Thinking of applying to NUS dentistry in Singapore, yet completely clueless about the application process?
I was once a young 19 year old like you, unsure of what course to apply for in university. Thankfully, I managed to get in contact with seniors, who kindly allowed me to shadow them at their workplaces. This enabled a better insight into what life was like as a dentist, and helped me immensely in making my final decision.
I thus decided to come up with this NUS dentistry application guide, as my way of paying it forward for all the help I received. This comprehensive guide covers:
- NUS dentistry admission requirements
- Manual Dexterity Test format and examples
- NUS dentistry interview format: Multiple Mini Interviews
- Importance of job shadowing and internships (plus how to arrange for one)
- Dental school life at NUS
- NUS dentistry fees, scholarships and annual intake
- Life as a dentist in Singapore
I'll be updating this post yearly, with inputs by my dental juniors, so as to keep the information as up-to-date as possible. Information for the interview and practical test is as accurate as the batch that took it the year before. Please do not take the interview questions at face value - it's merely for reference so that you have a better idea of the type and style of questions that may be posed to you.
1. NUS dentistry admission requirements
Depending on the number of applicants, the NUS office of admissions determines the cut off for students who are successful in their applications.
It's common knowledge that you have to put dentistry as either your first/second choice to be considered for an interview. If your application has been successful, you'll receive a letter from NUS stating that you are shortlisted for the Manual Dexterity Test (MDT) and Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) - which will be elaborated upon later.
|Qualifications Presented||Subject Pre-requisites|
|New 'A' level syllabus (with H1/H2 results)||- Good H2 pass in Chemistry - Good H2 pass in either Biology or Physics - Good H2 pass in a third Subject - Good grades in the General Paper or in Knowledge & Inquiry|
|International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma||- Good Higher Level (HL) pass in Chemistry - Good HL pass in either Biology or Physics - Good HL pass in a third subject - Good grades in English|
|International and Other Students||- Year 12 or good higher level pass in Chemistry - Good higher level pass in either Biology or Physics - Good higher level pass in a third subject - Good grades in English|
|NUS High School||- Major CAP of at least 2.0 in Chemistry and either Biology or Physics - CAP of at least 1.0 in one other major and in English Programme and Research Project|
2. Manual Dexterity Test (MDT)
Manual Dexterity Test (MDT) is a practical test where you're given art and craft like tasks to perform. It aims to evaluate how good you are with your hands, and how suitable you may be for dentistry - since dental work is all about working with your hands.
There are 3 components to the MDT, which you're required to complete within a time frame of 2 hours:
- Carving a bar of soap into a "X" shape with specific dimensions
- Moulding a plasticine into a molar tooth shape
- Bending of a wire into a 3D shape with specific dimensions
Here's a picture of what tasks 1 and 3 look like, courtesy of my lovely junior who took the test last year:
A simple tip for practise is to get hold of some materials and work on these tasks at home. Eg. Grab a pair of pliers from your tool box and try to bend some wires into different shapes, use wax knifes to carve some soap bars, mould and sculpt with your younger cousins' play dough.
3. NUS dentistry interview format: Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs)
This is a new format of interviewing applicants, which was introduced only in 2016. It replaces the original panel interviews.
I cannot emphasize enough about the importance of dressing well for your interviews - strictly no jeans/spaghetti tops/ flip flops. First impressions matter a lot as dentists are a very conservative bunch (or at least the assessors are).
There are 10 stations in total: 8 MMI stations and 2 rest stations.
The stations mainly comprise of 2 acting scenes with an actor, a few dialogue/"what would you do" scenario questions and 1 interview.
The stations have a time limit of 6mins each, with a 1 minute allowance to read the question, if any.
There's an assessor at each station to question and assess you at the same time
a) Interview station
These are some examples of interview questions posed in the station:
- Have you had dental experience/shadowed any dental clinics before?
- What do you think is your greatest weakness?
- How did you decide on dentistry?
Generally, the questions posed to you will be gathered from your response to their previous questions. An old trade secret to "prepare" for interviews is to answer in a manner which guides the assessor to ask you questions which you've prepared for, and are well equipped to answer.
However, it may be obvious if your answers are too scripted, so try to be adaptable with your response! It's all about practising until you become completely comfortable with interviews.
b) Acting stations (with life actors)
- You're asked to act out a scene of giving an old lady directions to a hospital department. However, she'll keep forgetting and requesting that you repeat yourself. Towards the last 3 minutes, she'll reveal that she's actually afraid to receive her results from the doctor.
- Another scene involves giving instructions to an old man on building Lego blocks. The instructions are relatively complicated, and the old man will "purposely" forget your instructions to him.
c) Scenario based questions
- You are shown an article on primary school children cleaning their canteen (which was in the news last year) and asked for opinions. Eg. Do you think it's good? How do you think it's useful? Do you think it'll be effective?
- You're volunteering at this children's home, and you notice a girl who comes with bruises all the time. When you question her about it, she avoids all your questions. What will you do?
- Does it make sense for primary school children to volunteer? Why or why not?
- You're given money by the principal to buy a printer for the school. However, your friend has a brand new printer and is selling it at a cheaper price. Will you buy it from your friend and why?
- You're volunteering to give out food at a community event. There are a lot of people in the queue, and you are supposed to give the food to neighbourhood residents only. However you have some extra left, and see some foreign workers in the queue - what will you do?
4. Job shadowing/assistantship
"Why dentistry?" - You may be asking yourself this, and it's also a potential interview question.
If you were like me and completely clueless as to what being a dentist entailed, get in touch with dentists in either the private or public sector! Most of them are happy to arrange for job shadowing opportunities.
