6 Tips for How to Pass the NPTE After Failing with Dr. Dashae Smallwood

Failing the NPTE is tough no matter who you are. It’s especially tough if you’re someone who sailed through Duke undergrad, aced PT school, and shares your life daily with more than 12,000 Instagram followers.

That was the case for Dr. Dashae Smallwood, PT, DPT, who’s also known as The Curly Clinician online. When she failed the NPTE exam on her first try, she was faced with a choice: bury the bad news and try again or put it all out there for all her followers to see.

“Something just told me that I needed to put it on Instagram, and I’m glad I did because I was shocked with the outpouring of love and support I got,” says Dr. Smallwood. “So many people reached out and said, ‘I also didn’t pass and I thought I was alone’. It made me dig deep. I thought, ‘This is a part of my story. I can be sad and mope around, or I can use it to inspire people to grow, and I can use it to become a better clinician at the end of the day.’”

Turning failure into growth

Dashae started giving daily updates to her followers. She focused on staying in her own lane and not worrying about people posting their passes. She knew her time was going to come, and that this was a sign she simply wasn’t ready yet—but she still didn’t know how she was going to get there.

She joined a call for the PT Hustle and spent time in their Facebook group. After a few conversations, she decided to purchase the Pass System. As soon as she started the program, she felt a sense of community that was completely new.

“I knew with this course I could pass the NPTE and make all my dreams come true. The community actually made studying fun, which I didn’t think was possible!” says Dr. Smallwood, laughing. “The biggest thing this experience taught me was that our failures can do one of two things: They can make you sad and angry at the world, or they can help you grow. The second time, I spent six months learning how to pass the NPTE. And when I saw that pass, there’s no way to describe it. It was worth every second.”

Here are six things Dr. Smallwood learned about how to pass the NPTE exam.

1. Don’t study just to study

Dr. Smallwood: When I first started working on how to pass the NPTE, I Googled study templates and went with something I found online. I liked the eight-week plan I found, but I didn’t have topics, specifics, or anything tangible I was doing every day. I realized later I wasn’t retaining or learning information; I was storing it and then dumping it.

The second time, when I passed the NPTE, I wasn’t just reading a book for hours aimlessly. After a certain point, your mind just checks out. Once I started the PT Hustle, I found that I needed specifics and had to stay in my sweet spot, which was the four-hour study range. The first time I took the NPTE exam, I didn’t do anything but study. The second time, I still had a life. I exercised, I spent time with my partner, and I did things to maintain a good mental state.

2. Focus on structure and self assessment

Dr. Smallwood: The first time I failed the NPTE, I thought I was doing things right. Our program provided us with ACE and Basecamp. The template I found online had me studying MSK for four hours one day and then neuro the next day, and I did that for eight weeks. What I realized later was that I wasn’t doing anything to let me know: Am I making progress? 

There was no self assessing the first time around. I didn’t know that, of course, until I started with the PT Hustle. We walked through every single part of the NPTE exam. Obviously, I’d been through the test at that point, but it was good to go through the modules, how to set up a study plan, how to tailor it to myself, what I was going to study every day, and how to review and track how I was doing on my exams.

Coach K had us ask: What mistakes am I making? What topics am I missing? From there, I could get specific on what I needed to study. The structure piece was big for me.

3. Cut out what—and who—doesn’t serve you

Dr. Smallwood: After failing the NPTE, I realized that trying to keep up with everyone else is not going to serve you. They won’t be with you on the NPTE, telling you the answers. It’s just you and the test.

When it comes to how to pass the NPTE, I had to find a way to be confident and positive, and to surround myself with people who are confident and positive. I tried to remove people who stressed me out from my life. I focused on things that made me feel confident. And I kept doing things that made me happy.

4. Lean on the right people and plans

Dr. Smallwood: With the PT Hustle, lectures were huge. They allowed me to be sure I was absorbing things. Most people who fail the NPTE don’t fail it by a lot. You’re more likely to trust your gut when you know you’ve put in the time and effort, and Coach K’s lectures help you believe you can actually do it.

The second thing that the PT Hustle gives you is a community to share the experience with. For me, that broke down into two pieces:

  1. A three-person study group.
    We’d meet twice a week and study for two hours. We’d all pick a topic to teach one another. We’d ask if there’s any topic someone really needed to focus on, we’d run through NPTE practice questions together, and we’d take the time to hear other people’s rationale, which helped broaden our perspectives.
  2. An accountability partner.

We met up virtually once a week, but we talked every day. I’d ask if she went over anything major, we’d share mnemonics, or we’d just be there to vent and de-stress.

Until the PT Hustle, I had no idea how important community was. Weekly lives, the Facebook group—I finally felt like I wasn’t alone.

5. Practice test smarter, not harder

Dr. Smallwood: When it came to taking the PEAT exam, I had to completely change my mindset. I remember Coach K said, ‘Y’all need to stop taking these tests just to see the score at the end!’ That blew my mind because it’s exactly what I was doing. I was also studying in exactly the same way between practice tests and wondering why my score didn’t change. Of course it didn’t! I was doing the same thing over and over!

The NPTE exam is 250 questions and five hours. You’re going to tire out! Coach K taught me to take my PEAT exams exactly the way I planned to take the NPTE. I ate the same lunch, I only drank liquids during breaks. It helped me get past the fatigue and into the right mindset to read the questions and eliminate wrong answers.

6. Invest in yourself

Dr. Smallwood: If I could tell my younger self one thing, I’d tell her it’s expensive to take the NPTE over and over! You’re going to make money as soon as you start working, and it makes financial sense to invest in yourself on the front end to get it done. You have all your life to work. Three more months in the grand scheme of things is going to fly by.

Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t change anything about my experience. Failing the NPTE made me a tougher, stronger person. I learned a lot about myself and what I want to do. I can help people and remove the stigma that failing means you’re a bad person or you’re not smart. It’s a standardized test. That’s all it is.

The first time I studied by myself because my classmates had already taken it. The second time, I had friends, accountability partners, people I talked to every day, and other people who had also taken it but hadn’t passed. Structure and bonding were huge for me, and I got both from the PT Hustle.


To learn how The PT Hustle can help you pass the PT exam, click here.

For more PT Hustle success stories, click here.

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