Four Steps to PT Boards Exam Study Success

You’re on the cusp of your career as a physical therapist (PT), but there’s still a major milestone ahead: passing your PT boards exam!

The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE®) is the 250-multiple choice question, up-to 5-hours-long test you must pass to become a licensed physical therapist (PT) or physical therapist assistant (PTA). (The PTA version is only 200 questions and only up to four hours long!)

Fear not! 91% of those who graduated PT programs in 2019 passed the NPTE on their first try. And every year since 2015, 99% of test-takers ultimately pass.

Odds are good you’ll pass too, provided you prepare strategically.

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we work with many of the most skilled, qualified, and innovative school-based physical therapists in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware. If you follow these steps for passing your PT boards, you may soon be among them!

Study Success Step #1: Prioritize Your Content Review

The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT®) has designed the NPTE to cover PT examinations, evaluations, and interventions in nine body systems. The heaviest emphases are:

  • the musculoskeletal system (51-60 items)
  • the neuromuscular and nervous systems (44-50 items)
  • the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems (23-28 items)

Getting a strong handle on two-thirds of the test’s content should get you a lot closer to that passing score of 600. Don’t ignore everything else on the NPTE content outline though! 

In addition, pay attention to whatever content areas you feel are your weakest. Better to attain foundational knowledge areas before the boards rather than once you’re in your first therapy job.

Study Success Step #2: Use a Study Guide and Apps

When looking for NPTE study guides, you’ll find two titles recommended time and again.

Scott Giles’ PT—The Complete Study Guide from Scorebuilders wins praise for being clearly written, well-organized, and visually appealing. Kaitlin Courtnay, a PTA, used Scorebuilders as part of her studying, and she got a perfect score on her NPTE!

The NPTE Review and Study Guide by Susan O’Sullivan et al. from TherapyEd claims to be the only guide updated annually to keep pace with the test. Several online reviewers consider it more comprehensive and challenging than Scorebuilders because it offers more rationale, and is a better reflection of the questions on the actual test.

Utilizing a professional study guide will help you more than using none. Both Scorebuilders and O’Sullivan include practice tests, which (as we’ll explain below) are indispensable study tools. 

You’ll also find a wide selection of study apps. Some cost money; others are free. Some apps you’ve used to help you get through your coursework could also prove to be useful review tools. 

Study Success Step #3: Practice Taking the Test

Don’t let your first look at the NPTE come at the Prometric testing center. Find practice tests to familiarize yourself with the format and approximate the experience of sitting for it.

Male physical therapy student sits at coffee shop table with open PT boards exam study guide, laptop, and coffee cup.PEAT® (Practice Exam and Assessment Tool) is the FSBPT’s timed, computer-based multiple-choice practice exam. Access costs $99.00, but your money gets you:

  • two practice tests written in the same format as the actual test
  • an immediate score report
  • a detailed breakdown of your performance
  • supplementary study materials you can keep even after your PEAT access expires

Approach practice tests as you would the real PT boards exam:

  • Set aside a five-and-a-half-hour block of time. 
    The extra half hour includes a scheduled 15-minute break after section two, which you should take at least part of during the practice. The actual test also includes two extra, unscheduled breaks. The test timer pauses during the scheduled break, but not during the unscheduled ones. You’ll be able to shorten any of the breaks if you wish.
  • Take the practice test in a distraction-free environment.
    Frankly, you’ll want to do all your studying around as few distractions as possible, but certainly don’t try taking the practice test at Starbucks! Go somewhere quiet—a campus or public library is ideal.
  • Use efficient test-taking strategies.
    Don’t wait until your actual test date to try time-saving techniques like marking questions you’re unsure of to review later. Get used to employing such strategies now so you’ll feel confident using them when it counts.

Study Success Step #4: Take Good Care of Yourself

As a soon-to-be PT, you know how vital the body-mind connection is. If you put staying fit and keeping active on hold while studying for your boards, you’re setting yourself up for a less-than-peak performance on test day.

  • Take breaks and get outside.
    Sunlight and fresh air will clear your head. Enjoy a brisk walk or go for a jog. (If you can’t stop thinking, “I really should be studying,” use flashcards to quiz yourself on the go.)
  • Choose healthy study snacks.
    A brain on junk food isn’t a brain ready to do its best on a test! Fresh fruit, low-salt popcorn, almonds, and hummus all make great choices.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.
    Yes, studying for your PT boards exam will be stressful. Try yoga, meditation, or other relaxation exercises. Also, don’t stay up cramming the night before; a good night’s sleep will serve you far better.

PTs and PTS: A Winning Combination

Soon, the NPTE will be behind you, and you’ll be a PT! When you are, consider starting your clinical career by working with us at PTS.

We do all we can to place our school-based physical therapists in schools and districts where they can capitalize on their strengths, develop new skills, and contribute to the wider therapeutic community.

Take a look at our currently available positions—then get back to hitting the books for that PT boards exam! We can’t wait to congratulate you when you pass!

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