Hear from Practitioners

Promoting Success Through Study Skills

Posted by Jessica Kiser, Ed.D., M.S., RDH on October 19, 2021

Excitement is in the air as you apply for allied dental health programs and envision yourself as an oral health care provider. As you do your research, you may talk with current or former students and realize these programs are challenging yet so rewarding. These individuals may tell you about the program’s course load and assessments, and you may start to wonder how to be successful. One way to foster your success is to improve your study skills. 

How would you describe your study skills now? What areas do you need to improve on? A few improvements could include creating a schedule, enhancing your reading skills and reviewing course material before and after class.  


Creating a Study Schedule 

Creating a study schedule allows you to plan and stay organized with each course. At the beginning of each week set aside time each day to study for your courses. Courses you may have your first semester as an allied dental health student include dental anatomy, dental radiology and preclinical lecture and lab. As you progress through the program, additional courses include pharmacology, oral pathology, medical emergencies in the dental office, dental materials and clinical courses. Most college courses require two hours of studying for every course credit hour each week. However, it is not a good practice to study one topic for two hours, so review material for one class for 30 to 45 minutes, take a break and then switch to another class. 

Reading for Comprehension  

Enhancing your reading skills of course material will give you direction during your studying time. Before you begin reading a chapter, read the summary and review the outline of topics. After you read a section, pause to reflect on what you’ve just read. Restate the main points out loud and summarize the information in your notes. During this reflection, think about how this information relates to the chapter, course and your work as an allied health professional.

For example, a chapter in a dental radiography textbook will discuss radiation safety. As you read the chapter, use reading comprehension skills and engage in reflection to understand these aspects of radiation safety. Radiation can be harmful to living tissues, so it is essential to understand how to protect a patient and yourself. Radiation safety for patients include following guidelines on when to expose patients, as well as the use of proper equipment, technique and protective shielding during the procedure. Protecting yourself from radiation includes standing behind a protective barrier or following distancing guidelines from the radiation source. In the classroom, you will learn about radiation safety and then apply it in the laboratory setting. You will first practice on radiograph training mannequins and once you are competent, you will be able to apply your skills to live patients. 

Reviewing Course Material

Reviewing course material before and after class keeps you focused on course content. Reviewing material before class places you in the mindset for learning that day and exposes you to the material before the lecture. Reviewing material before class also allows you to develop questions on content that is challenging and difficult to understand. Reviewing course material in the evening after class enhances recall and understanding of course material. As you review in the evening, take notes on information that is still confusing and discuss with your instructor the next day or send an email. 

Applying Course Material to the Clinical Setting

An essential goal of an allied dental health program is to teach students content to apply in a clinical setting to improve a patient’s oral health. Enhancing your study skills allows you to understand this content to successfully apply it to the clinical environment during patient treatment. For example, the first phase of patient treatment is assessment. During assessment, you will use knowledge from many courses to collect data on the patient. A preclinical course will provide direction on gathering medical and dental history. A dental anatomy class will provide knowledge of teeth numbers and oral structures. A dental radiography class will provide you with skills on exposing radiographs to detect dental diseases. Using the information that you collected will determine the patient’s individualized treatment plan. In the beginning all that you learn may seem to be unrelated; however, it will all connect during the hands-on application of the material during patient treatment. These programs are challenging, yet so rewarding since you will become an essential member of a patient’s health care team.             

About Jessica Kiser, Ed.D., M.S., RDH:

Jessica Kiser, Ed.D., M.S., RDH

Jessica Kiser, Ed.D., M.S., RDH
Program Director, Cape Fear Community College
Adjunct Clinical Lecturer, University of Michigan School of Dentistry (U-M SOD)


Jessica Kiser, Ed.D., M.S., RDH, is the Dental Hygiene Program Director at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC. She also serves as an adjunct instructor for the U-M SOD’s online Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Program. Her teaching interests include nutrition, radiology and first-year clinic. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, running, peloton classes and cooking.