If you’re on the path to becoming a Physical Therapist, then the NPTE or National Physical Therapy Exam is one of the last steps in your journey. You’ve put in countless hours during PT school and throughout your clinicals, and now it’s time to focus your energy getting ready to pass the NPTE.
First Things First! What is the NPTE?
The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is a national certifying exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). Every graduate of a physical therapy program is required to pass this exam in order to become a licensed physical therapist.
This 250 question exam is usually the only thing standing between you and your Physical Therapy license, so passing it is absolutely essential!
The NPTE is required in all 50 states (including D.C. and US territories too), so understanding the key components of the exam and adopting a solid study plan is critical for passing it your first time around.
The NPTE first-time pass rate for all candidates was 81% in 2022, which is down from 87% in 2021, so it’s important to take this exam seriously and develop a plan to pass.
The NPTE is graded on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 with 600 as the cutoff for a passing score. While you’ll see 250 questions on this 5-hour exam, only 200 questions are scored and 50 questions are considered ‘experimental’. However, you won’t know which ones are experimental as these questions are mixed throughout the exam.
How to Register for the NPTE
The key requirement to register for the NPTE is to complete a CAPTE accredited physical therapy program. Students who are still enrolled in a physical therapy program may gain approval to take the NPTE by having your school validate your graduation date as the earliest you may sit for the NPTE is 90 days prior to your graduation date. Foreign-trained PTs will need to complete and submit TOEFL exam scores prior to applying to take the NPTE.
Applying for the exam costs $485 but there is an additional fee to Prometric as well. Also, some states require a jurisprudence exam, which focuses on your specific state’s laws and rules. Once your NPTE exam application is approved by the FSBPT, you’ll receive an official “Authorization To Test” letter and you’ll be ready to schedule your exam. Visit FSBPT.org to set up your account, apply for the NPTE, and schedule your exam.
When Should you Start Studying for the NPTE Exam?
Ideally, you’ll want to set aside 12 to 16 weeks of dedicated time to study for the NPTE. During a typical week, you can expect to study 15 to 25 hours depending on the material you’re focusing on during that week. One of the best ways to stay on track is to create an NPTE study calendar that helps you to map out your PT boards studying. By making goals to focus on key categories throughout each week, you can stay more focused and feel more prepared as you work in practice exams at regular intervals.
Another benefit of starting early with your studying is the concept of spaced repetition. By reviewing concepts at regular intervals, you can improve your memory as you reinforce the material week after week. Going through your NPTE study material can feel overwhelming at times, so using proven memory strategies can really help you to understand and recall the material more quickly.
One of the best ways for auditory or visual learners to recall material is by using pictures and mnemonics to help organize and explain challenging concepts. Using a tool like Picmonic can be an extremely effective way to reinforce concepts with memorable pictures and stories that stick for years to come.
Mastering the Key Content on the NPTE
The FSBPT provides a content outline highlighting the key topics covered in the exam along with a range of questions you’ll see within each of the main categories. The topics are broken down into ‘System” and ‘Non-System” with more than 80% of the questions focusing on specific body systems.
The questions are then categorized even further, testing your knowledge on examination, evaluation and diagnostic components, as well as intervention options that are most appropriate for each system.
When you look at the weighted percentage for each category on the NPTE, you’ll notice that 3 sections make up the majority of the exam. These ‘Big 3’ sections are: Cardiovascular, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromuscular/Nervous system and cover about 75% of the questions on the exam.
While it’s important to study all the categories, it’s critical that you understand the “Big 3” and use every resource available to reinforce those concepts.
As you review study resources, make sure the material aligns with the FSBPT content outline. For example, if you use a supplemental resource like Picmonic to study for the NPTE, you’ll find the content follows the exact format of the FSBPT content outline. Each section is categorized by system and further sorted by type of question (examination, evaluation, intervention). This approach ensures that you are focusing on the right material and spending your time wisely on content that is likely to be tested on the NPTE.
Developing a Plan to Pass the NPTE
We all have our preferred method of studying, whether that’s going solo or studying with a group. But regardless of your preferred studying style, it can be really helpful to mix things up on a weekly basis and to challenge yourself with other study methods.
Aim to develop your core approach to studying, but also plan to supplement your studying with group sessions, teaching concepts to friends, quiz/exam reviews, and with other online supplement resources.
Using a daily quiz question can be a helpful way to keep content fresh and reinforce your question reading skills too. Resources like Picmonic provide daily quizzes and a library of over 300 Picmonics specifically organized for PTs with customizable playlists highlighting the facts you need for the NPTE.
The reason Picmonic works is because it focuses on retention through spaced repetition of relevant concepts. Students who use the Picmonic Learning System improved their long-term memory retention for information 3x longer than traditional lectures and textbooks alone. When it comes to passing exams like the NPTE, student’s test scores increased 50 percent when using Picmonic for one week.
Leading up to your scheduled NPTE exam date, you’ll receive customized recommendations that address your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Follow that plan you made when you scheduled your NPTE and you’ll be ready on exam day.
NPTE Tips: Exam Day
On the NPTE exam day, you will need to arrive 30 minutes early to the Prometric test center, as fingerprinting and checking in can take some time. Make sure you bring two forms of valid identification like a driver’s license or government-issued identification.
You have five hours to complete the computer-delivered test of 250 questions. Three breaks are allowed during your test, including one scheduled 15-minute break. However, the clock keeps ticking on your five hours, so plan your breaks wisely!
After the NPTE
The NPTE is not scored immediately, so you will have to wait up to five business days for pass/fail results on your online account. The numerical score will follow and be posted within ten business days. Numerous quality control measures and administrative processes and procedures are in place to ensure the feedback report NPTE provides with your results is accurate.
Once you pass the NPTE exam, you will receive a performance feedback report along with your congratulatory letter. Similarly, if you didn’t pass, you will receive a detailed feedback report with your score and domain-level performance information to allow you to see your strengths and weaknesses.
If you put in the work, I’m confident you can pass the NPTE. Plus, with tools like Picmonic for PT, master physical therapy mnemonics and study the smart way to reinforce material that is highly likely to be tested on the NPTE.
Interested in joining hundreds of thousands of medical, nursing, and PT students around the world who have succeeded with the Picmonic Learning System? Try Picmonic for free today.