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Types of Questions on the National Physical Therapy Exam 1

Example Question

In preparing for the PT or PTA exam, you’re probably curious as to the style of questions that will be asked.  This is detailed extensively in the Candidate Handbook on the FSBPT website.  My goal is to identify key components of questions and break it down into a manageable, bite-sized packet of information.

This question is a sample directly from the FSBPT Candidate Handbook:

1. After sitting at a computer station for 2-3 hours, an individual reports experiencing a sharp, localized  pain in the left arm. When asked to show the location of the pain, the individual points to the area of the insertion of the deltoid. The pain disappears when the individual stands up and walks around briefly.  Which of the following interventions is MOST likely to correct the problem?
    a. Isometric strengthening of the deltoid
    b. Lumbar extension exercises in prone position
    c. Instruction in correct postural alignment in sitting position
    d. Instruction in shoulder active range of motion exercises

Give yourself a moment to answer the question without looking at the answer.


The answer is C. (Instruction in correct postural alignment in sitting position)  Now let’s break it down.

The question spends 2 sentences describing the position of the patient.  The pain is related to the sitting posture of the patient since it goes away with walking briefly.  This indicates that the MOST likely solution is to correct or alter the posture.

Note that each of the responses is some way related to the solution.

(A) is a low intensity strengthening exercise for the area in question.  This will definitely strengthen, but the question does not identify any functional weakness of the deltoid.  Nor does it address posture.

(B) is not particularly related, but you could convince yourself that it may help with posture.  However, this is not directly related to the problem, and is a treatment for low back issues, particularly herniated discs.

(C) is the most correct answer.  It briefly describes instructing the patient on correct postural alignment and may mimic the effect that standing and walking around has on the pain.

(D) may help with motion of the shoulder, but does not relate to the solution to pain given in the question.  This may be a tricky one because the pain is referred to the insertion of the deltoid.  This could be some sort of tendinitis or referred pain from the rotator cuff, except that the pain is resolved through positioning.  The MOST correct answer is still (C) because it resolves the problem described.

Note that there are typically 2 choices that are more closely related.  Your biggest job is to break it down and choose the MOST correct one.

More questions to come.