One of the most important steps in the pursuit of a physical therapy career is the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) or the PT boards. This exam is one of the many important aspects of the profession and helps licensing bodies ensure the highest standards of care by requiring physical therapists and physical therapy assistants to pass the exam to become fully licensed.

For many PT students, the NPTE and the subsequent passing marks the culmination of many years of hard work as a student and one of the first stepping stones to beginning your career as a fully licensed physical therapist or physical therapy assistant.

The NPTE is a challenging exam that will test the knowledge you’ve gained throughout your curriculum. Many students have some anxiety about this important exam, which is why we’ve put together some helpful tips and tricks you can utilize to set yourself up for success as you prepare for the NPTE.

Take a look at these helpful tips and tricks for the NPTE as a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant.

12 Tips and Tricks for the NPTE

Identify What Resources and Study Materials You Have Available

One of the first things that you can do as you begin to prepare for the exam is to first take stock of what you have. This means pulling together all of the presentations, notes, coursework, documents, lectures, websites, flashcards, and practice tests to see what you have to lean on, or more importantly, what you’re missing.

Once you’ve taken stock of all that you currently have or have access to, the next step is to identify what you might need. For many, one of the best things to try and source is knowledge from those former classmates or peers who have already taken or passed the NPTE. While the examination changes from year to year, they might be able to give you advice on things they did when they took the exam which could help you.

Recommendations might include which study tools they used, things they wish they were more confident on after taking the exam, and/or any other helpful tips they might have.

Create a Routine

Once you’ve gathered your study materials, the next thing to do is to start creating a routine. Look at your calendar and start making study sessions a priority. Building and sticking to a routine can help you stay accountable as you study. Creating and sticking to a routine can also help your brain know when it’s time to focus and retain information.

Aim for 20 hours per week to study. For one day each week, make an effort to study for a longer session. It’s important to remember that taking the test is like training for a marathon and you should strive to mimic the requirements of the test. Try to study for 2 to 3 hours at a time with short breaks throughout.

Modify Study Sessions

As you’re planning your study routine for the PT boards, try and break up the study sessions into multiple periods over the course of a week with daily sessions. Avoid trying to cram everything in, all at once. Break up and modify your study sessions so that you have periods of intense focus and breaks where your brain can get a chance to recharge before the next round.

Take Practice Tests

The next thing you can do to help prepare for the NPTE is to take practice tests. Practice tests can help you see the structure of the exam, example questions that will challenge your knowledge, and help you get more comfortable with what the actual exam will entail.

You can take 4 PEAT exams. PEAT exams are former versions of the NPTE. Look to see if your program has acquired any PEAT exams on behalf of students, many programs will purchase two for students during graduate studies. You can also take an additional two on your own. Another good source for practice tests are from TherapyEd.

In addition to taking practice tests, try to do your best to actually simulate what the testing environment will be.

While your mock environment might not be one hundred percent accurate, it can help you put your mind at ease and help to reduce some of those last-minute jitters that can pop up when you’re taking a test in an unfamiliar environment or you’re not comfortable with the process.

Another thing you can do is to learn more about the testing environment and what it might look like. This can help you put your mind at ease and help you set up your mock testing environment to be similar.

Lean on Study Guides

The next thing you can do to prepare for PT boards is to find and lean on study guides. Do some digging and see if there are some study guides that former students are offering for sale or take advantage of the study guides that are offered by institutions.

Take a Prep Course

The next thing you can do to prepare is to take a prep course. If you do decide to take a prep course, the best recommendation is to only take one prep course to follow. Some great ones include TherapyEd, NPTE Final Frontier, NPTE Final Exam, and ScoreBuilders. When looking at a course, it is more than just the review of content that is important. Ensure that you find a presentation on test taking strategies to help you with how to best answer questions.

Ask What Others Are Doing

Don’t hesitate to ask friends, classmates, and your peers what they’re doing to prepare. You never know when you might learn a new study technique that you haven’t used in the past, and it might just be the secret sauce you need to pass the NPTE.

Asking your peers what they’re doing can also help you stay accountable as part of your study plan as you can work together to set up group study sessions. Accountability partners are a useful tool to help you ensure you’re doing all you can to be adequately prepared for the upcoming exam.

Reduce Distractions

The next thing you can do to properly prepare for the NPTE is to reduce distractions. Even the smallest distractions like a tv going on in the background while you’re studying may derail an effective study session. Try to eliminate distractions so that you can have designated study periods where the only thing you do is focus on retaining and recalling the material. Mimicking the testing environment by studying in a quiet environment will help you recall information better during test day.

Utilize Technology To Help You Study

There is no shortage of applications or websites that you can utilize to help you study. Whether you’re looking for a flash card tool or a way to turn your keywords and definitions into quiz questions, there are tools to help you do that.

In addition to technology that can help you come up with creative ways to learn the material, they can help you with automated timers, notifications, and reminders to keep you on schedule. Some even gamify the studying process so you can get that extra bit of motivation every time you mark off an achievement or have consistent progress.

Seek Accommodations as Needed In Advance

If you have test anxiety or learning challenges, don’t hesitate to seek accommodations in advance. The FSBPT and your state jurisdiction has information on available accommodations. Utilizing accomodations such as extended test times removes one more barrier from success. Take a look at and follow their guidance on what is required for accommodations, each state licensing body may have different rules and regulations.

Prepare the Night Before

You’ve done plenty of studying, you’ve worked hard to learn all that you have, the next step is to prepare the night before so you don’t need to do any last minute scrambling the morning of the NPTE. Take some time to prepare by mapping out where the exam location is. Check the mapping tool you’re using to see if you can estimate traffic demands or limitations when you’ll be heading out. Leaving a few minutes earlier than you normally would can help you avoid traffic.

Another thing to do the night before is to set aside all the important documents and materials you’ll need to bring to the testing site. While you’re at it, go ahead and pick out your outfit for the day as well. Dress comfortably, appropriately, and in an outfit that will allow you to feel confident.

Get a Good Breakfast

The next thing you can do to set yourself up for success as you take the PT boards is to make sure you get a good breakfast in the morning. Eat a well-rounded breakfast that will give you energy throughout the day as you’re taking the exam.

During the Exam – Take Advantage of Breaks

During the exam, you should also take advantage of the breaks that are offered. The breaks are offered for a reason and can give you the opportunity to give your brain a rest.

Good Luck on the NPTE

At Upstream Rehabilitation, we’re passionate about helping PT professionals at any stage of their career, including those aspiring students who are about to take the next leap into their physical therapy career as a PT or PTA after passing the NPTE. We’re consistently growing across the nation as we continue to expand and we’re on the lookout for qualified healthcare professionals who are ready to make a difference in our patient’s lives.

Browse and apply to physical therapy job openings with Upstream Rehabilitation and our family of brands!


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