Bulletin of Dental Education

What You Need to Know About Changes to the NBDE

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The Joint Commission on the National Dental Examination (JCNDE) held its annual meeting in Chicago on March 23, 2005. The following is a brief summary of issues of interest to dental schools and students.

New Format for National Board Dental Examination, Part I

    The JCNDE piloted a new National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), Part I in summer 2004, with approximately 1,200 students participating. As a result of this pilot, the Joint Commission will implement a new Part I examination combining the traditional four parts into a single comprehensive format. The new examination will include the existing content areas in 400 multiple-choice items, with 20 percent of the items grouped into interdisciplinary testlets and 80 percent of the items as independent or stand-alone items. The interdisciplinary testlets will emphasize understanding of information from the biomedical sciences and the application of this information in a clinical, problem-solving context.

    With the new examination, candidates will no longer receive separate scores in the four traditional disciplines. Instead, candidates will receive a single score for the entire examination. In addition to the comprehensive examination score, candidates will receive information on their performance in each discipline relative to national raw score averages for those disciplines. Because of the comprehensive format, partial retesting will not be available to failing candidates.

The exact date for the new comprehensive Part I examination has not yet been set, but the preliminary estimate is the second quarter of 2006 or later. More information on the new Part I will be made available on the ADA website (www.ADA.org) as it becomes available.

To assist candidates and dental schools in preparing for the new comprehensive format, the 2004 Part I pilot exam has been released to dental schools and to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Students who participated in the pilot were allowed to keep their exam booklets.

New Method of Reporting Candidate Results for NBDE, Part II

The JCNDE has also adopted a new method of reporting candidate results for the Part II exam to assist candidates in understanding their relative strengths and weaknesses in each discipline. In addition to reporting of final, standard scores, each score report will include the number of items in each discipline, the national average correct, and the individual candidate’s number correct. This information will replace the designations of “H,” “A,” and “L” that were previously included representing high, average, or low performance. This new manner of reporting supplemental information with exam scores will begin in 2006.

Phase-Out of Print Format Testing

In addition, the Joint Commission has established a plan to eliminate administration of the National Board examinations in print format beginning with the Part II examination. Starting in 2006, the Part II exam will be available only in computerized format at Prometric testing centers. The Part I examination will be available in both formats through 2006; beginning in 2007, Part I will be offered only in computerized format.

Update on Released Exams

Logistical issues associated with the transition in administration of both paper-and-pencil and computerized exams have prevented the regular release of National Board examinations during the past few years. However, in addition to releasing the 2004 comprehensive Part I pilot exam, the JCNDE will begin to release to ASDA, to accredited dental schools, and to dental hygiene programs exams that are no longer in use or compiled groups of expired exam items not previously released. A December 2005 timeframe is anticipated for the first set of items to be released.

Many dental schools have requested permission to provide released items to students in electronic format, and the Joint Commission has agreed to develop a process to do so in a manner that protects its copyrighted material. Regardless of the format, examination content is copyrighted and may not be copied or distributed to others without permission of the Joint Commission. Dental schools must have express written permission to distribute paper copies of released exams or to provide electronic access to released exam content.

Some Helpful Reminders for Students

Students should familiarize themselves with examination “do’s and don’ts” before the testing day by rereading the candidate guide before going to the test center. Examination regulations are also available on the ADA website at www.ADA.org under “Education and Testing Services.” Once there, click on “Testing Services”; “NDBE Exam Format and Content”; “Part I or Part II”; and then “examination regulations.”

    Failure to adhere to examination regulations can have far-reaching consequences, even if unintentional. Some common problem areas for students include the following:

Telephone/portable phone usage. Use of a telephone, portable phone, cell phone, or any other electronic device (electronic pager, personal digital assistant [PDA], etc.) is not allowed during the examination, even during scheduled or unscheduled breaks. This rule is strictly enforced. Breaking this regulation can be very costly and could result in scores being voided and a required wait of up to two years to retest.

Proper identification. Students who present for testing with an ID that does not exactly match the name on their application are not allowed to test. When this happens, the student loses his or her fee and must submit a new application and fee.

Food and beverages. Food and beverages are not allowed in the test center. Students who bring these items into the testing area may have their scores invalidated and be required to wait before retesting.

Last minute studying. Candidates are not allowed to study notes or other material such as books, note cards, old tests, or review sheets in a test center before the examination begins or during scheduled or unscheduled breaks. If these rules are not followed, test results may be voided, and a student could be required to wait for up to two years to retake the examination.

Sharing information about the test. National Board examination content is copyrighted and confidential. Faculty should not request or encourage students to share information about test items. Examination regulations prohibit any form of copying, recording, sharing, or communicating test content. Candidates who provide or obtain unauthorized access to test content will be sanctioned by the Joint Commission in accordance with its examination regulations. Consequences can be very serious.

Students should plan ahead and reserve a testing appointment early! Seats are limited and are on a first-come, first-served basis. The more advance notice, the more likely students will get the date and time for the location they desire. Schools that wish to have students test during a specific time frame should contact the Department of Testing Services for assistance in managing logistics.

Robert Bailey is Director of Testing Services and Secretary of the Joint Commission on the National Dental Examination at the American Dental Association.

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