HESI helps students at Ivy Tech Community College prepare for Certified Dental Assisting exam

“We have had tremendous success with the dental assisting HESI exam,” says Teresa Macauley, CDA, EFDA, MS, director of the Dental Assistant Program at Ivy Tech Community College, “We recently had a 100% pass rate.”

Aiming Higher

The Dental Assisting Program at Ivy Tech Community College regularly achieved pass rates on the Certified Dental Assisting (CDA) exam in the 85% to 93% range, but the program wanted to keep raising the bar.

Macauley saw that the HESI exam could be a method for boosting pass rates even higher. HESI already has a proven track record in nursing education, so she realized it could be useful for preparing students for the CDA exam as well.

The CDA exam consists of three sections: infection control, radiation health and safety, and general chairside. Participants who pass all three receive a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificate. The HESI exam uses questions and an exam format that match the latest content outline from the CDA exam. “HESI gives students the opportunity to take a similar exam that doesn't have quite as high of consequences,” Macauley says.

16 students received a score of more than 650 on HESI, indicating they were well prepared for the next section of the CDA exam. “Two weeks later, 14 went on to take the final part of their dental assisting national board,” Macauley, says. “All 14 passed and graduated as certified dental assistants.”

Integrating HESI

Ivy Tech started using HESI in August 2012; so far students have taken two sections of the HESI exam. With the current group of students, Macauley plans to integrate all three sections of the HESI exam into the program's curriculum, which matches the sections of the CDA exam.

At the end of the first semester, which covers infection control, students will take the infection control section of the HESI Dental Assisting Exit and then take the infection control section of the CDA exam. After the semester covering radiology, they will take the corresponding HESI Dental Assisting section and then the radiation health and safety section of the CDA exam. At the end of the third and final semester, which covers general chairside, students will take that portion of the HESI exam and then the corresponding section of the CDA exam.

For students who score less than 650, Macauley plans to use the same remediation techniques they currently use for those who don't do well on a test: “We go back through the information that was missed and do remediation didactically and clinically.”

Although students won't be required to take HESI, Macauley says participation will be “highly, highly encouraged.”

Prepping Students

Students were given the option of participating in HESI testing. “We met with students and told them ‘you have this opportunity; do you think it's something that will help you,'” says Macauley. “Every one of them said, ‘I want to take this opportunity. I want to see what I have to do to pass the high-stakes exam.'”

Ivy Tech has a testing center on site, so staff there received training on HESI from Elsevier, and then administered the test. Afterwards, Macauley first let the class know how they performed as a group on HESI. “Then I had a private conference with each student so they knew how they did individually.”

“The majority of students said HESI was good preparation,” Macauley adds. “They knew what to expect when they went into take the dental assisting national board exam.” Students also found HESI to be valuable in identifying topics they needed to study more. Macauley supplemented HESI with “lunch and learn” sessions. As part of the sessions, students asked her to review information related to areas where they did not do well on HESI.

The use of HESI and the learning sessions, “really helped strengthen students as candidates for the national board exam,” Macauley says.

Providing Benefits

Faculty at Ivy Tech also benefit from using HESI. The reports give them insights into curriculum from a national level “HESI makes us look at our curriculum content.” Macauley says, adding. “We've covered more topics than we have in the past.”

Macauley, who is one of the authors of the HESI exam, says the exam will “have students ready by giving them a very similar type of exam, very similar style of questioning, and the same topics they need to know when they take each section of the CDA. They're more at ease with the CDA, and they know what they need to do to pass.”