Getting the hang of exams

Exams are an unavoidable aspect of dental school that nobody enjoys. The types of assessment students have to take during their academic career varies wildly according to the year they are in and what school they attend.

During the first two years of the course, students usually have to take a mix of short answer, multiple choice, extended matching item and multi-station exams. The list sounds bewildering, but don’t worry. This month I’m going to talk you through exactly what each type of exam involves and give you some tips about how you can get through.

A multiple choice exam may sound easy because you have a one in four chance of getting the question right and you know the correct answer is on there somewhere. But it pays to be cautious, as the questions are often made challenging to reflect the fact that there are fewer answers. Also, at some dental schools, these types of exams are negatively marked meaning that taking multiple guesses may not stand you in good stead.

Extended matching item exams are similar to multiple choice ones in that you have to choose an answer from an option list. However, each question may have up to 26 possible answers, making it nigh on impossible to guess correctly if you don’t know.

The best way to tackle these exams is to try and answer the question before looking at the list of possible answers. Speed reading, under exam conditions, every plausible response can cause confusion at a time when you really need to be keeping your cool.

Multi-station exams are completely different to any assessment you will have experienced before. A racecourse route is marked up around a laboratory with a number of stations dotted along the course. Each one contains a series of questions, often accompanied by some kind of diagram or artefact.

Once the exam starts you get two minutes at each station to answer the questions and then an alarm sounds. This is the signal that your time is up and you have to move on to the next stall. You should have enough time to answer the questions at each station so don’t be tempted to rush. Often the answer to the first question is critical to getting the questions that follow correct. So taking your time will definitely work to your advantage.

It’s important to remember to keep hold of your belongings when moving between stations. Regularly students abandon their pens, pencils and answer sheets when the buzzer sounds. It’s also vital not to take items from one station on to the next, or you may leave the students that follow you very confused.

Short answer exams are exactly that. Examiners are not looking for paragraphs. The questions are created so that a single word, phrase or sentence should be enough to get your point across. You will not be given extra credit for additional information, so writing more than you need to is just a waste of time.

Make sure you keep your handwriting legible throughout. Although you won’t be penalised for writing with a true dental professional’s scrawl, you won’t be given credit for correct answers if the examiner can’t read them.

Exam types vary frequently within dental schools, so make sure you check with your examinations officer to find out exactly what you need to prepare for in the coming months. I wish you all the best of luck!

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