The most common mistakes dental students make when using a question bank

Dental students preparing for the INBDE inevitably turn to question banks, as well as other resources, to help them prepare for their dental boards. But like any resource, there’s the most common way to use question banks and the correct way to use them.

Unfortunately, for most dental students, they often rely on what their predecessors, the upper classmen, have done before them as a road map to success in taking the boards. For many dental students, these methods will not affect their outcome, despite the inherent failure to utilize the resource effectively.

Common Mistake #1

Let’s consider how dental students have traditionally prepared for their dental boards. Like their dental education, they begin by reviewing the content covered in their boards using the same approach they’ve been taught since the beginning of time. This includes the method by which they are taught in dental school.

After a few weeks of review using various resources and study aids and just before they’re due to take their boards, they begin using a question bank to help them get acclimated to taking test questions and they approach these questions in a similar fashion to the content that they’ve been reviewing – the old memorization and regurgitation method. Classic!

So, how should they be using their question banks? It’s pretty simple. They should be starting with the question banks first. Question banks should be used as an analytical tool to help students begin mapping their strengths and weaknesses.

Why is this important? It’s important because time is valuable! The degradation of a student’s knowledge from the D1 year to D3/D4 years, when they prepare for their boards, varies from student to student. Also, the specific areas of information that each student retains will differ. Each student’s review process should be different. It should be based on the student’s individual areas of weaknesses backed by the analytical data generated from their correct or incorrect answers.

The question bank should be the first step in identifying the holes in each student’s knowledge base. This makes the review process deliberate, rather than pursuing a scatter-shot approach.

Common Mistake #2

While memorization and regurgitation works well for many dental students as they prepare for a test, it isn’t an effective strategy when preparing for a case-based board exam. The process of going through board exam-style questions loses its efficacy when students are simply memorizing the answer to a question that may or may not be on their board exam. Understanding the underlying lessons relevant to a question helps dental students to effectively use that information and apply it to any scenario they may encounter.

Why is this important? This should be obvious. The INBDE exam is a case-based exam that forces students to look at a problem from a more holistic approach. In other words, students must use their knowledge and approach the problem as though they were in a clinical setting or in their own practice, through the application of the knowledge they’ve accumulated in their dental education in order to find a solution based upon the requirements or health history of the patient?

The strategy should not be to tediously search for answers in textbooks or notes. Remember, there’s not enough time to go back and review everything. That’s why adaptive learning tools are important for any INBDE review resource. For example, the Digital Dental Notes has over 1700 pages of notes by Dr. James Lozier, the creator of Dental Decks, that are directly tied to each question. Another example would be the INBDE Review Course that ties each question to all relevant topic lectures created by over 30 full-time professors. Something about “studying smarter and not longer” blah… blah… blah… comes to mind.

In all seriousness, the question should not only provide an explanation as to why an answer was correct or incorrect, it should also provide the underlying concepts that relate directly to the development of the question. This must relate to all subject(s) and topic(s) for each question as well as the Foundation Knowledge and Clinical Content areas as specified for the INBDE.

Common Mistake #3

“I just got an 82% on this deck of questions. I must know the topic pretty well. I don’t need to study this area of content.” Wrong.

One of the most common mistakes that students make in reviewing for their boards using a question bank is the notion that because they scored well on any given set of questions, they don’t need to review that subject or content area at all. This can be tricky when looking for the right question bank to use.

All of our review products require answers to be submitted by one of three options: “I’m guessing,” “Somewhat sure,” and “100% Confident.” This is one significant margin of error that needs to be addressed, in order to accurately map a student’s knowledge base. This is particularly important when decks or question sets use a small number of questions. In other words, a few “good guesses” could result in a false positive that could give dental students a false sense of security and ultimately impact the results on their dental board exam.

Other Common Mistakes

Knowledge of any subject or topic can be perceived differently from one student to another. In other words, the approach to solving a question may differ significantly from one dental student to another.

Students often feel that preparing for their board exam should be something they do in isolation. While that works for some students, the vast majority of students benefit in a more significant way when working with other students, particularly with question banks.

Why is this the case? There are several reasons or benefits from working as a group. First, students get different perspectives from other students in terms of their approach to solving a problem. Remember, the INBDE is a case-based testing environment. An amalgam of subjects and topics is necessary to answer each case-based question and requires a complete knowledge base of all content areas covered in their dental school curriculum.

Another benefit of going through question sets in a group is that each student can help to explain a concept to the study group and why it was important these concepts are crucial in helping to answer the case-based question. Remember the old adage, “If you can teach it, you know it.” Teaching something is a great method of reinforcing a concept.

Finally, timing is an important concept that many students fail to prepare for in their review process. Question banks should have a timer option. It’s important for students to pace themselves and ensure that they have enough time to answer all of the questions. Standalone questions should be answered in less than 63 seconds and case-based questions should answered in 90 seconds. Section 4 of the INBDE does allow for more time (108 seconds), but it’s good practice to answer questions with these limits in mind in order to ensure that the clock doesn’t run out when attempting to complete each section.

What’s the takeaway?

Knowing what tools and resources are available and how to use them properly will help to ensure success. Just as important, is the time allocated to preparing for the INBDE. Our data tells us that students that allocate minimally six to eight weeks for board prep will have a higher rate of success.

This is a high stakes exam and ensuring that students prepare properly and with adequate time will help to ensure that they pass their boards. Want more information? Just fill out the form below.