Pass The NPTE: A step by step guide

Where Do I Start?!

For most of us, the last quarter of PT school can be pretty overwhelming. We’re finishing up school or clinical rotations, getting ready for graduation, and oh yea…. getting ready for the biggest exam of our life.

So… where do you start? For most people the initial plan is to sort of dip their toes in the water. They start flipping through their review book for an hour a day 3-4 months before boards and kind of wander into their NPTE review program. Sound familiar?

Although a bit tempting when you’re stressed, I don’t recommend the above plan. The best way to pass boards is to come up with a solid plan and a good schedule and stick to it. There’s no perfect study plan for everyone, but let me tell you what worked for me, and what I’ve seen work for other people.

Step 1: Set a date!

Set an NPTE Study Date

Take a look at some of our Sample Board Review Schedules. Figure out which plan works for you and mark your start date on a calendar. Don’t bother with casual studying or flipping through notes until you start your program. Trust me, this might be the most important part of a good study program. Personally, I recommend an 8 to 10 week study schedule and would give yourself a few extra days or a whole week to allow for a few breaks from the non-stop marathon.

Step 2: Dedicate Yourself to Your Plan

Dedicate yourself to your NPTE study plan

Commit yourself to at least 160 hours of studying and give yourself at least a month to prepare for the exam (At the absolute least… not recommended!). If you decide to only give yourself 4 weeks to prepare for boards (again, not recommended) then be prepared to study 40 hours per week for all four weeks (not including practice tests). If you’re like me, and an 8 hour day of studying really consists of 3 hours of studying at panera, 2 hours of drinking coffee, an hour of texting, and at least 2 hours of killing time browsing the internet, you either need to make a change or be prepared to spend 300 hours at starbucks. Committing yourself to the study schedule you identified in step 1 is the single most important thing you can do to guarantee your success on the NPTE. Be sure to check out the Sample Study Schedule section.

Step 3: Gather Your Resources

NPTE study resources

Don’t go overboard. Some people in your class will likely be pulling out worksheets from their first day of PT school but you don’t need to be one of those people. If you were able to purchase both review guides pick which book you’ll be starting with and using primarily. Then gather all of your practice tests and decide where you want to place the easier Giles tests in your program. I would aim to have as many practice tests as you do weeks in your study plan. Giles has 5 tests, O’Sullivan has 3, and the NPTE offers 2 PEAT exams so you should be fine. We’ve put together a full list of available NPTE resources so you don’t have to.

Step 4: Take a Test! Seriously!

NPTE Practice Test

The first day of your plan has arrived! How do you even know what to study? Should you just start reading? Should you memorize pediatric reflexes and close pack positions all day?!

No. Find yourself a quiet place away from your phone and possible interruptions and take your first practice test.

Take it seriously. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re doing terribly. You will want to tell yourself that you just need to study… maybe I should stop halfway through… I’ll come back tomorrow after I look through the book…. don’t! Just finish the test and do your best. Keep in mind that you’re used to getting A’s in PT school… now your shooting for a C. A 75% would be a fantastic boards percentage, and that’s hard for a lot of PT students to wrap their heads around.

Don’t get discouraged If you are guessing on every other question. This is a part of the process. It is absolutely not a waste of a practice test… in fact, this might be the most important practice test you take because it will launch your program. Make educated guesses, re-read the questions, rule things out, this is a very important day in your program so just do your best and don’t get discouraged.

A few hours later… done. You did it. You started your boards plan! Instead of spending the last three hours trying to figure out where you want to start studying, you’ve found out what you need to learn, and what you need to be ready for in a couple months. You have an insight into what boards questions look like, so you now know how to better prepare. Also, the practice test will give you a printout showing you what your strengths and weaknesses are…. beautiful!

Take a break… you earned it. You’re done for the day… Call your friends and brag about what a solid NPTE study plan you have.

Step 5: Break’s over…

Study for the NPTE

Review your test. I don’t just mean skim through and see which ones you missed. I mean read through every question. If you got it right, double check why you got it right. If you guessed right then review it as if you got it wrong. Identify why the other three answers were wrong, not just why the one you chose was right.

Spend some time looking at each question… you could probably spend your entire second day of studying on this, but that might be a little much. I suggest reviewing your test for two hours or so and then moving on to step 6. You’ll come back later to step 5 several times throughout your first week.

Step 6: Start Reading.

Start Studying

This might be the most difficult step of the program, where do I start studying? My suggestion.. Chapter 1. Read chapter 1… take notes, make flashcards, quiz yourself, it doesn’t matter… just get started! Assuming you’re on an 8 week study plan or longer… you should spend each week absorbed in two things… a single chapter of your review book (if using Giles… multiple chapters if using O’Sullivan)… and reviewing your practice test (which may involve reading excerpts from other chapters of course).

I recommend taking a single practice test each week of your study program. You should spend your time each week alternating between reviewing the practice test you took at the beginning of the week (step 5) and studying a single chapter from your review book (step 6). This will be the pattern that you will follow each week until you finish your review book. Feel free to supplement this plan with additional study materials, but try to keep your focus narrowed to a single chapter at at time (or 2 if using O’Sullivan). It might be tough for you to focus on a single chapter for a whole week, but the purpose is to keep you from jumping around the book and waisting your time. If you find that you are completing a chapter too quickly, then move along to the next chapter, just avoid jumping around too often. Focus is key to passing boards.

At the end of every week, we recommend taking a system specific practice quiz from our website. This allows you to do a quick assessment of your progress at the end of each week, without having to dive into a whole 200 question test.

Click here to see all of our Practice Quizzes

Step 7: Shore Up Your Weaknesses

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In the remaining weeks before your NPTE, continue taking a practice test each week (assuming you have one test for each week of your plan). At this point, you should have spent a thorough week reviewing each chapter of your review book and these tests will give you a very clear picture of what your weaknesses are. Now is the time to eliminate them! Dive into your weakest chapters, write out notes, quiz yourself, do whatever it takes to make strengths out of your weaknesses.

Continue to shore up your weaknesses during the last weeks of your plan, taking breaks as necessary.

Step 8: Take the PEAT

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Save your two PEAT exams for the final two weeks of your plan. These tests are the most similar to the actual NPTE. Dedicate yourself to these tests… take them as you would the real deal. At this point you should be scoring around 70%. I know people who were scoring on the 60’s who passed, and I know some who were scoring in the 60’s and failed. However I don’t know anyone who got 70’s on the PEAT and failed boards. This is anecdotal of course, but it should give you a fair idea of where you stand.

Give these last two weeks all that you’ve got. Comb your PEAT exams to identify any remaining weaknesses. Review, review, review. Take your final PEAT about a week before your test. Hopefully you are scoring near a 75%. If not, don’t panic. Lot’s of people pass who score in the high 60’s on the PEAT, but getting a 75% is a very good sign for you.

Click here to visit the official PEAT website.

Click here to look at some PEAT FAQ’s

Step 9: Take and Pass Boards

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By this point you’ve suffered through a couple hundred hours of studying, a few hundred iced coffees, 7-10 practice tests, and lots of nights dreaming about Rancho Los Amigos scoring.

Your study program is done… hopefully you started your program a few days early so that you have a couple days to relax. Enjoy them. Review a little if you must. By this point you are a master of your review book, and you can determine ASIA scores with the best of ’em.

Finally… the big day is here! Just relax. Remember, you don’t need to get an A. With how much studying you’ve done, getting a 75% will be a cakewalk. Walk into that prometric testing center knowing that YOU WILL PASS THE NPTE.

Congrats, In a few hours you’ll be a PT.

You’ve got this.




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