Making DNB theory exam easier to pass

DNB theory exam preparation
Fig.1 - Steps to follow before starting the final exam preparation.

The pass percentage of DNB exam remains poor despite some improvement in the last few years. This continues to be the primary concern for medical graduates while making the decision to choose DNB or MD in all specialities.

This also applies to paediatrics, even when the academic infrastructure of Paediatric training in India remains high.

There are several reasons behind low passing percentage in DNB exam, why DNB exam is more difficult to pass?

We all agree that DNB exam is one of the toughest Postgraduate exam in India. Problems do not exists without solutions, there are solution always.  All it takes is a proper planning, understanding why it is difficult, and execution of required actions. You can not control how National Board of Examination and their examiners operate but you can control how you behave during the 3 years of DNB training.

There are some rules for this game and you need to be aware about those from very beginning.

DNB exams needs guidance from beginning, you dont need to be on your own. Save time by asking help and advise. This website is one such resource you have by your side throughout your residency.

Hi, I am Ranjith and I am going to discuss about the steps for preparing for DNB theory exam and how to write the answers. But before we move forward, let us understand the problems first.

Hurdles in passing the DNB exam - The Fear Factor.

Some uncertainty is usual, it is applicable for everyone, be it MD or DNB. A new pattern of exam, exam at a different place contributes to the anxiety. But stop panicking as theory exams are approaching. Trust me it is of no benefit and it might even worsen the outcomes.

So step 1 - Remove FEAR from your mind

Systematic approach is the key.

It requires 2 months of proper revision before theory. But it does also require studying throughout 3 years of training and collective knowledge. Here is a audio guide on How to survive during pediatric residency

On the other hand, If you have done good in all 3 years of your residency but somehow, failed to plan your revision, it is probably going to harm your answer sheet.

How is the DNB theory exam pattern?

Theory exam consist of 4 papers. Each paper has 10 questions. Although each paper is designated for particular systems, this may not be strictly followed.

In recent past, the 4 the paper compromised of multiple-choice based question, so it was less tiring in terms of continuous writing for hours. But during the pandemic this has been discontinued. Now there are 10 short notes of 10 marks each, in each paper.

you must score minimum 200 marks out of 400 in the aggregate out of these 4 papers to pass the theory examination. Grace marks of up to 2% i.e. 8/400 will be availed if you are securing 192 to 199 marks out of 400. I would say, we usually need to know 7-8 questions thoroughly, for passing the theory exam paper.

There are usually two papers every day, so it's a two days exam. However this has changed significantly during Covid-19 pandemic, here is more on that. If you think there are any changes in the exam pattern, Please leave your comments in the comments section below. This will help to keep the info up to date.

What types of questions are asked in DNB theory exams?

  • Descriptive 
  • Classifications 
  • Approach 
  • Drugs 
  • Child health programs 
  • Investigations 
  • Causes and Treatment options 
  • Anatomy and physiology 
  • Development / Embryology
  • The question are usually combinations of these categories. Each question has  3 sub-questions usually.

How to start preparing for DNB Theory Examination.

Refer figure - 1 for plan of action.

A. Identify material for exam preparation

The first and foremost important thing will be collecting and segregating material like old question papers, notes and review articles, etc

B. Which textbooks you must read during Pediatric residency?


  1. The majority of us read a lot of books without knowing what and how to read for exam.
  2. Exam-oriented reading is important and a little different than our day to day reading for gathering knowledge.
  3. The majority of answer keys for the examiners will be prepared from Nelson's textbook of Pediatrics so that's our master book.

These are the books I referred while preparing for the exam.

Nelson textbook of Pediatrics

This is essential book. Easy language, descriptive yet readable in all seasons. The table and charts are superb. Most of answer keys by National board will be prepared from Nelsons textbook. The Fluid and electrolytes, CNS, Emergency medicine, Endocrinology topics are unmatched. Its only after reading Nelson that you discover what you were missing on the topic. Beautiful explanations everywhere.

Cloherty and Stark's Manual of Neonatal Care

Practical, informative, and easy to read book. I prepared all my Neonatology question from this book. Additionally its very concise. You can also use AIIMS Protocols In Neonatology

Ghai Essential Pediatrics

Honestly I found this like a handbook. Crisp and short explanation. Read is for national and WHO guidelines. I feel Cardiology topics explained better then Nelson

IAP textbook of Pediatrics and IAP subspecilty series

This book can be used for preparing Infectious disease, Vaccinology and social pediatrics topics like National Programmes etc.

Want to know what are the best books for preparation of DNB practical exams.?

3. Journal

Scanning recent journals is a good practice, Surprisingly you will find many review articles structured in the same way as the questions asked in exam, especially review articles in Indian Journal of Practical Pediatrics (IJPP). Also I guess the examiners who prepare the questions might be referring to recent topics from these Journals.

scan these Journals, At least past 1year issue of 

  1.  Indian Pediatrics. It has lots of review articles.
  2. Indian Journal Pediatrics.
  3. Indian Journal of Practical Pediatrics.
  4. For better and detailed understanding PSM/health/social programs you can refer to the ministry of health and family welfare website, nice flow diagrams are available on website.

