Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) Review & Study Guide
Essential Test Prep Tips to Help You Pass the RDA Exam the First Time
Dental Assistants (DAs) play a critical role in the field of oral health. They do everything from sterilizing dental instruments and performing X-rays to assisting the dentist during our oral exams.
(Click here to learn how to become a Dental Assistant).
To help current and aspiring Dental Assistants achieve their goals, we developed the following study guide for DA certification and licensure.
Dental Assisting certification can offer many benefits, including greater job opportunities, higher salaries, and further career advancement in the dental profession.
This study guide will focus on the RDA, which stands for Registered Dental Assistant. The RDA exam is administered by the Dental Board of California (DBC). They are one of the primary license providers for Dental Assistants on the West Coast.
If you are considering licensure as a Registered Dental Assistant, we hope this guide offers you a clear roadmap to success while preparing for the exam.
How to Pass the RDA Licensing Exam
Our comprehensive RDA study plan will cover the following questions and topics:
- What is the RDA exam?
- How do you pass the RDA?
- The RDA exam requirements
- What is on the RDA exam?
- RDA exam sample questions
- What to do on the day of the exam
- Information on RDA test results
But first, let’s begin with a brief review…
What Is the RDA Exam?
The RDA exam is a professional license that qualifies you to become a Registered Dental Assistant.
RDAs are licensed healthcare professionals who provide dental care for patients. Their duties are a mix of patient care, laboratory procedures, and clerical work. The Registered Dental Assisting exam validates your skills and knowledge in the field of oral care to your patients as well as to your current and future employers.
RDA Exam Requirements
What Are the Requirements to Take the RDA Exam?
RDA candidates must meet the following requirements to sit for this exam.
- Graduate from a Board-approved Registered Dental Assisting program; or
- Complete at least 15 months (1,280 hours) of satisfactory work experience as a Dental Assistant with a dentist, licensed in one of the states in the United States; or
- Complete a California Department of Education-approved four-month educational program and 11 months of work experience with a dentist licensed in one of the states.
- Complete Board-approved courses in coronal polishing and radiation safety.
- Complete and show proof of completion of a Board-approved course in the Dental Practice Act completed within five years of application.
- Complete and show proof of completion of an eight-hour, Board-approved course in infection control within five years of application.
- Complete and show proof of completion of a basic life support course with an instructor approved by the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.
- Submit fingerprint clearances from both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
How to Apply for the RDA Exam
Applicants who meet one of the Dental Board’s eligibility categories must complete an application as well as the corresponding paperwork based on their eligibility criteria (see the below sections).
Once you file your application with the Dental Board, you will receive information on how to schedule and pay for the computerized written exam through Psychological Services Inc. (PSI).
Use this form if you graduated from a board approved, Registered Dental Assisting program.
Work Experience Only
Use this form if you have completed 15 months and 1,280 hours of work experience as a Dental Assistant.
Mixed Education and Work Experience
Use this form if you have completed a non-approved DA program AND you have worked as a Dental Assistant.
Approved Education Pathway
Use this form if you qualify through an approved education pathway.
Work Experience and Blended Pathways
Use this form if you qualify through work experience AND blended pathways.
Questions? Learn more about this process here.
What Is on the RDA Exam?
The Dental Board of California provides a candidate handbook as well as an RDA combined exam plan. They want to help applicants succeed, so it’s best to take advantage of these resources.
The RDA is a computerized exam that encompasses general knowledge as well as law & ethics. In fact, questions on the exam fall into four major categories, with each one accounting for a percentage of the total questions.
1. Patient Treatment and Care (25%)
- Examples of Task Statements
- Review and report to dentist patient medical conditions, medications, and areas of medical/dental treatment history that may affect dental treatment.
- Take patient’s blood pressure and vital signs.
- Inspect patient’s oral condition with mouth mirror.
- Chart existing oral conditions and diagnostic findings at the direction of the licensed provider.
- Perform intraoral diagnostic imaging of patient’s mouth and dentition (e.g., radiographs, photographs).
- Respond to patient questions about existing conditions and treatment following dentist’s diagnosis.
- Observe for signs and conditions that may indicate abuse or neglect.
- Perform dental procedures using professional chairside manner.
- Educate patient about behaviors that could affect oral health or dental treatment.
- Instruct patient about pre- and postoperative care and maintenance for dental procedures and appliances.
- Examples of Knowledge Statements
- Knowledge of effects of coexisting medical/dental conditions on dental treatment.
- Knowledge of common medical conditions that may affect dental treatment (e.g., asthma, cardiac conditions, diabetes).
- Knowledge of allergic reactions and sensitivities associated with dental treatment and materials (e.g., latex, epinephrine).
