This special post was created because students ask, “do you have any recommendations for those who have test anxiety?” Most of us have test anxiety to a certain degree. But the reality is that we have to overcome it to pass the dental assisting board and school exams (CDA®, NELDA®, COA®, CPFDA®, CRFDA®).

RHS, ICE, GC< DANB, Dental assisting bords

Causes of anxiety

  • Fear of failure. While the pressure to perform can act as a motivator, it can also be devastating to individuals who tie their self-worth to the outcome of a test.
  • Lack of preparation. Waiting until the last minute or not studying at all can leave individuals feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
  • Poor test history. Previous problems or bad experiences with test-taking can lead to a negative mindset and influence performance on future tests.

Tips for managing test anxiety

Be prepared

I mean, duuuhh! The real problem is related to the feeling of being prepared.  Let’s say you are preparing for the marathon and you train every day for 1 hour.  What is equally important is the mental satisfaction KNOWING that you are doing everything you can. If you cross out on your calendar the days you actually trained, at the end of the week/month, you can look back and smile. Knowing that you are prepared =  Excellent performance.

For the dental assisting exams, I suggest you create a plan and cross out what you have accomplished. SmarterDA gives you everything you need for the dental assisting exams in a concise format. If you are using a book, turn the table of content into a “to-do” list and mark off the topics you mastered.  If you are using SmarterDA, the smart system tracks your progress automatically. When you get towards 100% completion, you know you are prepared.

On this topic of preparation, do you want FREE mini-reviews? They come weekly to your email. Little goes a long way.

Simulate exam conditions

Let’s go back to our marathon analogy. If you are training for the full-length marathon, you’d better get off that treadmill and start running in “real” conditions. Rain, heat, hills, animals! All of those elements make the journey tougher. Unless you experienced them at least once, it will be difficult for you to make it to the end.

The dental assisting exams are tough. I have taken the exams myself, and I was challenged in many ways – time management, stress management, computer format, screen glare, etc. If you want to minimize your risks, you MUST find a tool that simulates the real exam conditions. The most important elements are:

  • Computer format
  • Time management
  • Breaks

If you are using a review book, see if there is a web-based mock exam you can do on your computer. A timer is probably not built-in, so bring your own watch. SmarterDA has a mock board for The Dental Assisting Exams of the DANB® that simulate the format of the exams (with images) with a timer. You can practice it over and over again, so when you go to the actual exam, you know what to expect.

NO surprises.

Maintain a positive attitude

When there is something you do NOT know during the dental assisting exams, what do you do?

A. Cry

B. Take a guess and move on

C. Think about the question at least 3 times

I have seen thousands of students through SmarterDA and StudentRDH. My honest advice is C. Take a guess and move on. Why am I not advising you to “ponder” and rethink the question? Because being “stuck” only bring the psyche down. When that happens, it has a snowball effect. This is most likely going to happen: “I don’t know the answer to this” -> “I am so dumb” -> “I should have postponed the exam” -> “I am going to fail” -> “I just want to be done.” I am exaggerating a bit, but negative thoughts grow like undesired weeds.

Leave what you do NOT know behind. Do NOT try to overthink the question! Break up before you get too attached.

Find a relaxation technique

Super cliché. You may think, meditation does NOT work for you. Well, relaxation can be other things such as thinking about your favorite song or a good memory. There must be something that works for you. Find it. For me, it is the ocean waves that I have seen in St. Thomas.

Don’t feel guilty if you are not thinking about the exam 100% of the time before, during, and after the exam. Find something that can put a smile on your heart and you will feel much more recharged.

Think right now. What is your “relaxation” method? The picture of your children? The summer vacation you took last year? The mountains? Do not move on until you find it.

I hope that this post made your day a little brighter! Anxiety can be overcome. I coached students with learning disability and anxiety. And guess what? They all passed the board exam. You can do it too.

If you need any further assistance, please email me at and I am not a psychologist, but I will try everything I can to help you be ready for the dental assisting board exams.

SmarterDA has great STEP-by-STEP courses which include mock exams. Take these FREE trials in each course, 100% FREE.  Choose Below!


Author: Claire RDH, MS

Claire Jeong is an educator and entrepreneur. She founded StudentRDH and SmarterDA – which offer dental hygiene and dental assisting exam review courses. The online platform delivers content of the highest quality through the latest e-learning technology. According to some students, studying is now “addicting.” Claire was invited on various podcasts to speak about memory techniques and learning efficacy; topics she also promotes through articles, speeches, e-books, and blogs.

Claire has a Master’s Degree in Administration from Boston University and a Dental Hygiene Degree from Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene in Boston. Prior to her career in the dental field, she has been mentoring students for 15 years and was an education specialist at Boston Children’s Museum. Claire is licensed to practice in the United States as well as Canada.

Disclaimer: DANB®, CDA®, COA®, CPFDA®, CRFDA®, NELDA®, DANB®, RHS® and ICE®  are registered trademarks of the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (“DANB”). This article is not sponsored or endorsed by or affiliated with the DANB.

The content was adapted from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, available here.