Are You Making the National Physical Therapy Exam Harder Than It Needs to Be?
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
If you listen to graduates from prior years, they may have horror stories (or posttraumatic test anxiety) from the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Even for practicing clinicians who are several years removed from taking this licensure exam, it can still bring up feelings of anxiety.
What this could lead to is procrastinating in preparing for the boards.
I see at conferences or even on social media that candidates, months prior to graduation, are job hunting (even before starting to study for the exam) or planning vacations. Each of these create stress and they tend to stack on top of each other. Now, let's throw in this dreaded topic—your board exam.
Sure, everything else is so much more attractive to spend time on; however, waiting until the last possible moment to prepare for the exam only leads to self-inflicted anxiety and stress. This is where “examzilla" behaviors—like being moody, blocking out and depriving previously enjoyed activities, and having a not-so-pleasant mind-set toward the exam—makes it harder for someone who cares about you to be around you. Don't be that person!
It seems counterproductive to increase your anxiety levels, so here are ways that you can actually reduce the amount of test anxiety you have about the exam.
Change Your View of NPTE
How you view or think about NPTE can have a big impact on the outcome. Your mind is very powerful and can manifest your inner thoughts. If you think it's hard, then it will be. If you think it's long, then it will be. If you think you'll fail, then you might fail. If you think you'll forget things or are not a great test-taker, guess what? That may come true too! So the first thing you want to do is to change your mind-set on this exam.
- It's a game (shhh...don't tell the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy this!). Just like in the clinic, each question is a puzzle to be solved. Slow down, proceed step-by-step, and you'll get your answer.
- Questions are actually patients that you are treating. Think back to your clinical experiences and the patients you worked with. Thinking of the exam questions as people will allow you to apply your extensive knowledge and skills to each question.
- Think about PASSing the exam rather than focusing on fear of failure. Have you heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you think it enough, it may just manifest itself. Of course you should prepare for the exam, but also remember you have all of the knowledge and skills.
Dare I Say: Studying Can Be Fun
Studying may not be fun or exciting; however, the material you are studying is to help your understanding of how to help your future patients or clients.
Rather than dread time investment prepping for the exam, you are equipping yourself with valuable knowledge that you'll use in your upcoming career.
It's easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of material that needs to be covered for NPTE; however, finding themes and patterns will help to streamline the content.
- Find something interesting to tackle with challenging topics. Think of this tactic as being presented with a “patient with complications," chip away at each topic, little by little.
- Be a detective by looking for exam content clues to help improve your strengths and weaknesses.
- Go out and observe. Find ways to relate information clinically rather than memorizing (memorizing doesn't work for this exam anyway).
Make Practice Exams Your Friends
The easiest way to reduce the pre-exam jitters is to take practice exams. To beat the NPTE, you'll want to know what kind of beast you are dealing with and becoming familiar with the format of the exam.
Start off by getting your baseline to see where you stand before studying, as this will help direct you toward the areas to focus on.
- Treat each practice exam as the real NPTE. Don't try to take a practice exam on a hectic evening when you're tired. Plan a day and time in advance where you can allot focus and time to it.
- Simulate the actual NPTE day. Have you ever heard of the idea of practicing something as if it were game day? When taking a practice exam, try to stick with a hard-time limit without interruptions. This will only help you prepare for what is to come on the actual test day.
- Practice using the strike-through, highlight features, and paper/laminated pages. The more comfortable you are with these tools and tactics prior to the exam, the less your brain has to worry.
- Take a full-length exam (250 questions) and practice with a hard-time limit (5 hours) in 1 sitting to help with keeping your mind-set ready for the real exam.
Reducing Anxiety on the Actual Exam Day
Once the day arrives to take the NPTE, it's time to shine and show what you've got. It's normal to feel nervous and anxious; now, it's about controlling your mind to perform.
- To build confidence, dress for success. Dress comfortably, yet ready to impress your patients. Avoid being too casual, as it can make you feel like you're not taking NPTE seriously. You'll want to be able to hold your head up high and keep the mind-set that you are able to handle any patient.
- Have a go-to phrase that can help you refocus or keep you calm, such as “Focus" or “You've got this!" Use the laminated pages and write it down so that you can refer to it if you feel overwhelmed.
- Remember to breathe! Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Sometimes when getting nervous, you may find that you are holding your breath. So after each question exhale, and then let that patient go. Don't carry the patient over to the next one.
- Be able to trust yourself with your answers. Avoid changing your answers and don't overthink the question or answers. Keep everything at face value.
Finally, to help reduce your test anxiety, practice visualization techniques. Each day and night imagine your NPTE success from start to finish. What does it feel like, look like, sound like? Athletes do this all the time for the outcome they want, so think how you want the day to go, even down to the types of questions you'll answer. In general, being proactive is the key to helping reduce test anxiety over time. It's about being consistent in visualizing your success and training accordingly.
Now just remember, you're ready and you've got this! Good luck!
Miye Fonseca, PT, DPT, is founder and CEO of Therapy Exam Prep. You can connect with Miye on Twitter at @TherapyExamPrep.