This isn’t your first rodeo with an exam, but there is no doubt that the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) is different than any other exam that you have taken in your life. For the first time in your life, you will be taking an exam that tests whether or not your are good enough to begin your career as a physical therapist. Previously, merit exams were taken (GRE) or you took exams to test your knowledge of a specific physical therapy topic (MSK). But now, you will be tested on everything that a physical therapist should know before beginning practice.

As a professional rehab test taking company, we have done a ridiculous amount of research to improve your passing rates. In diving deep into the research of cognitive psychology, we have put together tips to help you to improve your studying techniques to make sure you pass the NPTE.

Find Your Weak Areas

The breadth of material that a physical therapist must learn is admirable. Not only must we be a master of everything musculoskeletal, but we must also understand many other organ systems from the lungs to the skin. Nobody is strong at every topic; therefore, you must first learn what your weakest subjects are.

The best way to find out is to go through questions in a question bank (qbank). If you decide to use our questions, you will get immediate feedback with each question which will help you jump start your studying. In addition, you will be able to review your score on that specific topic at the end of the quiz to determine how well you performed in that particular topic. You should then make a note of your score and decide how proficient you are in that topic. We keep your results in your Dashboard for you to review.

Don’t Procrastinate and Be Consistent

It is not in your best interest to wait until the week before (or even a month before) your exam to begin studying. In order to best learn the material, or anything for that matter, you have to be exposed to it for the long-term and be exposed consistently. You have to make it “your thing” in the sense that you are exposed to physical therapy topics so regularly that they kind of become a part of you. The American Psychological Associationrecommends that you space your study sessions for better absorption of the material.

Considering that you may be still in school or finishing clinicals as you are studying, it is better to set aside an hour or two per day to study, as opposed to, studying for 8 hours straight on a Saturday. Of course, if you are studying during the week, then additional time on the weekend can be beneficial, but “weekend studying” should not be your Plan A. The goal is long-term retention, both for the NPTE and for future practice.

Mix Study Topics

It’s a common misconception that studying one physical therapy topic at a time, and mastering it, is better than mixing up topics. The opposite is true, according to the APA. 

Although our entire academic lives, we learned one topic at a time, this is not the best way to learn. In real life, you will not only see all patients with knee problems from 8-9am, and then hips from 9-10am, etc. And the NPTE definitely is not organized into different topics for you to take one at a time.

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. – Forrest Gump

So, plan on studying to mimic real life and the NPTE. Choose to learn about pressure ulcers and switch gears and read on treatment and prevention of heterotopic ossification, for example. When doing questions, feel free to skip around different qbanks.

Think Comprehensively

Do not just remember facts —- because you will forget. You must learn to understand the integration of multiple areas and multiple systems of the body. When studying the GI tract, you should recall myofascial trigger points that can present as nausea. You may also want to recall neurological injuries that can cause a neurogenic bowel. If you know how the entire picture on the puzzle looks, then you will have a good idea where each piece may go. In a similar sense, if you know the layers of the skin, you can make and educated guess about a question regarding the depth of a Stage II pressure ulcer (assuming you did not study this).

From a neuropsychological standpoint, we know that memory is best retained in context.

Be Present and Have Fun

This is one of the most exciting fields in health care. We are one of the few specialties that improve people’s quality of life and happiness with the use of our hands. The effectiveness of your practice is 100% correlated to your knowledge and 100% correlated to having a positive attitude (don’t do the math :)). When studying each subject and answering each question, pretend that it is a patient that you are taking care of. If you do this, you can put your thoughts in the correct context, which will likely help you to make better answer decisions and not get caught up with distractors.

In the end, study to learn and grow. Not just to pass the NPTE.


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