The Bench Test: 6 Facts & Myths You Must Know

You’ve completed your US dental school applications, submitted your essays, recommendations etc. and you’re waiting for a response from the universities. And then one day it comes… you’re invited for an interview and a bench exam to the school!

You get excited and start thinking of what clothes to wear, booking your tickets and where to stay once you’re there. Soon enough, you realize you need to sit for a practical exam with criteria VERY different from the ones you’ve had in dental school!

At this point, most students start panicking. What is it about the bench exams that terrifies students, even though you’re required to perform routine Class II amalgam and PFM tooth preparations?

Here are a few facts elaborated and myths debunked about the bench test that will reassure you that you can definitely crack this!

1. I haven’t got an interview call as yet. I don’t need to worry about the bench test and interview already!


Students applying to dental programs are in one of 3 stages:

– The Applications Stage

– The Waiting stage

– The Interview preparation stage

This whole process can span over a long period of more than 6-8 months. What students don’t realize during the process is that the window between being called for an interview and the actual interview and bench exam is often very short. And when that day comes around, there are many other things on your plate: visa, accommodation, travel plans etc. There is just not enough time to prepare thoroughly for bench tests in this brief window.

It is an excellent idea to start preparing for these practical tests when you are in the first or second stage of your application itself. Getting on top of things early will help you stay ahead of the curve. It’s better to expect the best and prepare early so that you can stay calm and focused on other things at the time you get the interview call, instead of getting frantic at the last minute.

Start by training under US-trained mentors and familiarizing yourself with the protocols, instruments, terminology, etc expected during the bench tests. This will help you when you’re writing your essays as well.

That being said, the bottom line is you have to be prepared. Even if you’re 5 days away from flying for your test, it’s better to get help than to go unprepared.

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2. Tooth preparation Criteria for the Bench Test are VERY different from what we have learned


A class II is a Class II is a Class II!

Simply put, the basics are the same no matter which country you are in. The outline form is similar, G V Black’s cavities are pretty standard and basic facts do not change. So what’s different then?

It is the emphasis on intricacies. The US dental schools require you to be perfect to the tee. You need a perfect angle of draw, perfect margin transitions, retention grooves and slots at the precise line angles and point angles, etc. And while working on patients, it simply doesn’t seem practical. However, this is exactly what bench tests are about – precision! When the examiners sit to evaluate your preps with their magnification loupes, every little error is magnified 2.5X.

Sure, there are a few differences in criteria at different schools. However, knowing these in theory isn’t enough! You need to be able to actually achieve these criteria with utmost precision. Practice will get you there.

Take a bench test course or practice under someone who has been trained from a US dental school and is willing to guide you extensively. Using magnification loupes can also help you to assess your own work! So, if your basic principles are sound, practice and a good mentor can see you breeze through your bench tests.

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3. You cannot carry your own instruments to a bench test


AND a myth, to some extent.

There is a small number of schools that allow you to carry your own instruments. However, MOST schools do not allow you to do so. You have to use the instruments provided to you by them, including burs.

Now, these burs aren’t named conventionally according to the shape. They are coded in numbers: 856, 878K etc. They are very different from the ones you have used in dental school! The first reaction any student might have on discovering this is one of fear. However, you need to make these burs your friends, and life will become very easy! Each of these burs has a specific function and accurate measurements which help you achieve the criteria, the angles, and help evaluate your preps.

Same goes for the hand instruments. So, if you just learn about the instruments in detail beforehand and learn to use them, it will help you perform better on the big day. In fact, even if they ask you to carry your own instruments, you would be well-advised to use the burs that the US dental schools prefer.

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4. The typodont used for the exam is very similar to the one you worked on in dental college


The typodonts used by dental schools all over the world are different and the teeth have a very different feel to them. In fact, within USA itself there are different brands and models of typodonts used. A majority of the schools use different models of either the Columbia or the Kilgore typodonts. A lot of students have been known to burn through the teeth in the typodont during the bench exam for 2 reasons: First, the typodont teeth are very soft. And second, the air rotors there are true high speed.

As a result, the bur cuts into the tooth like a hot knife through butter! So prepare to work with international typodonts that may be given to you and use caution and go step by step. Once you get a feel of the tooth and handpiece, you can go ahead and speed your work up!

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5-Day Bench Test Prep Course in Mumbai

5-Day Bench Test Prep Course in Mumbai

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5. The personal interview will include theory questions related to dentistry


The interview consists of a lot of personal questions! Why this school, what are your goals, your aspirations, about your work experience, etc. An additional component of interviews is a patient scenario, case discussion or treatment planning based on x-rays and study models.

Some schools convert this section into a written exam as well. Theory of course allows you to apply it in these situations with understanding. It would be a good idea to do some research and brainstorming with a US trained mentor about your approach to such questions, as the US schools have different treatment planning sequencing and the terminology they use. You don’t need to memorize numbers and figures. Just know the application of everything. The admissions committee usually just wants to get an idea of your thought process and assess the foundation of your basic concepts.

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6. The Bench exam can include absolutely ANYTHING at all


All schools have a few basic exercises you need to perform, including Class II amalgam and composite tooth preparations and/or restorations, PFM and all-ceramic crown preparations.

A few schools may have one or more of the following in ADDITION to these basics:

  • Class III,IV and V cavity preparations and composite restorations
  • Wax carving exercises
  • Full gold crown preparations
  • Provisionalization
  • Endodontic access cavity preparation
  • Inlays and onlays
  • Designing of Acrylic and Cast partial dentures

This does not mean that they will catch you off-guard and expect you to do something completely bizarre on the day of the exam itself. Prior to the exam, the school will send you a detailed email outlining what exactly will be expected of you on the day of the exam, complete with criteria expected and the menu for lunch! So, you will have some time to prepare yourself for specific requirements.

The schools need to assess your dexterity and hand skills, and some may even ask you to carve an animal out of a wax block! Be confident and remember that you already know all of this. However, it would be best to start preparing for your bench exam AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE! This will give you confidence and more time to practice.

Getting invited to take the bench test is a HUGE deal! It means the schools already like your application and would like to see more of what you are capable of. Finding a US trained mentor who can guide you through the process will be something that will distinguish you from the other candidates and make that final impression lasting!

Have questions about the bench test or want to share your personal experience? Leave a comment below.
You can also check out our 5-Day Bench Test Prep Course being held in Mumbai, starting 22nd August, 2017.

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