- Knowledge of purposes and effects of commonly prescribed medications that may affect dental treatment (e.g., Coumadin, psychotropics).
- Knowledge of medical conditions that may require premedication for dental treatment (e.g., joint replacement, infective endocarditis, artificial heart valves).
- Knowledge of acceptable levels of blood pressure for performing dental procedures.
- Knowledge of methods and techniques for using medical equipment to take vital signs.
- Knowledge of techniques and procedures for using imaging equipment to perform intraoral and extraoral diagnostic imaging.
- Knowledge of types of plaque, calculus, and stain formations of the oral cavity and their etiology.
- Knowledge of conditions of the tooth surfaces (e.g., decalcification, caries, stains, and fractures lines) and how to document them.
2. Dental Procedures (35%)
- Examples of Task Statements
- Place bases and liners.
- Place matrices and wedges.
- Place temporary filling material.
- Apply etchant to tooth surface (tooth dentin or enamel) for direct and indirect provisional restorations.
- Place bonding agent.
- Fabricate and adjust indirect provisional restorations.
- Place, adjust, and finish direct provisional restorations.
- Perform cementation procedure for indirect provisional restorations.
- Obtain intraoral images using computer generated imaging system (e.g., CADCAM).
- Take impressions for indirect provisional restorations.
- Remove indirect provisional restorations.
- Perform in-office whitening (bleaching) procedures (e.g., Boost, Opalescence).
- Perform coronal polishing.
- Prepare teeth and apply pit and fissure sealants.
- Examples of Knowledge Statements
- Knowledge of types of base and liner materials and the techniques and procedures for their application and placement.
- Knowledge of types of wedges and the techniques and procedures for their use.
- Knowledge of techniques and procedures for using matrix bands with or without band retainers.
- Knowledge of types of temporary filling materials and the techniques and procedures to mix, place, and contour them.
- Knowledge of types of bonding agents and the techniques and procedures for their application and placement.
- Knowledge of types of etchants and the techniques and procedures for their application and placement. Knowledge of irregularities in margins that affect direct and indirect provisional restorations.
- Knowledge of techniques used to eliminate open margins when placing restorative materials.
- Knowledge of methods for identifying improper occlusal contacts, proximal contacts, or embrasure contours of provisional restorations.
- Knowledge of techniques and procedures for mitigating the effects of improper occlusal contacts, proximal contacts, or embrasure contours of provisional restorations.
- Knowledge of instrumentation and techniques related to the removal of indirect provisional restorations.
- Knowledge of scope of practice for RDAs and RDAEFs related to applying bases, liners, and bonding agents.
- Knowledge of scope of practice for RDAs related to coronal polishing and the application of pit and fissure sealants.
3. Dental Specialty Procedures (10%)
- Examples of Task Statements
- Test pulp vitality.
- Dry canals with absorbent points.
- Place periodontal dressings at surgical site.
- Place orthodontic separators.
- Place and remove ligature ties and arch wires.
- Place elastic ties to secure arch wires.
- Remove orthodontic bands.
- Take impression for fixed and removable orthodontic appliances.
- Remove post-extraction and post-surgery sutures as directed by dentist.
- Place and remove dry socket dressing as directed by dentist.
- Adjust prosthetic appliances extraorally.
- Examples of Knowledge Statements
- Knowledge of techniques and procedures for testing pulp vitality.
- Knowledge of techniques and procedures for measuring canal length and size.
- Knowledge of scope of practice for RDAs and RDAEFs related to initial pulp vitality testing and other endodontic procedures.
- Knowledge of scope of practice for RDAs and RDAEFs related to the placement of periodontal dressing materials.
- Knowledge of types of periodontal dressings and techniques for their application.
- Knowledge of scope of practice for RDAs and RDAEFs related to the placement of orthodontic materials.
- Knowledge of techniques for placement and removal of orthodontic separators and bands, arch wires, and ties.
- Knowledge of techniques for placement and removal of removable orthodontic appliances.
- Knowledge of types of materials for taking impressions for removable orthodontic appliances and the techniques for their application.
- Knowledge of techniques for removing post-extraction and post-surgery sutures.
- Knowledge of methods for treating dry socket.
- Knowledge of methods for identifying pressure points (sore spots) related to ill-fitting prosthetic appliances.
- Knowledge of materials, equipment, and techniques used for adjustment of prosthetic appliances.
- Knowledge of scope of practice for RDAs and RDAEFs related to the adjustment of extraoral prosthetic appliances.
4. Safety (30%)
- Examples of Task Statements
- Wear personal protective equipment during patient-based and non-patient-based procedures as specific to the tasks.
- Purge dental unit lines with air or water prior to attachment of devices.
- Use germicides for surface disinfection (e.g., tables, chairs, counters).
- Use surface barriers for prevention of cross-contamination.
