Which NPTE Review Book Should I use?!

The age old debate… If you are getting ready to begin studying for the National Physical Therapy Examination, affectionately called “boards”, you’ve likely asked yourself which NPTE Book should I use?, as well as the questions below.

Should I buy the Scorebuilders book or should I buy the O’sullivan book?

Should I use my notes from school?

Should I use other textbooks from school?

This question can be a bit stressful. While it is an incredibly important one, some people have placed way too much importance on this question and have a tendency to go a bit overboard. There isn’t necessarily a wrong answer here.

I myself, find solace in numbers. Most Physical Therapy students choose to utilize either the Scorebuilders book or the O’sullivan book as their primary NPTE study companion. Both of these books are designed to be complete study guides that walk you through everything that you might want or need to know to pass boards. Many students choose to utilize additional notes or texts to supplement their “Boards book” if they feel that the book does not cover certain subjects in enough detail.

Personally, I think a good study guide like the PTEXAM book by Scorebuilders or the O’sullivan NPTE book from TherapyEd is really all you need. I’m sure some would disagree with this, but I don’t recall coming across anything on the NPTE that I couldn’t have learned from Giles or O’sullivan.

So… which one should you buy?

In a perfect world you would buy both. The main reason being that each book comes with 3 practice tests, which are the core of any good study program.

I personally did not utilize the O’Sullivan book to prepare for my NPTE. Since passing boards however, I have gone back and taken a closer look at the O’sullivan review text and now realize that my decision to utilize Giles alone may not have been the best choice. Fortunately I passed, but both books have their specific strengths and in hindsight I probably should have utilized O’Sullivan to a greater extent.

They both have a very different style, and typically one of them appeals much more strongly to students than the other. Personally, I do not know anyone who utilized both books equally. It is likely that you will develop a favorite once you begin your program.

Allow me to just offer you this one bit of advice before I describe these books in greater detail.

Please ignore the somewhat exaggerated claims from the classmates before you who swear by one book versus the other. Somehow these two books tend to polarize people as they both utilize very different approaches. The truth is, with a good study plan, you will pass boards using either. Regardless, you still want to pick the book that jives best with your own personality to use as your primary resource.

Below we’ll take a closer look at what I believe are the two best NPTE prep books on the market. If you can only afford one, try to borrow each book from someone to see which you like best, or utilize the descriptions below.

PTEXAM: The Complete Study Guide by Scorebuilders. Author: Giles

PTEXAM by Scorebuilders

Often referred to as the “Scorebuilders book”, or “Giles”, this NPTE book definitely has its fans. It was actually the sole study aide that I used in my own preparation for boards.

I would describe this book as “light”.

I don’t mean that it is lacking any important material, I just mean that of the two, it is a much easier read. It contains lots of facts, figures, tables, and pictures. It contains tons of raw information, with very little conceptual explanation or overly complex sentence structure. If you were going to sit down and read one of these books cover to cover, this would be the much less painful choice.

Additionally the Giles book contains three practice tests that I would describe as being fairly similar to the NPTE in terms of material covered, however, I would say that the actual NPTE has more conceptual/clinical judgement questions that are written at a greater complexity than the Scorebuilders test items.

Some of what I’ve written above could be seen as a negative review of the book, but I think being overly complex does not necessarily make a better study guide. You have to keep in mind that you will likely be studying for 160 hours or more. It is easy to get overwhelmed with an overly complex study resource. If you know yourself to get frustrated when studying large amounts of material after only an hour or two, this might be your best option.

Regarding the three included practice tests, the Scorebuilders tests are easier than the ones included with the O’sullivan npte book. That can be seen as a pro or a con depending on your personality.

I encourage you to take all of the practice tests available to you. Variety in your practice tests is very important.

This is the book I would recommend if you are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. If you can afford both books then It might be best to utilize this book for 75% of your studying hours and the O’sullivan book the remaining 25% of the time if you are worried that Giles is too “easy”.


1. Relatively light, easy read.
2. Tons of  graphs and tables that promote memorization of important factoids.
3. 3 practice tests that are fairly similar to the NPTE
4. Less “frustration factor” due to its simplicity and writing style.
5. Well organized
6. A great study guide is included at the end of each chapter, although they are a little basic.


