Certified Dental Assistant Test Breakdown

The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) has developed an examination referred to as the CDA exam, or Certified Dental Assistant exam. This examination has three components: General Chairside (GC), Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) and Infection Control (ICE). The examination can either be taken on computer or on paper, and if taking it on computer, more than one component of the exam can be taken at once. If taking the exam on paper, only one component of the exam may be taken during any given test administration.

In order to register for any component (or all components) of the CDA exam, an application must be either mailed or faxed to DANB. This application can be found online in the Exam Candidate Guide on the DANB website. All fees must also be paid when the application is submitted, and specific fee schedules are outlined online as well.

When applying for the CDA exam, it is important to note that one of the various eligibility pathways must be followed. There are different eligibility pathways for each component of the CDA exam, and these are outlined on the DANB website.

The computer-based exam is given year round at various testing centers across the country, and there are no application deadlines for this examination. The written exam is given in February, June, and October, and when applying for the written exam, all specified deadlines must be followed. These deadlines can be found on the DANB website.

After applying for the CDA exam, DANB will mail all successful applicants an admission notice. If one has applied to take the computer-based exam, the admission notice will usually be received by the applicant within 4 weeks from when DANB received the application. If taking the written exam, the admission notice will be received within one to two weeks prior to the exam date.

For people taking the computer-based exam, the admission ticket will contain information on how to schedule an exam time and date. This can be done by calling the phone number given, or by registering online.

There is a 60 day eligibility window, and the exam must be taken during this time, or the application is forfeited. If taking the written exam, the admission ticket will show the test date, time, and location.

The Certified Dental Assistant exam is given in two formats: written or computer-based. The written exam is given at only select times during the year, and the computer-based exam can be taken at any time that is convenient for the test-taker. Both formats of the exam contain multiple choice questions only. There are three components to the CDA exam, and these are: General Chairside, Infection Control, and Radiation Health and Safety.

There are 120 questions in the General Chairside component of the exam, and they deal with the following topics:

  • Collection and Recording of Clinical Data (10%)
  • Chairside Dental Procedures (45%)
  • Chairside Dental Materials (11%)
  • Lab Materials and Procedures (4%)
  • Patient Education and Oral Health Management (10%)
  • Prevention and Management of Emergencies (14%)
  • Office Management Procedures (6%)

There are 100 questions in the Infection Control component of the exam, and they deal with the following topics:

  • Patient and Dental Health Care Worker Education (10%)
  • Preventing Cross-Contamination and Transmission (20%)
  • Maintaining Aseptic Conditions (10%)
  • Performing Sterilization Procedures (15%)
  • Environmental Asepsis (15%)
  • Occupational Safety (30%)

Finally, the Radiation Health and Safety component of the CDA exam contains 100 multiple choice questions.

  • Expose and Evaluate (37%)
  • Process (16%)
  • Mount and Label (11%)
  • Radiation Safety- Patient (24%)
  • Radiation Safety- Operator (12%)

In addition, there are some pretest questions on the exam. These items are not scored, however. There are four hours total to complete all three components of the examination. If the exam is being taken on computer, more than one component may be taken on a given day. If the written exam is being taken, only one component may be taken during any given test administration.

The components of the CDA exam are scored using scaled scores. These scores range from 100 (low) to 900 (high). A passing scaled score is 400. The passing scaled score is determined using psychometric procedures. The scaled score allows for comparison between different exams and test administrations. The scaled score also helps maintain consistent standards on the exam.

In addition to a scaled score, test-takers are also given subtest performance scores. These scores are given for each content area and can be reported as low average, average, or high average. Finally, all questions on the CDA exam are evaluated for performance. If certain test items perform poorly, they are not counted in the overall final score.

Test-takers are given a preliminary score report upon completion of the exam. Official score reports are mailed out four weeks after the computer-based exam and six weeks after the written exam.

In trying to prepare for the CDA exam, it is important to be familiar with the test structure and its content. Reviewing the content on the test using textbooks and materials from previous studies can prove to be useful. Also, taking practice exams and practice questions can also help indicate areas that may need additional study and review.

On the day of the test, taking the on-screen computer tutorial (if taking the computer-based exam) is useful. This will familiarize the test-taker with the computer system so no problems are encountered during the administration of the test. This computer tutorial can also be found online on the DANB website.

It is also important to pace oneself during the exam, so all questions can be answered. Leaving questions blank can have a negative effect on the overall scaled score. If an answer is not known, a best guess is advised.

  • General Chairside test – 120 test questions
  • Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) test – 100 test questions
  • Infection Control test – 100 test questions

Students have 4 hours to finish all 320 test questions. A scaled score of 400 is required to pass on a scaled score range of 100-900.

DANB stands for the Dental Assisting National Board.