Want to know how to ace NBDE Part I?

Sorry to disappoint, but unfortunately there is no magic formula that guarantees success. I mentioned in my previous blog post that there is no right or wrong way to “do” dental school. Well, same concept applies to knowing how to study for the NBDE Part 1!

Study habits and strategies that work wonders for some may not be as effective for others. So, you have to be the judge and have the final say. Here are five takeaways from my personal experience and some strategies that my friends and classmates commonly employed.

1. Be proactive!

Okay, so maybe you’re the kind of person who can binge on Netflix day in and day out until the night before an exam, then somehow find a way to ace it. That may have worked for an exam covering a few weeks or even a semester’s worth of material, but PLEASE do not try this approach when it comes to NBDE Part I.

There’s a ton of material on this exam and waiting until 2 or 3 weeks before your test date to start studying is a recipe for disaster (or at least some pretty significant stress)!

2. So how long do I need to study? Cue the debate!

This is where the controversy begins. Ask some students, they may say a solid month was perfect. Ask others, and they will say several months and they still left the exam feeling terrible.

I think this is where you have to know your learning style and how much time you have on an average day to study. If you can only devote an hour or so most days to studying, I would shoot for the higher end of this range.

Does your school give you a chunk of “study time” in the weeks leading up to the exam? If so, maybe the lower end of this range is more appropriate.

3. Balancing class and NBDE Part I studying…

Thought dental school was already busy enough? Well, here’s when things really start to ramp up. Not only do you have to succeed in all of your class, but now you have to do so while preparing for this pretty darn important test.

This is where being strategic and proactive becomes crucial. Put in writing some sort of study plan, taking into account your regular academic, personal, and other obligations that you will need to juggle along the way. This allows you to clearly see when you will be able to most effectively study and even how much time it may take to study.

Also, be adaptable. If you are having a hard time balancing class and NBDE Part I studying, don’t be afraid to adapt. Try a new study modality, find a study group, or ask your classmates how they are tackling this challenge.

schedule daily to study

4. What does an average day look like?

There is SOOOO much variability here, but I know you want to read something besides generic advice, so here’s one example!

6am-7am: Wake up and get in some gym time. Exercise is good for the brain, right?

7am-8am: Shower/breakfast/off to school. I recommend the breakfast of champions: toast with PB and banana.

8am-12pm: Morning classes.

12pm-1pm: Lunch.

1pm-5pm: Afternoon classes and/or pre-clinical activities.

5pm-6pm: Dinner and decompress for a moment after a long day at school. Check Instagram, read Buzzfeed, do you for a little bit!

6pm-8pm: Study for dental school class.

8pm-10pm: Study for NBDE Part I.

Not-so-pro tip: sneak in a few minutes of studying for class or NBDE between classes, at lunch, or on the ride home from school. Any way to get a jump on studying for that day is a win in my book.

Basically this is an “average” schedule for most dental students. If you have less class time, take advantage of it and restructure your plan accordingly. Additionally, it may be more appropriate to study more for class some days and less on others. This is where planning ahead comes in handy!

5. Don’t forget about those practice questions!

You’ve read countless pages, memorized stacks of flashcards, and are finally feeling like you’re turning the corner on this exam. Awesome work! However, don’t forget about those practice tests.

There are many old exams the ADA has made available and odds are your dental school has a few more floating around. Take advantage of these! There is no better way to build confidence and find gaps in your understanding than taking practice exams. Take as many as you can without burning yourself out. In my opinion, they are kind of like the cherry on top of this big ice cream sundae of studying.

PS- Keep your eyes peeled because I heard that B&B may be doing something about practice exams too!

Get to it!

Enough of my rambling. Go out and ace this exam. And don’t forget to reward yourself with some real ice cream after you’re done!


– By: Joseph DePalo | Student Education Coordinator