5 Ways to Prepare for the National Physical Therapy Examination

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve heard the phrase a thousand times, but those of us who’ve prepared for the National Physical Therapy Examination, or NPTE, know there’s simply no better way to describe it.

For physical therapists, the NPTE is the finish line you have to cross to start your life. It’s tempting to try and sprint across, but if there’s one thing people who’ve passed know, it’s that fast often equals failure. Whether you’re taking the exam the first or fifth time, there are steps you can take to get ready right.

Here are 5 ways to prepare for the National Physical Therapy Examination.

1. Find your why

If you figured #1 would be a clear-cut command like “Take exactly 87 practice tests,” we get where you’re coming from. As scientific people, we love specifics. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize motivation — aka “your why” — can and should be specific. To pass the NPTE, you must be able to answer one question:

Why do you want and need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination?

The obvious answer — to become a PT — isn’t enough. Dig deeper, and don’t stop until you’ve identified the one thing that will motivate you when you’re exhausted, scared, frustrated or ready to quit.

A few good “whys” include:

● To provide a better life for your family
● To become financially independent
● To free yourself from someone or something that’s been holding you back
● To help other people live fuller, healthier lives through physical therapy

Once you find your why, hold on to it. Then find a mentor who understands your mission and establish a support system. These 3 things will create a roadmap for success — on the National Physical Therapy Examination and beyond.

2. Don’t let anyone else determine your test date

For many of us, pressure is the single biggest roadblock to succeeding on the National Physical Therapy Examination. Time and again, students decide to take the NPTE when their friends do, or in order to secure a particular job, or to please their family members. After failing, they admit that they knew from the start there was no way they’d be ready in time. Don’t let anyone pressure you into that situation.

Whatever your stressors — finances, family, friends, work — remember that this is one decision only you can make. There’s no virtue in rushing to pass, and it will be much harder to recover psychologically from failing than it would be to just take the NPTE when you’re ready. Your test date is your decision and yours alone.

3. Get into the green on the PEAT

In order to set yourself up to pass the NPTE, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. One way to gauge those is with the Practice Exam & Assessment Tool (PEAT). While it’s not an exact reflection of the National Physical Therapy Examination, the PEAT is a good predictor of your ability to pass the exam — if you read and assess your score breakdown properly.

Every time you take the PEAT:

● Take note of your lowest scores.
● Make sure that for every system and concept, the box and whisker plot graphs are in the green.
● If there are graphs in the red or yellow, focus on improving your knowledge of those concepts.

Scores in the red or yellow will cause you to settle for a score close to or at 600, and that leaves too much wiggle room for you to be confident on test day.

4. Don’t rush into a retake

We all know the feeling of totally bombing a practice or real test. If you do, don’t be afraid to call a timeout. Take some time to calm down, get some distance and evaluate your actions before jumping into another course, test or retake. If you get right back in the race, you won’t have enough time to digest what happened, or to devise a strategy to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
When it comes to the NPTE, we call this “Recurrent Redemption Syndrome.” Whether you’re motivated by pride, shame or peer pressure, it’s natural to want to redeem yourself when you fail. But in order for that redemption to be successful, you have to identify why you didn’t score well in the first place.

Ask yourself:

● Did you have enough time to study?
● Did something stressful happen in your life that was out of your control while you were preparing?
● Did you pace yourself incorrectly?

Taking the time to identify what you did wrong rather than rushing into a retake will make you much more likely to succeed the next time you take the National Physical Therapy Examination.

5. Aim for understanding, not answers

The NPTE is designed to test your ability to understand a situation — not your ability to answer questions. It seems counterintuitive: The National Physical Therapy Examination is, by definition, an exam. But most people who pass do so because they have a comprehensive understanding of physical therapy. They see the big picture, and that helps them understand not only what’s bothering a patient, but also how that problem arose and how they can treat it.

Put another way: There’s a thin line between knowing your data and understanding it. Anyone can put questions on a flashcard and memorize the answers on the other side. But what if that question is phrased another way, or if the logic must be applied differently? If you find yourself with lots of answers but little understanding, take 10 steps back and make sure you understand the concepts you need to get you to the answer. That’s what will give you the confidence you need to succeed at passing the NPTE.

If you’re looking for the best way to prepare to take the NPTE for the first or third time, The PT Hustle can help. Here’s the difference in our 3 courses:

Coaching Program
If you’ve struggled to pass the NPTE, this course is a go at your own pace over the span of 12 weeks. This course is for the busy PT student/grad who’s looking for structure, engaging lectures, and a flexible schedule.
Learn more

NPTE Pass System
If you know the material, but still have a hard time selecting the right answer, this course is for you. Focused solely on the NPTE test-taking component, this course provides the score and confidence boost you need 4-6 weeks before taking the PT exam.
Learn more.

Dominate the NPTE

Get started on the road to passing the PT exam!