- Perform instrument sterilization in compliance with the office’s infection control program.
- Disinfect and sterilize laboratory and operatory equipment in compliance with the office’s infection control program.
- Use hand hygiene procedures.
- Conduct biological spore testing to ensure functioning of sterilization devices.
- Dispose of biological hazardous waste and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIM).
- Dispose of pharmaceuticals and sharps in appropriate container.
- Implement measures to minimize radiation exposure to patient during radiographic procedures.
- Implement measures to prevent and monitor scatter radiation exposure (e.g., lead shields, radiation dosimeter) to self and others during radiographic procedures.
- Implement measures for the storage and disposal of radiographic film.
- Implement protocols and procedures to protect operator from exposure during hazardous waste management.
- Package, prepare, and store hazardous waste for disposal.
- Store, label, and log chemicals used in a dental practice.
- Examples of Knowledge Statements
- Knowledge of laws and regulations pertaining to infection control procedures related to “Dental Healthcare Personnel” (DHCP) environments.
- Knowledge of protocols and procedures for purging dental unit waterlines and hand pieces (DUWL).
- Knowledge of procedures and protocols for the disposal of biological hazardous waste and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIM).
- Knowledge of legal and ethical requirements for RDAs and RDAEFs related to radiation safety.
- Knowledge of methods for the storage and disposal of radiographic film.
- Knowledge of what constitutes hazardous waste and the protocols and procedures for its disposal.
- Knowledge of requirements for placing hazardous substances in secondary containers, (e.g., labeling, handling, applicable containers).
Note: Once your application has been accepted by the Board, you will receive more information regarding the content of the exam. Be sure to read all of it carefully.
How to Prepare for the RDA Exam
To help you prepare for the RDA exam, let’s begin by answering the Dental Board of California’s most frequently asked questions.
How many questions are on the RDA exam?
The RDA General and Law and Ethics written exam is a three-hour, computer based, 150-question multiple-choice exam. It’s administered in a computerized test center at various sites in California. If you qualify and your application is accepted, you will be sent information about how to register for this exam.
What is the passing score for the RDA exam?
All candidates who pass the exam will receive a score of 75%. On the other hand, all candidates who fail will receive a score of 55%.
How many people pass the RDA exam?
The Dental Board of California actually provides pass rates for every month of the year (they even specify by program/school). In addition, they offer pass rate averages for all schools organized by work experience, mixed education, and work experience, etc. For instance, in August of 2020, 76% of applicants with work experience passed the exam.
How much does it cost to take the RDA exam?
First-time applicants must complete the application for RDA examination and submit a fee of $120.00. You’ll need to pay an additional fee of $38.50 for the RDA General and Law and Ethics written exam when scheduling your test with Psychological Services Inc. (PSI), the contracted testing agency handling the examinations for the Board.
Note: You can learn more about this process here.
When do I receive my RDA test results?
Written examination results are given at the testing site directly after the exam is completed. The Dental Board can only provide pass/fail results (the actual score on the exam is not released).
What happens after I pass the exam?
Once this process has been completed and you’re qualified for licensure, a pocket identification card and wall certificate will be issued.
When does my RDA license expire?
Your first renewal may be immediate depending on your birth date and the day you are licensed. If your birth year is an even number, then you will always expire in an even year on the day of your birthday. Alternatively, if your birth year is an odd number, you will always expire in an odd year on the day of your birthday.
- Even number example
Birthday: January 2, 1976
Licensed on: October 1, 2007 (prior to your next even year birthday)
Expirations would be: January 2, 2008; January 2, 2010; January 2, 2012…
- Odd number example
Birthday: May 21, 1981
Licensed on: January 1, 2007 (prior to your next odd year birthday)
Expirations would be: May 21, 2007; May 21, 2009; May 21, 2011…
If my RDA license gets canceled, how can I recertified?
You have two options to begin working as an RDA again:
- Restart the process of RDA licensure as a new applicant. This includes taking the written exam, fingerprinting, and providing a coronal polish and x-ray certificate and paying the initial application fee of $80.00.
- Petition the Board to reinstate your previous license. This may include paying all back-due renewal fees including late fees, providing proof of continuing education courses for all missed renewals, submitting original wall certificate and most recent pocket license, fingerprints, and proof of coronal polishing and X-ray certificates.
RDA Test Prep
RDA Sample Quiz Questions
To help you gauge some of the topics on the exam, we compiled a few sample questions taken directly from ProProfs’s online practice test.
(You can find the answers to these questions at the bottom of the article).
- The function of the __ is to apply force to move the teeth or to hold them in the desired positions.
- a) Buccal tubes
- b) Bracket
- c) Archwire
- d) Springs
- The __ wraps around the bracket and is tightened by twisting.