1. Could be called “oversimplified”.
2. Highly fact based. Great for memorizing clinical tests, values, scales, ROM’s etc, but lacking in clinical application and multilevel conceptual explanation when compared to O’sullivan.
3.The tests could be considered a little less difficult than others. Although good confidence builders, they might give you a false sense of security.
4. I found myself wanting a more in depth explanation in the practice test keys. Often times there was little explanation why one answer was better than another similar answer.

TherapyEd’s NPTE Review and Study Guide by O’sullivan

O'sullivan NPTE Review and Study Guide

The Gold Standard.

At least at my school, this seemed to be the most popular review text. It is written by the same author as “the red book” titled Physical Rehabilitation which is used in many PT courses and is shown below.

Physical Rehabilitation by O'sullivan

If you are familiar with the Physical Rehabilitation book by O’sullivan, her NPTE review book is written in a very similar manner.

This book is considered the gold standard because it contains EVERYTHING, and I mean everything. It goes into a greater depth than Scorebuilders in my opinion, and also applies a great deal of clinical and conceptual rationale to the information it presents. It is written in a manner similar to the NPTE, and I believe that is its greatest strength. That said, this is a very “heavy book”. If you happen to have a physical copy, it just takes a simple skim through the pages to see that this is the real deal. Nothing but print for about 500 large pages. This can be a little overwhelming for some, myself included.

I won’t deny that this book has some significant strengths over the Scorebuilders NPTE book. It covers the material in more detail, while providing clinical applications and rationale. After I took the NPTE, I realized that the O’Sullivan book was written in a manner very similar to the NPTE questions. Very rarely did NPTE questions fall into a bloom’s taxonomy Domain 1 category. Bloom’s Taxonomy Domain 1 questions are simple memorization questions. The Giles book really prepares you for these types of questions, whereas the O’Sullivan does a better job preparing you for questions in higher domains. Let me use an example to illustrate my point.

A domain 1 question might look like this:

What is the open pack position for the glenohumeral joint?

a. 55 degrees abduction, 30 degrees horizontal adduction

b. etc

c. etc

d. etc

Many boards questions might look like this however

You are treating a 60 year old male patient who recently injured his right shoulder while hanging christmas lights this weekend. Your physical examination reveals glenohumeral joint effusion and positive impingement tests. In which position should you place the patient’s right shoulder in order to minimize his pain?

a. 55 degrees abduction, 30 degrees horizontal adduction

b. etc

c. etc

d. etc

For either question, all that you really need to know is the open packed position for the glenohumeral joint. The Scorebuilders book lends itself best to domain 1 questions, whereas the O’Sullivan book tends to provide more rationale that will help you with the more difficult higher domain questions.

Of course, this is what makes it a more difficult read. You can see that with either book there are trade offs, which is why I recommend purchasing both if able.


1. Written in a manner very similar to the NPTE test items.
2. 3 difficult practice tests. They might kick down your confidence, but they are a true test of your ability.
3. All of the information that you could ever want to study can be found in one place.
4. I feel that the O’sullivan book does a slightly better job explaining test items in its practice test keys than the Scorebuilders book does.


1. Not an easy read. Very heavy… It tends to all start to run together after using this book for too long.
2. Very few pictures and tables to help break up the monotony of reading.
3. I felt that the difficult practice tests did more harm than good (for me at least). I was scoring in the 75% range with Scorebuilders, and in the 50-60% range with O’Sullivan. This was a real blow to my motivation and confidence, but maybe you’re not as sensitive as I am!

In Summation:

There are more than two NPTE review books out there, but I would just save yourself some time and stick with the tried and true. Whatever you decide, if you follow a good study plan and rely on what you’ve already learned in school, you will pass this test. Pick a book, or buy both… what really matters is that you select a realistic and structured plan that you are able to stick to. Too many people wander into preparing for this test. Whichever book(s) you use, create a detailed study plan, or use one of ours, and stick to it!

What is our study plan?

Sample Board Review Schedules

3 thoughts on “Which NPTE Book Should I use?

  • December 10, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Hey! Thanks a lot for your insight into the study materials you thought were helpful! Gave me some idea on how to start prepping!

    • December 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      Glad to hear it Rose!

      Once you get going be sure to check out our practice quizzes and practice NPTE. Routine assessment and follow up review are key!!

      Trevor Lohman PT, DPT

  • March 11, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    I’m studying to become a PTA. I have both books. I have to agree with the information provided regarding both books. I found using a highlighter in the O’Sullivan book breaks up the outline format and help selidify the information. Just a helpful hint.


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