I also suggest heading down to the friendly neighbourhood dentist that you've been seeing since you were a child - take the opportunity to observe his work, as well as ask a couple of questions!
These experiences will definitely help you to make your final decision, and are crucial to talk about at your interviews. You may also choose to do part-time dental assistantships at the clinic, earning some extra pocket money during this long post A-level break.
The NUS Faculty of dentistry also allows prospective applicants to apply for job shadowing within the faculty - you can sign up for it at this link here.
As dentistry is a highly skilled profession which you'll spend a long time in as a career, it's important to know from the start exactly what you're signing yourself up for.
5. Dental school life
Curious to know what's in store for you over the 4 years to come in dental school?
Coming from someone who's been there and done it all, I can assure you that the journey is NOT easy at all. You have to be prepared to accept failures repeatedly; somewhere along the way, you'll also learn that there're many things that are beyond your control in dental school.
NUS Faculty of Dentistry is self-contained. Lectures and clinics are always with the same group of people (aka your classmates), and there is minimal/no interaction with other faculties. You have a fixed timetable (just like school!), and there are no electives to choose from, nor do you have to bid for your modules.
Sorry to say, but there's no 3-month long holiday to look forward to as you only get quarterly term breaks (2 weeks in March and September, 4 - 5 weeks in June and December). While your peers from other faculties get to go on 6 months long overseas exchange program, dentistry students only get 1 week of exchange.
Typical lessons in dental school go on from 8 am - 5 pm. School consists of mainly lectures, tutorials and lab work in the early years. Years 3 - 4 are when you first start seeing patients.
There are different clinical requirements and competency tests which you are required to pass along the way, before sitting for your final year exams. This is the time to sound out your relatives, and search for prospective patients for dentures, root canal treatments, crowns and bridges. You may even want to start this search in your pre-clinical years!
Don't just count on the university to supply you with patients - they are generally not enough for you to complete the necessary requirements.
You have to be prepared to give up on your social life in dental school, especially during the final years. Work can be overwhelming, and it's common to stay back in the dental lab till 9 pm daily doing tons of lab work in preparation for your patients - eg. setting up denture teeth, waxing up crowns etc.
The subjects that you take in dental school consist of a mix of both medical and dental subjects. There are many other random modules that you cover throughout your dental course, however the final year examinable subjects are as follows:
- Year 1: Anatomy, Biochemistry, Physiology, Oral biology
- Year 2: Pharmacology, Pathology, Dental Materials, Microbiology
- Year 3 Internal medicine, Surgery, Oral Pathology, Orthodontics, Dental Public Health
- Year 4: Pedodontics, Endodontics, Prosthodontics, Operative Dentistry, Periodontics, Oral Surgery
There's a line system in place, where seniors pass down textbooks and precious notes accumulated over the years to the new juniors. Hence, don't worry about buying any reading materials first.
Last but not least, don't turn up to school in flip flops/shorts/jeans. Use your holiday period to stock up on formal work attire (long sleeved shirt and trousers for guys, work dresses/skirts for the ladies). You'd be pretty much wearing the same work clothes throughout dentistry school. Just picture yourself as a patient, and you'd understand why we have a dress code to adhere to.
Dental school is like a rat race - it can be incredibly stressful, and there'll definitely be times when you feel like giving up. However you should hang in there - the experiences and emotional strength that you gain throughout dental school will mould you into a stronger, more resilient and hopefully more matured individual. And it makes graduation that much more rewarding and sweet!
6. NUS dentistry fees/annual intake
The latest revised annual tuition fees in 2015/2016:
Singapore Citizens (per Academic year)
Permanent Residents (per Academic year)
International students (per Academic year)
The intake as of 2016 is 54 students per year. However with the new Centre of Oral Health opening in 2018, there will be an increase in the number of students per year.
You can also consider applying for financial assistance with NUS. Alternatively, you may also take up a bank loan or use a portion of your parent's CPF to finance the school fees first, with which you would have to pay back in instalments upon graduation. I recommend the latter to save on bank interest, if your parents are agreeable!
7. Post graduation, and life as a dentist in Singapore
Congratulations, you've made it to the end of your dental journey!
Welcome to the other side! Good news? You get a job right after graduation, no need for any job hunting. Bad news? You have to start work 1 month after graduating.
Before entering dental school, there's a contractual agreement that you have to sign with your parents. This bonds you to MOHH for a total of 4 years (Singapore citizens) or 5 years (PRs/Non-citizens).
The salary as a dental officer is $4000 and $4400/month for girls and guys respectively. You also receive a small salary increment of a few hundred dollars each year. Annual wage supplement, corporate bonus and performance bonuses are given out at the end of each year.
You may start considering postgraduate studies in the different specialties 1 - 2 years after you graduate. You can apply for these speciality degrees a minimum of 2 years after completing your bond.
A last important piece of information to note (that I wished I knew about earlier), is that the NUS Dental degree is NOT recognised internationally. It's ONLY recognised in Singapore and Malaysia.
You have to take the respective countries' dental degree conversion tests should you decide on practising abroad in future, which tends to be extremely difficult with low passing rates.
Thus, do understand that your NUS degree doesn't allow much flexibility, especially if you or your partner may have future plans of migration/want to explore job opportunities in other countries.
Conversely, Singapore recognises dental degrees from many countries, as listed in the Singapore Dental Council website. Thus, we have an influx of foreign dentists and international medical graduates arriving to work in Singapore, who're not bonded and tend to move straight into the private sector (where pay is much higher).
I hope that you've found this guide useful, and perhaps gained more insight into the application process. Most of the admissions related information (admin and logistics wise) can be found on the official NUS Faculty of Dentistry website.
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PS Just for laughs, this is a spoof video on a NUS dental student's perspective on dental school life.