Pass the NPTE by Using Study Questions

It’s that time of year again. The sense of joy, relief and accomplishment from getting handed that brand new DPT degree is slipping through your fingers as the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) looms up ahead. The desire to take a much needed break after three long years of hard work is at war with the growing panic of needing to find a physical therapy job. But first, you know you need to study and pass the NPTE.

You may have already purchased the Scorebuilders PT Exam study book or the O’Sullivan review guide. You are now staring at those thick tomes with an eyebrow raised. Where to start?

Here’s the good news: you just graduated from physical therapy school! You’ve spent years learning this material, getting hands-on experience in the clinic, and now have that shiny new DPT degree (remember?). What comes next is using efficient strategies to review a lot of material in a short period of time so that you can pass the NPTE and enter the real world.

Today I will talk about one of the most useful tools I used to pass the NPTE last July.

Quiz yourself effectively to pass the NPTE

During my second year at the University of Southern California (USC), a few other students and I were given the opportunity to write study questions from the Scorebuilders textbook for a company called Memorang. Who could say no to a chance to study for the boards AND get paid for it? Now anyone can sign up for a subscription with Memorang and look through the hundreds of questions that PT students helped develop to conquer the NPTE.

But I wouldn’t stop there.

Research has shown that actively trying to recall information without looking at the text is one of the best ways to study. Writing your own exam questions and quizzing yourself (and others!) is one powerful way to reflect on the material you’ve just spent hours trying to cram into your head.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen with this, however, is the TYPE of questions you’re asking yourself. A tempting option is to use simple “recall” questions: What MMT grade is assigned to a patient who has full ROM in a gravity-eliminated position? This information is important to know, but this is not the type of question you’ll see on the NPTE.

Break down the questions

I am an “over-preparer”, and maybe you are too. I took all the practice exams for the Scorebuilders and O’Sullivan texts, the two PEAT exams through the APTA, and countless practice quizzes through NPTE study apps. And yet, when I sat down to actually vanquish the “beast” I was dismayed to see how different the questions I had been practicing were compared to the ones on the real exam.

What I learned was that you need to know how to APPLY the information you’ve learned and make the best decision from that knowledge. With the NPTE you will be given four possible answers. Two to three of these answers will sound right (and probably are correct to a certain extent), but you will need to pick the best choice. Keep an eye out for “distractors” and make sure you read through the question stem carefully.

Let’s practice

Let’s break down an example question:

A 45-year-old female retail manager has a primary complaint of numbness and tingling on the outside portion of her right hand, usually around the 4th and 5th digit. Her symptoms are aggravated after an hour of working at her desk and progressively increase as the day goes on. During the objective exam, the therapist notes that the patient has 70° of right cervical rotation ROM, minimal pain in quadrant position, and an increase in symptoms with her right arm overhead. In addition, it is noted she has an elevated 1st rib on the right compared to the left and has exquisite tenderness along her scalene musculature. What would be the appropriate initial diagnosis for this patient?

A. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

B. Cervical Radiculopathy

C. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

D. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

The correct answer is “D”. You can make that choice by using clues in the stem to rule up/down the best diagnosis for this patient. This is not a median nerve issue (rules out Carpal Tunnel), there are signs of more proximal dysfunction (rules out Cubital Tunnel), and the cervical spine is cleared (rules out Cervical Radiculopathy).

Editor’s note: I studied this way for the NPTE and it was incredible! One thing I’ll add is to cover the answers with a notecard, try to answer the question in your head, then pick the answer that most closely matches what you recalled without prompting. Foolproof!

This process takes time and can be quite challenging, but the benefits you gain from learning the material in this way are worth it. So good luck, be confident, and know that you have what it takes to pass the NPTE and crush this exam!

Looking for more NPTE study tips? Check out this article for additional NPTE test taking strategies.

About Malina Lorring

Malina Lorring
After graduating from the University of Southern California (USC) in 2016, I was blessed with the opportunity to begin an orthopedic residency for USC in Beijing, China. Through this experience I have had opportunities to teach Chinese therapists, doctors and the public about the awesome profession of physical therapy. After I return to the States, I hope to continue to work in the orthopedic/sports realm and become more involved with the APTA and my local state chapter.

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