How to read for DNB exams?

  1. Better to have good company than preparing alone, 2 to 3 students together make the JOb easy.
  2. Read loudly whenever possible
  3. At the end of each topic try to memorize the points to be written in the exam, those points should be revised frequently (during tea time, while discussing with friends). Recall helps a lot.
  4. Try to write model exams at least weekly once in the begining and later more frequently. This is important for time management and practice
  5. Difficult topics say for example statistics, developmental pediatrics, behavior dissorders must be read more frequently.
  6. Practise to draw your own flow charts/diagrams on the topic.
  7. For all topics try to prepare Differential diagnosis, create your own Mnemonics.
  8. Take snaps of important tables and charts from Nelson. Read them when free
  9. Request your seniors/ teachers from your institute to correct your soleved questionpapers. Even the smallest corrections will score you marks in final
  10. Revision should be started at least 4 to 6weeks prior. While revising take a topic, close ur notes, and try to memorize with your friends. If one is not able to answer another person should try. It should not take not more than 10min for a entire question. Now see your notes if any points are missing. This way you can quickly revise and cover more topics in a day.
  11. At least 10 days before the exam try to regularize your sleep pattern don’t sleep too late. Its really important for your brain to rest so that you can recall answers. During exam days try to sleep by 10pm, max by 11pm, get up by 6.30am.
  12. Majority of students have to travel to reach the exam center, in my ionion, it is better to reach at least 2days prior to the exam to adjust with surrounding, troubleshoot problems at the place of stay. Arrange a good accommodation prior to departure.
  13. Don’t eat junk/street food. Your toilet should not become the study area just before the exam.

Writing tips - Flow charts and Diagrams

Flow charts, diagrams, or any graphical demonstration help a lot in scoring marks. Your paper stands unique than rest of the crowd. This also helps the examiner to develop interest in reading it. It also compensate for few difficult question which you were not able to answer properly. If you dont have good handwriting, illustration are handy tool to express your answer legitamitly . It is short, but an effective and easier way to convey that you know the gist of the question.

I love it and it comes with the perks of securing more marks, so why not. Go for it. Make your own diagrams. Less time consuming, neat and good looking paper, more marks!

Making a chart simply is about creativity, you can even do that in the exam hall.

Here is an example. Refer to figure 2. I got this question “Expand ASHA, outline functions, and remuneration and the potential impact of ASHA. Since 'ASHA' workers act as a bridge between community and Primary health center (PHC), I created a flow diagram like this.

How to attempt DNB theory Questions
Fig.2 - Making simple Flow charts scores more mark in DNB exam.

Before starting to write your answer sheet, you must consider this.

  1. Don’t jump and write the answer.More Do's and Dont's
  2. Analyze the question paper first. U have a total of 3hrs time, so about 18min for each question. Think about a question for 2 to 3 min, Make a format in your mind then start writing. If you attempt to write without planning, there is a good chance of forgetting important headings or loose the sequence.
  3. Try to use color pens for highlighting key words or points.
  4. If u r crossing 18min for a question, stop their. Leave some space for the reamining answer and go for the next one. U wont get more than 1-2 extra marks by spending more time but if you are not able to attempt the next question u loose ten marks, that's a huge cost. So keep your timeline religiously.
  5. Always write answers in sequence. Don't annoy the examiner by skipping it.

Most of the answer keys will be prepared from Nelson's Textbook of Pediatrics. Logically, If u write whatever given in there, you should get good marks.

Length of your answer doesnt matter atall. Even if you write very long answer which is out of context, you cant score, infact its annoying for the examiner.

These are some of my observations and practices, I followed for theory exam but I am sure there must be having many more ideas or questions. Do let us know using comment section at the bottom.

Want to know about pattern of DNB Practical exam

If you like the article or this blog is helping you out in any way, Please leave your feedback for us. It encourages the entire team. Also subscribe via E-mail below.

Watch this space for the entire series - Cracking code of theory (CCT) which consists of Long Answer to commonly asked Question in Pediatric Theory Exam for both MD and DNB aspirants, by Ranjith.


about authors

Ranjith C S. | DNB (Pediatrics), DM (Medical Oncology)

Ranjith has completed Pediatric Residency from Kanchi Kamakoti Childs Trust Hospital and further trained in Medical Oncology from JIPMER

1 comment

  1. nice suggesions sir!

🩺 Help us refine this article — share corrections or additional information below. Let's elevate the accuracy of knowledge together! 💉💬

Cookies Consent

We use cookies from google to enhance browsing experience, analyze traffic, and personalize content. By continuing to use the site, you consent to use cookies. Privacy Policy

About cookies