Running examinations during a global pandemic

October 2, 2020

In March of this year, Canada was hit with the full impact of the virus that had already touched many other countries. Within a matter of days, the country was ordered to shut down businesses, shelter in place, and limit as much exposure to others as possible in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. These measures, while necessary, placed many people and organizations such as the NDEB in state of uncertainty. How would we continue to serve our examinees and other stakeholders under such circumstances?

The role of the NDEB is to develop and administer examinations to individuals who want to practice as dentists in Canada. These examinations are designed to ensure that everyone who applies for a license as a dentist in Canada has met a minimum standard of competency.

Each year, the NDEB administers examinations for approximately 5000 dentists. The cancellation of examinations due to COVID-19 in March through August of 2020 left over 2000 examinees in a state of flux as the NDEB struggled with when and how it could reschedule the examinations and accommodate the regular number of test takers with the new regulations on gathering size and physical distancing in place. It was first determined that the NDEB would immediately begin to convert the Assessment of fundamental knowledge (AFK), one of its largest paper-based examinations, to an electronic platform. This would provide access by increasing the number of test centres from 10 to 23 and would ensure safety by reducing the number of test takers per centre.

NDEB also changed its administration plans for other examinations and created more testing centres to minimize the need for examinees to travel across international and provincial boarders. The National Dental Specialty Examination (NDSE), scheduled to take place in Ottawa only, was offered at 13 testing centers across Canada and four in the US. The certification examinations (Written Examination & OSCE) originally scheduled to take place at three sites, were administered at nine sites across Canada. The Assessment of Clinical Judgement (ACJ) was administered in Canada, the United States and New Zealand. With these changes, the NDEB will have successfully rescheduled all the cancelled examinations except for the Assessment of Clinical Skills (ACS).

Even with the changes to administration that were adopted, physical distancing meant a significant reduction in seats for all examinations. The examination the most impacted by the reduced seats and other regulations is by far the ACS.

The ACS is a skills examination in which examinees perform a series of dental procedures on simulated patients. The procedures are then evaluated by calibrated examiners, who are licensed dentists, at an evaluation session held in a central location. To administer this examination the NDEB relies on eight Canadian Faculties of Dentistry to give the NDEB access to their dental clinic for two days, during which examinees from across the country come together to undertake the examination. Following which, up to 100 evaluators come together to grade the procedures. Unlike paper and pencil examinations, the ACS cannot be converted to another delivery method, nor can more centres to administer the examination be created.

Consequently, after extensive investigation, the NDEB determined that it could not hold the ACS as planned while adhering to the various provincial and federal guidelines on physical distancing, gathering size, and travel.

As the country enters the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the NDEB will work diligently to deliver all its examinations. It will continue to prioritize accommodating those who have had their examinations cancelled and to make the examinations as accessible as possible.