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Board exams: 4 tips for lowering anxiety during dental hygiene boards

Feb. 13, 2018
Claire Jeong suggests some tips for dental hygiene students who are stressed about the upcoming board exams. 

You are about to take one of the biggest exams of your life. Even after spending all those semesters in dental hygiene school, you may be unsure about your ability to pass the National Boards (NBDHE, NDHCE).

As the founder of StudentRDH and SmarterDA, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do I overcome anxiety?” Most of all, know that it is absolutely normal to feel anxious. The Winter Olympics are concluding, and the athletes—even though they are selected as the best of the world—feel nervous before the “big day.” I know that this is not comforting enough. So, let’s look at four practical tips that can help you manage your anxiety.

1. The day or week before your exam, go to the test center.

If you were planning on driving, take your car for a test. See if there is traffic around the time you were planning on getting to the test center, find a parking lot, pay the ticket, and walk to the test center. If you were planning on taking the public transportation, do the same. Take note of the unexpected events that happened such as:

  • The roads were closed
  • The traffic was bad
  • Parking was very tough
  • The building is a maze

The idea is to eliminate all the uncertainties that may arise. If you know that the traffic is bad, now you can give yourself 30 more minutes to get to the test-center. By rehearsing your travel, you will feel a sense of calmness. Think of the first day you went to your dental hygiene school. It probably was not as simple as it seems right now. We need to apply the same principles here. Save your physical and emotional energy for the test questions.

2. Know exactly what you will wear, and eat the day of the exam.

Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same outfit—dark jeans and a grey T-shirt. It is his way of making his day predictable and save his energy for other big decisions. On the day of the exam, you do not want to use your brain on picking an outfit. You want to make it as simple as possible.

If that means you are going to wear the same scrubs you wear to school, so be it! But bring layers, as the temperature of the exam room may not be exactly what you are used to every day. For me, it was much cooler than I wanted it to be.

And, eat the same breakfast as you always do. I don’t recommend you to suddenly change your diet for one day. Your body will not have time to adjust to it, and it may potentially not work to your benefit. Eat what you are most comfortable with and plan that meal in advance. You do not want to go to the test being hungry.

3. Imagine how you will calmly and successfully navigate through the day of the exam.

Our mind is creative and extremely powerful. We must use the mind’s powers to become successful. I am a big fan of Michael Phelps’s training story and how he won medals after medals. I will share the entire story in another post, but to summarize:

“Michael trained to visualize (imagine) his swimming every day. At night, he imagined the pool, the water on his skin, the kicks and strokes, the speed, and finally the goal. At the Beijing Olympics, he faced a major nightmare. His goggles were not resting tight enough on his face. Water started to come through his eyes and his vision was compromised. While this challenge could have completely thrown off other world-class swimmers, Michael just kept going. He had visualized endless times his lapses in the pool so he knew exactly what to do. Of course, he won the race!”

This story illustrates how we can train our mind to overcome anxiety. As a test-taker, this is what you can do:

  • Imagine you are creating a study plan, with details and deadlines
  • Imagine signing up for the exam
  • Imagine getting to the test center (even if you don’t know what it looks like)
  • Imagine reading the instructions for the test
  • Imagine starting with question #1, and being strong until question #100
  • Imagine taking your break, feeling refreshed, and coming back to the testing room
  • Imagine feeling accomplished at the end of the test

The more detailed the imagination is, the more powerful the connection it will be! For example, you can even visualize the clothes you will wear for the dental hygiene board exam (NBDHE, NDHCE). I think you get the idea! Channel in your Michael Phelps for success.

4. Plan your study schedule in advance.

The #1 reason for having anxiety is the lack of planning and practicing. Imagine that you are planning a wedding, and you don’t have a plan at all. You have a date, but no to-do list or timeline. If you were scrambling to get things done without even knowing what needs to be done, you could imagine how chaotic the process will be.

The dental hygiene boards require you to study (a lot). There are about 17 subjects (more or less depending on the review material) that you must master. How are you going to tackle each one of them? What is your timeline?

Your turn: Today, take 30 minutes to write down what you will do. You will need:

  • A calendar
  • Your exam date
  • The list of subjects you need to study

The dental hygiene boards (NBDHE, NDHCE, CSCE, CDCA, WREB, CRDTS) are very challenging. Everything you learned at school will be on your exam. The entire process of taking the boards will be nerve-wracking. Try to follow the four tips I shared today to reduce your anxiety. They are proven to work! Now go rock your exams!

Claire Jeong, BS, MS, RDH, is a dental hygienist, educator, and entrepreneur. She founded StudentRDH dental hygiene boards prep and SmarterDA dental assisting boards prep solutions. The programs’ pass rate is above 99% and according to some students, studying is now “addictive!” Claire grew up in France and Korea, and now splits her time between the United States and Canada. She has a dental hygiene degree from Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene in Boston and a master’s degree in administration from Boston University. Prior to her career in the dental field, Claire was an education specialist at Boston Children’s Museum. She actively advocates for learning efficacy through her articles, speeches, e-books, presentations, courses, and business. She can be contacted at [email protected].