First, congratulations on your monumental achievement of obtaining your doctorate! At this point, the only thing that stands between you and legally treating patients is passing the NPTE.
The NPTE is a 250 question exam spanning 5 hours, with 50 unscored questions sprinkled throughout the exam. I’m willing to bet that this will be the first time you’ll be exposed to such a rigorous exam structure.
Practice like you play and you’ll play like you practice. I cannot stress this enough. I truly believe success is determined by a single element: preparation. Based on the steps I took when preparing for the boards, here are my recommendations on how to study for the NPTE.
Everything that school and your clinical experiences have taught you brings you to this very moment. Game 7 of the NBA finals. Welcome to the final dance. Let’s begin.
Set the bar high
Let me ask you a personal question. Did you embark on this journey as a physical therapist to be average? Of course not. A passing score for the NPTE is 600, but if you aim just to pass, you’ll have a more difficult time passing.
In times of stress, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of preparation. If your mindset is fixed on getting by with the bare minimum, then you increase the chances of falling short of your goals. Challenge yourself to do your absolute best.
Enroll in a prep course
Our cohort received a group discount for a TherapyEd prep course. With this course, we got a condensed version of the TherapyEd book. That alone is worth the price of the admission. The course itself was extremely helpful as it breaks down test taking strategies and what to expect from the NPTE, and identifies your areas of weakness.
Take practice exams
I took all of the 2016 and 2017 TherapyEd practice exams (USB flash drive free courtesy of our university’s library) and completed the PEAT. (This cost $90.)
TherapyEd provides you with an online supplemental study material if you enrolled in the prep course which has a bank of questions for each category tested on the NPTE along with explanations to every question. As soon as you enroll in the prep course, you’ll be emailed login information and links to the supplemental material. Once logged in, you’ll have access to questions which are broken down into categories (musculoskeletal, neuro, cardiovascular, etc.)
Make handwritten notes and flash cards
There are lab values, concepts, and ideas that are important to commit to memory. Sometimes, reading over these may not stick in your long term memory. Flash cards are a great and practical tool to have with you to help drill down on those ideas that aren’t sticking.
Read through textbooks when a concept doesn’t stick
The order of operations in which I conducted my studying went something like this: I would read through the condensed version of the TherapyEd book. If I didn’t understand a concept, I would refer to the larger TherapyEd book. If the material still wasn’t making any sense, I would refer to a textbook.
All questions from the NPTE are derived from textbooks. However, make sure this is something that is worth your time. For instance, it may not be worth your time to review concepts regarding research because the bulk of NPTE are the big 3: musculoskeletal, neuro, cardiovascular.
Watch YouTube videos on relevant topics
I recommend Osmosis. They offer engaging bite sized videos on many different concepts that are relevant to medical professionals. Sometimes, there’s only so much your brain can handle from reading all day. It’s nice to have someone else present material to you in a polished and concise manner that is easy to understand.
Make a study schedule and stick to it
I started studying six weeks before the exam date: it's likely that you've started thinking about the exam on a similar timeline! But studying shouldn't mean cramming. When making my study schedule, I blocked out three hours per day, six days per week. No more, no less.
You may think my preparation was overkill. However, physical therapy isn’t something I do for fun; it represents a large part of my personal identity in which I take serious pride. So why wouldn’t I put my heart and soul into this?
Once my 3 hours of studying were up, I refused to look at anything related to physical therapy for the rest of the day. It’s easy to be worried that you may not be studying enough. Your classmates could stress you out by sending you snaps of their TherapyEd textbooks while sitting at a coffee shop. Ignore it, not because you’re a terrible friend who refuses to respond back to your friends, but because you have to keep your sanity and avoid burning out. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Focus on your weaknesses
Every practice exam will guide you in what to study for because they expose areas that you may be weak on. The goal is not to continue studying what you are familiar with. Sure it feels comfortable and you may feel as if you are covering some serious ground. However, doing that is similar to liking your own pictures on Instagram. Don’t be that person. Set your ego aside, be brutally honest with what you suck at, and work on your weak points. That’s when you become better.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
The exam will challenge you and push you to your limits. Some questions will be easy. Some of the questions will make you stop dead in your tracks and force you read every single word twice through. Some questions will make you say “I have no idea.”
You can come out of the exam feeling overwhelmed with stress and anxiety questioning all of your answers or you can leave the exam with your head held high knowing you did everything within your powers to shift the possibilities in your favor through your preparation. The choice is yours. Good luck!