Four Ways to Maximize Your NBCOT Exam Prep

Wouldn’t it be great if all you needed to land your first job as a Registered Occupational Therapist (OTR®) or Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA®) were your degree, resume, and go-get-’em attitude?

Smiling female OT grad student sits at desk taking NBCOT exam prep notes in spiral notebook while looking at laptop computer.Unfortunately, there’s the little matter of the NBCOT exam!

The exams the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy administer aren’t “little,” though–they’re daunting. In 2019, only 73% of test-takers passed the OTR test. Only 61% of COTA candidates passed theirs.

What are the best NBCOT exam prep tactics you should use?

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we want to give you (the soon-to-be OTR or COTA) our best test prep pointers.

Proven Paths to Passing the NBCOT Certification Exam

Here’s what we suggest you do to get the most out of your exam prep:

1. Set a Study Schedule and Stick to It

The NBCOT exam packs a lot into four hours and 170 (for OTRs) or 200 (for COTA) multiple-choice questions. Plus, OTRs get three clinical simulation test items on top of that! Studying effectively will take time.

Maybe you’ve seen success stories online from OTs who spent three weeks or less on NBCOT exam prep and passed with room to spare–more power to them.

However, spending six to eight weeks seems more realistic, especially if you’ve got other commitments and obligations (who doesn’t?) or want to enjoy any kind of social life (we recommend you do!).

In a presentation to the Texas Occupational Therapy Association, Sherry White, MHA, FACMPE, COTA offers sample study plans that balance hitting the books and living your life. Whether you adopt those calendars or craft your own, do establish a clear schedule, and treat it as sacrosanct.

2. Triage the Topics

Even if you schedule your exam as far as three months out from graduation (pro tip: you’re better off taking it sooner), you won’t be able to review everything from two to three years of OT classes. How do you figure out where to dive in?

You may find NBCOT’s OTR or COTA Entry-Level Self-Assessment helpful. It lets you take stock of how familiar you feel with the domains, tasks, and skills needed for entry-level OT practice. 

Still, the Self-Assessment is subjective. For a clear-eyed look at what you know and what you don’t, take a practice exam “cold.”

Don’t study for it—and don’t fret if your score isn’t where it needs to be. This practice test’s results will clarify where you need to focus your attention to raise your score. (And you will!)

3. Grab a Good Study Guide

Female school-based occupational therapist sits with elementary school girl at table as girl manipulates beads on abacus.Many test-takers swear by TherapyEd’s National Occupational Therapy Certification Exam Review and Study Guide.

Yes, it’s dense with detail. Yes, its three full practice exams are tougher than the actual test.

But, grappling with TherapyEd will give you terrific practice answering questions efficiently. Plus, studying its comprehensive rationales is savvy exam prep.

Other guides that often get OTs’ thumbs up are Preparing for the Occupational Therapy National Board Exam: 45 Days and Counting from JBReview, and “the purple book,” the Occupational Therapy Examination Review Guide from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

These guides take a more focused approach than TherapyEd, while still giving you access to several practice exams.

4. Take Advantage of Tech

The website Pass the OT gets mentioned a lot when OTs talk about how they got ready for the big test. The site says its review course and one-on-one virtual tutoring have helped more than 2,000 test-takers pass since 2013. Only you can determine whether to spend time and money on Pass the OT or similar sites, but they do illustrate how 21st-century tech has transformed exam prep.

The AOTA offers banks of more than 1,000 test questions, including items retired from actual exams, that you can use to build practice tests of any length. It also offers online tools for checking your progress by domain and topic, as well as in comparison with other users. AOTA’s resources aren’t free either, but your subscription lasts a full year, and you might already have access if your educational institution purchased a group subscription.

Successful test-takers also frequently use Quizlet flashcards to drill themselves on key terms and concepts. Simply remember to stay on guard for inaccurate or incomplete information. Better yet, make your own flashcards—few exercises are better for cementing facts in your mind.

Practice Occupational Therapy as Part of the PTS Team

Finally, here’s a tip for the day your NBCOT exam prep pays off: Do get in touch with us at PTS!

We work with some of the most capable and creative OTRs and COTAs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. We place them in schools and districts where they use their special skills and strengths to do more good for more students. And, we support their development as professionals who contribute to the wider therapeutic community.

If the PTS team sounds like one you’d like to be a part of, check out our currently available OTR and COTA positions. We can’t wait to place you in the right first job!

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