can give you real world experience and expose you to the sorts of scenarios you may be presented with in your exams.

See if you can spend some time in a dental practice. This will help you to experience what life in a clinical setting is like first-hand, while giving you the opportunity to consider how you might respond in similar circumstances.

You can’t remember everything – so don’t try to!

It’s tempting to believe you need to remember everything to pass your final assessments, but that’s not the case. Putting pressure on yourself to recall every last detail will leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Having a good understanding of common cases should be your main focus. The point of exams is to make sure you’re ready for your exam – not to become a dental specialist.

Get your timings right

Timing is important for every exam, and you should avoid rushing.

In the Situational Judgement Test (SJT), you have 30 minutes to answer 14 questions made up of three different question types – multiple choice, rating and ranking.

In each section, you’ll be given a series of work-related scenarios and asked questions about how you would respond in each situation. The scenarios will be typical of those that Foundation Dentists might encounter - so, put yourself in the shoes of a Foundation Dentist.

Timing yourself answering SJT practice questions can help make sure you’re able to complete the required number of questions within the specified time.

Give yourself a break

Making sure you take regular breaks will help you to revise more efficiently. You’ll be able to better recall the information you’re trying to learn if you split your revision time into smaller chunks of around 30 minutes at a time.

Some people like to use the Pomodoro technique, which consists of studying for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. Completing four of these stints in a row means you can then have a longer break.

It’s up to you how you manage your revision time, but try not to punish yourself with hours of study and no breaks. Make sure you’re eating properly and getting enough sleep. Taking a walk outside is also great for your wellbeing, so try to include this in your schedule.

Find support

If you need help with certain topics, don’t hesitate to reach out to your lecturers and supervisors – that’s what they’re there for. If you’re worried about exams in general, you could also approach your personal tutor for support.

If you’re struggling, don’t suffer in silence. Your university will have services that can help if you’d rather not speak to a member of teaching staff.

Remember, as long as you prepare, you’ll be fine. And if things don’t go to plan, it’s not the end of the world. Stay positive and keep in mind that your ranking only lasts for 12 months.

Good luck!

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