How I Made a Perfect Score on the PTA NPTE
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
As a student of physical therapy, I am sure that you have dreaded the day you have to start studying for the national board exam.
But if you remember anything from this post, it's that it is never too early to start studying.
When I was in physical therapy assistant school our professors encouraged us to begin the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) prep 6 months in advance. Yes, that's right, 6 months of studying for a 4 to 5 hour test. I took their advice.
In January 2019 I was honored to be named the first student in Midlands Technical College (South Carolina) history to earn a perfect score on my physical therapist assistant (PTA) NPTE exam.
I remember logging in to see my score one night and being completely in awe and humbled. It was surreal and overwhelming that I made a perfect score on the exam, 800 out of 800. I still cannot wrap my head around this reality of mine.
Since high school I have always been a terrible test taker on tests like the ACT, SAT, and GRE. At least that was my norm until I crushed the NPTE in order to become a licensed PTA in the state of South Carolina.
So how did I make a perfect score? Here are my tips and insights gained from my experience.
Invest in a study guide and note where you're rusty
My professors recommended that we use Scorebuilders, The Complete Study Guide (by Giles) as our main source for board exam prep. It is split into chapters based on anatomical system, in addition to modalities and research.
I started from square one. I went through each chapter, page by page, reviewing all of the information. As I went through the resources, I started a list of important topics that I knew I would have to review a few times before taking my exam. I'll be honest, you might feel a little rusty on some of the topics and information, and you could write down everything to revisit more in-depth, but I chose topics that I tended to have trouble remembering. Write down what you see as more complex based on your ability to retain information.
Utilize multiple study tools and methods
For a fee, the study guide gives access to Basecamp, a tool where you can test your knowledge. Basecamp organizes the content from the study guide into dedicated assignments, videos, and exams. I went through the trials, as I studied the content in the book. Scorebuilders has gold, silver, and bronze sections in each chapter that focus more on specific topics reviewed within the other parts of each chapter. Each mean the relevancy of a topic on NPTE: commonly encountered, occasionally encountered, and infrequently encountered. I started reviewing the gold, silver, and bronze sections about a month and a half before test day; however, it's up to the student on how you approach personal study habits.
Find ways to study on the go
Scorebuilders also has flash cards for sale that accompany the book if you are a student in clinical affiliations and want a quick and easy way to study during your break. The Content Master app is also available to quiz yourself when you have a few minutes to spare here and there. Other apps I used were PTA365, which provides a question of the day, and the PTA NPTE where you can select 5 to 50 questions at a time to test yourself; however, there is a max out on the number of available questions on this app. The PTA or physical therapist (PT) NPTE is available to use on tablets or laptops for better visibility of questions. The PTA365 app allows you to go back to 90 days' worth of questions, if you miss a day. I really love this app because it lists the difficulty of a question and explains the reasons that answers are incorrect versus correct. If you drive a lot (or on the road to clinicals), I recommend listening to a podcast, the NPTE clinical files, by Kyle Rice. Super helpful, although, it's more for student PTs; they're about 10-15 minutes long. He guides you through each question and explains why the correct answer is the most accurate.
Practice how you play
The complete study guide contains access to 3 online and timed practice exam questions, each with explanations of all the possible answers within the text. These exams tend to have more complex questions compared with the NPTE, but is exceptional prep for tough questions.
I would recommend purchasing the PEAT practice exams, which include a former NPTE version and a practice form that is most like the actual board exam. They each contain questions with the same format, time limit, and includes breaks, as does the real NPTE.
I suggest that practice exams be taken in a quiet place or a public library, so that preparation can mirror the day of the exam. I took some of my exams with silencing headphones on, as they are available at the testing sites on the big day. If you know what time you are scheduled to take your exam, take a practice test or two within the same time period that you are scheduled to test, whether that is 8:00 am or 1:00 pm; your brain and body need to get prepared on that time schedule.
Form a study group
Unlike some programs, my classmates and I had a little over a month of test prep after our graduation. We got together most days per week to study with classmates. We picked the public library or local coffee shops to basically study from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to keep each other accountable. Staying at home by yourself can get monotonous at times, so change your scenery, encourage and quiz each other, and walk alongside one another through the stress of exam prep—keep pressing through!
Some classmates and I took a strategy course also by Kyle Rice. It is called NPTE Test Strategy Playbook, which includes videos of various sections in do's and don'ts when approaching a test question. He does an awesome job in helping you get down to the right answer fast! He gives you tips and tricks in elimination, and walks you through some similar test questions. If you are like me and have traditionally been a poor test taker, this is for you.
One day at a time, one topic at a time, one breath at a time
I know that is so much to take in. Many in my class didn't do much of what I just mentioned, but by doing so, I was very well prepared!
I encourage students to take one day at a time, one topic at a time, one breath at a time. The days get long in all the prep work, but stay the course, you've got this!
Kaitlin Courtnay, PTA, is a #FreshPTA who earned a perfect score on the PTA NPTE. You can connect with Kaitlin on Twitter at @kaitcourtnay or via email.