- a) Archwire
- b) Ligature wire
- c) Spring
- d) Separator
- __ are attached to hooks/buttons that are secured on the band/brackets.
- a) Springs
- b) Tooth positioners
- c) Elastic separators
- d) Elastics
- After the premature loss of a primary tooth, which special fixed appliance is worn to maintain a space for the permanent tooth.
- a) Bracket
- b) Space maintainers
- c) Headgear
- d) Activator
- Which removable appliance, usually worn for a specific number of hours each day, is used to apply force to move teeth, restrain or alter cranial facial bone growth, and reinforce the stability of intraoral appliances?
- a) Space maintainer
- b) Headgear
- c) Activator
- d) Tooth positioner
- __ means that the tooth is in a distal to normal position.
- b) Distoversion
- c) Mesioversion
- d) Infraversion
- __ means that the tooth is tipped toward the lip or cheek.
- a) Torsoversion
- b) Labioversion
- c) Transversion
- d) Linguoversion
- __ causes of malocclusion include systemic disease and nutritional disturances that upset the normal schedule of dentition development during infancy and early childhood.
- a) Local factor
- b) Systemic factor
- c) Developmental factor
- d) Environmental factor
- The teeth are retained in position through the process of __, which created and deposits new cells.
- a) Resorption
- b) Deposition
- c) Transposition
- d) Disposition
- __ are placed in the contact are between the teeth, forcing the teeth to spread to accomodate the orthodontic bands.
- a) Separators
- b) Plastic rings
- c) Brackets
- d) Springs
RDA Test Strategies
What to Do on RDA Exam Day
Here is a summary of the things you’ll need to know for the day of the exam. Consider this your pre-test checklist!
- All candidates will have their thumbprint taken during examination check-in. The thumb print must be matched after candidates return from a restroom break and any time the candidate leaves and returns to the test site after check-in.
- Candidates are advised to layer clothing, as the temperature in the testing room will be at a moderate level. Keep in mind that outerwear is not allowed in the testing rooms (coats, heavy jackets, vests, shawls, scarves, etc.)
- Candidates are not permitted to bring watches or other timekeeping devices into the testing rooms. There are timing mechanisms available in the testing room and on the computer console, though.
- Only one candidate will be allowed to take a restroom break at a time. Candidates are required to sign out when leaving and returning to the testing room.
- The following is a non-exhaustive list of personal items that are not permitted in the testing rooms:
- Cellular phones
- Drinks (including water)
- Good luck items
- Reading materials
- Any recording device
- Smart devices
- Electronic devices
- Headphones or earphones/earbuds
- Personal pens or pencils
- Therapeutic items
- Over-the-counter medication
- Fashion scarves
- Hats/baseball caps/visors
- Bulky, large or noisy jewelry
- Prescription drugs
- Shoes must always be worn, and feet are not permitted on the chairs. Your feet must remain on the floor at all times during the exam.
How to Renew Your RDA Licensure
There are three categories for renewal requirements: Active, Inactive, and First Time.
Requirements for ACTIVE renewal:
- Completed, signed, and dated renewal form
- Renewal payment
- Satisfactory completion of twenty-five (25) continuing education units
- Disclosure of any license discipline by a government agency or other disciplinary body and criminal conviction(s) since last renewal
- Completed Dental Healthcare Workforce Survey
- Fulfillment of fingerprinting requirements
Inactive or First-Time Renewal
Requirements for INACTIVE and FIRST-TIME renewal:
- The same as above, except continuing education is not required for an “Inactive” license renewal OR the “First Time” renewal of a license.
You can learn more about incomplete renewals, inactive licenses, continuing education, and more here.
The Value of a Dental Assisting Diploma
If you’d like to pursue a career in dentistry, you may want to consider pursing a diploma in Dental Assisting.
Graduates of approved DA programs can immediately sit for the RDA exam. In comparison, graduates of non-approved programs would need to work 1,500 hours before they could sit for the exam.
Some employers even look for a Dental Assisting diploma when employing receptionists at dental clinics. If you choose to become an RDA, you could also pursue Registered Dental Assisting with extended functions (a specialization through the Dental Board of California). In addition, DA diploma graduates can pursue an Orthodontic Assistant permit with the Board.
The possibilities only continue to grow with education.
Jumpstart Your Future Today
Our goal for this article was to provide you with practical tips on how to pass the RDA (DBC) Licensure Exam. We hope it gives you the knowledge and confidence to take that next step forward in your career.
One rewarding aspect of licensure is the ability to advance within the field. Some enjoy lifelong careers as Dental Assistants, while others build on their experience to apply to higher-level programs and positions.
Best of luck!
Answers: 1)C 2)B 3)D 4)B 5)B 6)B 7)B 8)B 9)B 10)A