You can almost feel it.
The clock is ticking. Someone coughs on the other side of the room. Out of the corner of your eye, the guy next to you seems to be fidgeting non-stop. The exam proctor slowly paces up and down each row, carefully scrutinizing you and your fellow students.
This is game day. This is the NPTE.
The National Physical Therapy Examination is the last major hurdle you have to clear before beginning your practice as a PT. This exam is a beast, and the pressure to perform doesn’t help matters.
You’ve studied for 3 years. You know the material. You’ve worked through your clinicals and answered every question your CI put to you. You’ve studied, worked, sweated, and prayed that this day would go well.
So why is it still so hard?
The NPTE is a 250-question exam that encompasses all of the entry-level material required to practice physical therapy in the United States. The FSBPT (the governing board for the administration of the NPTE) works hard to make sure that each content area is tested fairly, accurately, and proportionately.
The questions are all stand-alone, multiple-choice questions. Each has 4 answer options with only 1 being the most correct. Each question also has a clinical element and often poses the question ‘What would you do next?’
Answering these questions can be a real challenge. Not only do you have to know the textbook information, you have to apply this information in a novel clinical scenario.
I get asked all the time what the best strategy is to prepare for the NPTE. Here are my top 10 tips for crushing the NPTE.
- Prepare steadily for test day. Everyone knows that you should study for the exam. My goal is to have you work steadily with all the available time you have to master the content. Cramming is not going to be enough. Start now and chip away at the material so that you don’t have to cram it all in 3 days before the exam.
- Master the content. There is a huge difference between passive and active learning. When a person passively studies, the content essentially goes in one ear and out the other. Active studying is a process whereby the student sees/reads/hears information and then processes/summarizes/condenses the material into their own words. This process of analyzing textbook content makes the information stick way better than just reading the textbook. The true test of “mastery” is if you can close your notes and explain the target topic to someone else in your own words.
- Practice the Exam. Everyone takes practice exams, but make sure that you’re “practicing the exam.” This means that you sit down in a test-taking environment and answer the questions like your life depended on it. This exercise of committing to each question gives you a gut-check. Either you know it or you don’t. Once you know what you don’t know, it becomes easier to learn what you need to learn.
- Evaluate your practice. After taking a practice exam, comb through it to find the material that was the worst for you. Focus heavily on the questions where you had to make a guess. Learn why one answer is correct and the others are wrong.
- Use the flagging option cautiously. On the exam, you can mark or “flag” questions to come back to and review. This is nice if you use it sparingly. It does you no good to flag every question because the act of flagging a question forces you mentally to save time to return to that question. With limited time, this can become a burden very quickly. Only flag questions if you truly feel that just 1 more minute thinking about it will help you find the correct answer.
- Watch your time. You only have 5 hours to complete the 250 questions. Averaging this out, you have 72 seconds per item. That’s not much time to read and the select your answer. Work steadily and have a target of completing each of the 5 sections in 1 hour or less.
- Always guess. Whenever you find a question that stumps you, make your best guess and move on. Never, ever leave a question blank. Always select something before moving on. There is no penalty for guessing, and a 25% chance of getting it right is way better than a 0% chance.
These are some of the key things that can help you prepare for game day.
Check out more tips at my YouTube channel
Will Crane DPT