I know many physical therapy students are getting into gear to prepare for the dreaded NPTE in April or July. I have also received questions from 2nd year PT students who are trying to jump ahead of the game! I have been in your shoes, so I know the feeling of anxiety creeping up when your peers begin talking about studying for the exam and you’re nowhere near ordering those study guides. It’s overwhelming to stare at the thickness of those textbooks and wonder how on earth you’re going to memorize everything. I can tell you with 100% confidence after going through it myself, YOU WILL BE GET THROUGH THIS! Feel free to take and disregard what you please from this article, my goal is to bring more peace to your mind as you mentally prepare to DEMOLISH this exam.

Closeup calendar page with drawing-pins

  1. Create a schedule that works for YOU.

    I know that within the ScoreBuilder’s textbook and/or O’Sullivan’s text book – they provide sample schedules based on the amount of studying you want to do per week. Just be sure that you can create a realistic schedule and stick to it. I began studying after I graduated so I created a 9-week schedule where I studied 35-50 hours/week. Some days were heavier than others, but I made sure that in each day that I studied, I spent time working out and doing normal people stuff. Within each week I also designated 1-2 rest days (typically the weekend) so that I could make plans with friends and do something unrelated to studying. Don’t completely lock yourself in a cave and starve yourself of a social life. Allow for a healthy balance and don’t overwhelm your brain. I personally went hiking with friends on my weekends to keep my body and mind free from overthinking about the board exam, the vitamin D was a big plus!

  2. Study with your peers.

    Mix up your studying routine by studying with a few classmates every few weeks to review those sections. What you know is only what you know, so when studying with peers you can help each other work through problems and share a different perspective about a topic. This is good accountability to make sure that you aren’t slacking on the quality of your studying but also that you’re not spending too much time focused on a specific topic that isn’t worth your while.

  3. Focus your time on the heavier weighted sections.

    Each individual section in your studying material is weighed differently so be sure to focus on what’s going to be worth the most as well as your weaker topics. If you’re really strong in cardiopulmonary but week in neuro, spend more time covering the neuro and less in cardio. Keep in mind that the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular sections are the most weighted sections of the exam!focusonwhatmatters-500x333

  4. Spread out your practice exams and track your scores.

    I took 3 ScoreBuilder’s exams and 3 O’Sullivan exams. What I did was took an exam once every other week to track my score progression. I wasn’t hitting the cut score until I had finished most of the sections, but don’t be discouraged by this. Just use it as an marker to see if you’re moving in the right direction.

  5. Determine why you’re getting questions wrong.

    Take the time to see what kind of trends are existing in your mistakes. There are three types of mistakes that you can make:

    1. Academic mistakes: you simply didn’t know the answer. These mistakes are easier to address because you just need to study the material.
    2. Test Taking Mistakes: usually caused by the inability to accurately analyze the actual question. This can occur despite having the academic knowledge and appropriate decision making. READ THE ANSWERS SLOWLY AND THOROUGHLY!
    3. Decision Making Mistakes: These mistakes are harder to remediate because it involves your ability to comprehend the question. If you find that you’re missing a lot of questions because of your decision making – check your clinical thought processing with your peers and determine where your analysis differ.
  6. Purchase the PEAT exam and take it as your final practice exam.

    It was well worth the money for me though it pained me to give up $100. Luckily there are 2 exams that come when you make this purchase and it gives you a better idea of how you’ll actually do on the NPTE vs the ScoreBuilder and O’Sullivan exams. I took the PEAT one week before my actual exam date and spend the following days reviewing all of my notes.screen-shot-2016-06-18-at-11-11-50-pm

  7. Prioritize your study sessions over work.

    I chose not to work while studying, considering that I had only 9 weeks to cover all the material in my ScoreBuilder’s textbook. I had a few classmates who chose to work part-time or full-time, and I can tell you that those who worked full-time found great difficulty and exhaustion in working 40 hours/week PLUS studying after work and on their weekends. Choose wisely where you’re able to invest time into your studies, don’t neglect it.

  8. DON’T STUDY on the day before your exam.

    Take this time to reward yourself for all of your hard work spent sitting on a desk and learning/reviewing all the material from the past three years. Go on a hike, go fishing, take a day trip to the coast or city, get out of your typical routine and just do something that you enjoy. Chances are, whatever you’re wanting to study the day before won’t really help you on the exam so it’s best to give yourself the break you deserve. You want your mind to be well rested and prepared for the big exam.635693880042525992-518822648_couple-hiking-valley

  9. Sleep early.

    I know it’s hard to sleep the night before, I struggled myself trying to get my eyes to close and my brain to shut off. I also had a fear that my alarm wouldn’t go off and cause me to miss the exam. Set an early bedtime to assure that you’ll have enough time to rest. Make time in the morning to also eat breakfast, meditate, pray and just bring your mind into a peaceful state.


    After the exam is done, you will likely feel mentally exhausted and maybe even a little nervous about how you did. I felt like I failed the exam the moment I left the testing center and it was the worst feeling ever. But I had to leave it at that and avoid worrying about it because it wasn’t going to help my results! Make plans and do something fun with your friends to keep your mind off the exam. It usually takes 1 week for the scores to process and you’ll get notified soon usually by the 7th day. This felt like the longest week of my life, but it helped to be around people who reminded me of what having fun felt like.6358627084284741051122910316_keep-calm-and-study-hard-4873

Best of luck to everyone in their endeavors, your hard work will pay off. As badly as you may feel the need to spend every waking hour with your face in the book (not Facebook), don’t forget that this exam is just testing your ability to be SAFE with patients. It’s not dictating how smart you are or your ability to help people rehabilitate – so don’t let this process discourage you. You’re destined for greatness and you will get through this.