When we think about preparing for the NPTE or NPTAE, it’s almost like there’s a big elephant in the room - it’s there, but ignored until it's staring you right in the face.
Preparing for the board exam is not sexy, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and painful either. How can you prepare for the NPTE without dreading, fearing, or thinking that it’s insurmountable?
Change your view of the exam and train to the beat the NPTE. Train to win. Train like an athlete who wants to win.
Thinking about the exam
The National Physical Therapy Exam is a clinically-based exam, rather than a standardized academic exam.
What this means is that the questions presented on the NPTE require a higher level of learning and integration. Rather than looking at a question in a detached way, imagine every question as it applies to a patient sitting right in front of you.
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The answer you select will point to the best treatment to perform based on what was given to you.
When the end goal is to pass the exam and get your license, training is required for the best outcome. Training for this endurance exam has different components.
Some of these components include:
- Understanding the core foundations of what will be asked and how it will be asked
- Developing the skills to improve test-taking
- Being able to field the mental and physical challenges of a lengthy exam
When only focusing on one component, mainly studying the content, the other factors are then exposed as weaknesses and exploited by the exam itself.
Studying for the exam
When picking up study guides or textbooks as your “workout” for the NPTE, rather than just doing reps of reading pages and memorizing information from charts, make sure you are able to clinically apply the core foundations to the questions.
Usual habit of academic studying (not as effective):
- Memorizing joint ROM values
- Memorizing the concave/convex chart for joint mobilizations
- Memorizing all of the origins, insertions, and actions
Change to clinical studying (most effective):
- Focus on major joints and their functional ROM, not the exact numbers
- Focus on major joints for joint mobilizations and don’t forget about how it’s different when OKC or CKC
- Focus on functional muscle movements and locations
There may be an inherent inclination to study everything in detail, however, it’s not the most effective or efficient way to prepare. That’s like doing every single exercise out there “just in case” it could be helpful for the condition that you may encounter.
When studying, at some point you will realize that only so much can be done and processed. The key is to know what to do and to do it effectively. It’s similar to narrowing down certain tasks to master and then having that skill become automatic - you can then move on to the next skill.
Test-taking skills are important
You may think the NPTE is similar to a standardized exam, like the GRE.
For the GRE, it’s easiest to study by just reading, memorizing, and recalling information. However, these types of study habits don’t work for the clinically-based scenarios presented on the NPTE.
The questions on the NPTE are more complex and require a higher level of thinking than just simply regurgitating information. You are being tested on how well you are able to combine a lot of what you learned in courses. You must know how to identify clues in order to choose the best answers to the questions.
Test-taking is similar to evaluations. It’s a skill that should be mastered, or at least practiced on a regular basis. Taking tests may not be the most exciting home exercise program to practice, but it is a crucial one to focus on.
Just like you have to study different systems for the NPTE, you have to practice different test-taking skills when preparing for the exam:
- One of the major components is reading the question properly, which correlates to the amount of time you will spend on the question. With a fixed time limit on the exam, reading from the beginning of the question takes up a lot of time, especially with long questions. What happens is that by the time the question prompts you for the answer, your mind has picked up other words that can lead to over-analysis.
- When eliminating answers, take each one at face value and avoid adding any experience into them. When part of an answer is wrong - the whole answer is wrong - don’t justify it in your mind to make it right.
Mental focus and physical fatigue can take a toll towards the end of the NPTE marathon. The beginning of the exam may feel like a sprint, but when you get to the last few sections, it can take longer to answer questions without getting distracted or losing focus.
It becomes a mental game - will you beat the NPTE or will the NPTE beat you? The determining factor is how well you react to the situation and take control of your mind.
In order to win and beat the NPTE, aim much higher than the minimum score of 600. When aiming just to pass, you’re at risk of falling below that level.
It’s not about hoping to pass. It takes work to succeed. However, it can be done in manageable ways. At the end of the day, visualizing the process of the exam, the exam itself, and the outcome helps to mentally program your mind.
Athletes practice visual imagery to help them get into the zone. The faster you can do that, the easier it is to attack the exam. Train to win and beat the NPTE.
Mindset is so important. Get excited about this exam. It’s simply a training goal to meet and exceed. You’re physical therapists - training is what you do!