NPTE Exam Prep & Tips

5 Study Tips to Pass the NPTE Physical Therapy Boards Exam the First Time

Whether you decide to take the Physical Therapy boards exam in January, April, July, or October, the best way to pass your boards is to start with a solid study plan.

When I took the Physical Therapy boards exam in April of my 3rd year in PT school, I had to balance current classes, my PT job search, and also focus on studying for my boards.

I credit my first attempt success to 5 things, so let’s go over each of those tips to pass the NPTE your first time around!

1. Create a Detailed Study Schedule

The NPTE focuses on 8 key topics from Musculoskeletal to Cardiovascular and Neurology as well as a few other systems. My approach to passing on my first attempt was to make sure my PT boards study calendar included dedicated days for each topic, especially the “big 3” mentioned above. Those three topics alone cover over 70% of the NPTE, so I made sure to create a study calendar that emphasized the topics based on the percentage I’d see them on the exam.

*Pro Tip: I created my NPTE study calendar to pass the boards within 10 weeks. Whether you have 10, 12 or 16 weeks to prep for the exam, it’s always good to leave a few days ‘blank’ in case you get behind or need to add an additional resource to your studies.

2. Use Spaced Repetition to Pass

I won’t get into all the research supporting spaced repetition as an awesome study tool, but I will highly recommend using this strategy to make topics stick! Spaced repetition is simply a method of spreading out our studying of a topic to revisit material later on in time. Revisiting materials through flashcards, quizzes, and mnemonics help to solidify the content in our brains and gives us more opportunities to relate material to new content we study.

For example, I would try to set aside one day of the week to review difficult topics or charts even if it wasn’t a part of the ‘main’ topics I was studying that week. Eventually it became easier to remember difficult concepts especially when I gave myself a break from studying that topic and came back to it periodically.

Spaced repetition is one of the ways Picmonic stands out as an awesome resource for studying medical concepts you’ll find on the NPTE. The Picmonic daily quiz incorporates spaced repetition for you, this way you don’t have to spend time planning out when it’s the best time to review a topic. For difficult to remember neuro or cardio concepts, I like the memorable stories that help to engrave the images into your long term memory.

3. Take Multiple Practice Tests

One of the ways I prepared to pass the NPTE was by taking multiple practice exams. Over my 10 week study plan, I took a total of 8 different practice exams! Other classmates still succeed after taking only 3 practice exams. But I’d recommend taking as many as you are able to complete. Within most NPTE prep books, you’ll have access to 3 practice exams which can be really helpful to see your weak subjects or strong areas. I also highly recommend taking the 2 PEAT exams which are retired NPTE exams. While you do have to pay for these, I think they’re extremely valuable as they’re actual exams used in previous years.

The key to using these practice exams is to set aside the next day to review every question of the exam. Understand why you got a question right and why you got a question wrong. Did you guess on a question? For the incorrect questions or guesses you made, create a list of the topics you need to review in detail. Re-read sections of your prep books to understand the key topics you missed and continue to review each of the 8 topic areas each week.

4. Use Supplement Study Materials Wisely

There’s no shortage of awesome NPTE study materials out there, but you only have so much time! If I had to take the NPTE again, I’d focus on using an NPTE textbook (I used the Therapy Ed book) and supplement it with resources that compliment the material. Whether you’re using Picmonic to maximize your memory of difficult concepts or advanced therapy education tools like MedBridge to reinforce your clinical skills, I think you’ll find them to be an excellent supplement to the standard study books for the NPTE. If you decide to use either of these resources, you can get a 20% discount on Picmonic with the PTProgress discount and also save a lot with the PTProgress MedBridge promo code. Using a variety of resources is a really helpful way to cover a lot of material and to remember difficult topics.

5. Teach What You Know (and What You Don’t!)

One of the best ways to learn a topic is to teach it to others. If you’re struggling to understand developmental milestones for newborns, try creating a small review chart or quick study page that you can teach to someone else. By synthesizing concepts down to manageable summaries, you force yourself to draw out the key points within difficult topics. I remember creating one page summaries for difficult topics and went to class 30 minutes early each day to outline the material on the whiteboard in our study room. Sometimes there were students there and I asked if it’d be ok to go through my small outline with them. By verbalizing the concepts to others, I quickly learned if I knew a topic well or if I needed to spend more time on the subject. It was always nice having someone else to talk things through in case I was stuck or hadn’t connected details on a particular subject.

Final Thoughts

You can pass the NPTE the first time around if you create a solid study plan and supplement your study books with proven resources that help you to remember difficult concepts. If you’re curious to see how Picmonic for Physical Therapy can help you master difficult concepts, take a look at the content breakdown here. I worked closely with the team at Picmonic to hand select material that is relevant to passing the NPTE boards exam and I think you’ll find it to be really helpful!

Tim Fraticelli, MBA, DPT is a Physical Therapist and founder of PTProgress.com, a career development website for PTs that focuses on finding success in and out of the clinic. You can learn more at PTProgress.com.
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