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Final year exams: how to prepare…starting now

04 October 2023

Timothy Tlhapane (BDS V student), University of the Western Cape, offers some useful tips for your final year exams

From your third year of studies you would have already been introduced to the clinical space – and you may feel as though you do not know much about well…anything. That’s a universal experience. 

Your third and fourth year assessments are more theoretically driven and dental school will teach you foundational work; however, your final year comes with a twist. You will not exclusively get asked the who’s and what’s but the why’s and how’s. These ‘exit level questions’ are not geared towards asking you the idealised theory that you’re used to but these are questions that are case driven; they will prompt you to make decisions based on the scenario and that can be an adjustment to how you’re used to answering questions. Therefore it is best to prep yourself in this moment for when that time comes. 

Here are some concepts that I’ve come to understand throughout my journey in final year: 

  • This is the best time for you to become acquainted with tools and materials that you’ll continue to use until you’ve completed your undergraduate degree. It’s best to solidify your foundation of learning by memorising and becoming familiar with them. Whether it’s forceps, medication, impression materials, burs, etc it will only benefit your experience in dental school and perhaps those tools/materials may be referenced in an assessment or brought up in an OSCE in the future.


  • It’s best to NOT only stick to tools and materials you feel comfortable with over time. Dental school is about being uncomfortable because it is from that place of discomfort where you’ll grow and push your own boundaries. Make use of those tools and material substitutes. Play around with said materials and instruments. You will never know what will work best for you without diving in.


  • Dentistry is very practical. You can read lecture slides, journals and textbooks and you will perhaps not fully comprehend concepts and literature until you immerse yourself. It’s important to try and get a feel of the literature from a practical sense. A concept such as lingualised occlusion in prosthetic dentistry will only make total sense if you’re involved mentally with a patient that requires that type of “bite” for whatever recommended reason, instead of just reading it off a lecture slide.


  • Never be hesitant to ask for help and concepts to be repeated, whether you’re in class or clinics. There are vital keys that lecturers and/or supervisors can share with you that will not only stick with you from then on but could potentially come up in an assessment or an OSCE. Once you expose yourself to those opportunities there are more chances that those concepts will come up and give you a better prospect of performing well in assessments.

  • An obstacle about dental school is that we are taught the various disciplines separately and our brains automatically sorts them out in that way. If you’re working in the prosthetic dentistry department, your last thought would be periodontics. That, however, is going to change as you progress in your studies and you graduate because in your final year assessments – and in reality – general dentistry is NOT like that. The profession is comprehensive and you’ll have to deconstruct yourself to not see one patient as a ‘perio’ patient or an ‘oral surgery’ patient. 

These are just small nuggets I feel I would have benefited from had I realised them sooner. Condition your mind to make your clinical experience about learning, making mistakes and gaining small wins. After all this is the best time in your career to have that opportunity. Think comprehensively and get your hands dirty in this moment of your journey.