How to Pass the NPTE

Name: Carol Passarelli, Class of 2018
Undergrad:
 University of Southern California (fight on)
Hometown: 
Mountain View, CA
Fun Fact: Llamas don’t have fur or hair; it’s called fiber. Pretty cool. Or warm, actually. Depends on the fiber count.

12049180_10206776360640421_5129748206291739683_n (3)

Wow, does it feel good to write that title and have it be true! Are there countless tips and tricks out there for SPTs looking to conquer the NPTE? Absolutely. Are they as good as my tips? Um, probably. But, hopefully, this will give you some tools to help tackle the important things…like, best snacks for studying (dry ramen), my highlighter color preferences (classic yellow), and (okay, seriously now) how to work with crippling test anxiety.


 

Let’s back up to almost a year ago: the comprehensive exam. Created by faculty as the final, culminating didactic exam before you leave for 6 months of clinical rotations. Most people will say not to worry—you’ve been preparing for this the entire time you’re in PT school! And, for the most part, y’all will do just fine with it.

If you’re like me, hearing that reassurance of success only increases my anxiety. If there is going to be an exception to the high pass rate, then I know it will be me. Yes, that’s right. I had my first bout of panic attacks since undergrad during the 2 weeks prior to the exam—and a giant whopper of an anxiety attack during the first half of the test. But hey, I do well academically…it’ll work out fine, right?

I didn’t pass.

Sure—I retook it the following week and did fine. Do I know exactly why I was so irrationally terrified of that exam? Somewhat, but there are still pieces I’m fitting together. That’s test anxiety, folks.

Flash forward to today: I passed the NPTE with a delightfully solid margin, graduated from an outstanding DPT program (only slightly biased), and am employed in my dream setting and location. Groovy.

I haven’t beat test anxiety, but I found ways to manage it for the biggest exam we have to take as PTs. Here are some tips on how to conquer the NPTE and get closer to being that amazing clinician we are all going to become.


1. Settling is okay

I don’t recommend doing this when you’re looking for your lifetime partner, dream house, or—most importantly—picking your dog, but when it comes to grappling with a beast of an exam, absolutely do this. At the end of the day, if you didn’t hit your quota of pages, didn’t understand the finer intricacies of lymphedema bandaging, or can’t for the life of you remember the side effects of certain medications, my goodness. Just go to bed. Decide to learn just 1 piece of information about each topic. Allow yourself to just know the surface level facts for now. In other words: keep momentum. You don’t need to know everything perfectly.

 

2. Check your emotions at the door

This is key for me and any of you who struggle with test anxiety. For me, knowing that I hadn’t passed the comprehensive exam made my initial month of studying an emotional undertaking. It’s difficult to separate your self-worth from how you perform on tests—particularly in a grueling graduate program. Albeit this is easier said than done; try your hardest, though, to leave any feelings of self-doubt and shame outside the room. It is not shameful to have a setback. Failing does not detract from your self-worth.

Get in your happy head space before opening up the textbook! If I wasn’t in that headspace, I wouldn’t study: I ultimately decided to cultivate my confidence in my test-taking ability over gaining that extra knowledge I could have gotten during those study hours.

 

3. Redefine the word “studying”

This is just a friendly reminder that studying is RAD. We all love to learn, and those of us in a PT program get to learn some of the coolest stuff out there. So why is ‘studying’ associated in my head with ‘nooooooooooo’? This harkens back to #2, but here it is again: the times that studying sucks 100% is when I feel: 1. Guilty for not knowing something I feel like I should know 2. Ashamed that I got a question wrong, or 3. Hungry. Remember how awesome it is to learn, review, and grow as a clinician. Find that gratitude. Eat a snack.

 

4. Don’t do what your classmates do

Classic advice, but the root of it is: we are all different. If you’re like me, then talking about studying strategies with classmates is probably my #1 stress-increaser. I avoided most of my classmates’ study groups and didn’t like to talk about my studying with my CI and my clinic. Also, you do NOT have to study 30 hours a week…but maybe you do! I highly recommend doing some reflecting BEFORE jumping into that meticulous, color-coded study plan you’ve created for yourself to determine what is truly best for you. Oh, and don’t follow someone else’s study plan.

If you read the above and still are curious about study schedule particulars (this post is about ways to pass the NPTE, I guess) I studied about 30-60 minutes before my clinical, 4-5 times a week for 3 months. About a third of this time was used to review previous practice test answers. I took 8 practice tests—yes, this is a lot and yes, this is expensive—because I knew I had to practice being in the test environment more than I had to review content. I know that a couple of my classmates studied intensively for 2-3 weeks and also passed. This really is a choose-your-own-path-follow-your-dreams recommendation.

 

5. Ask. For. Help.

Quite frankly, I wish I had done this more. If you sit with a concept and can’t seem to grasp it, ask a classmate. If you need a break from studying, then ask a friend if you can unload your thoughts with them. Remember that you’re not just taking an exam. You are also working on becoming an independent practitioner, finishing a clinical, job hunting, possibly moving, adopting puppies, cleaning your bathroom, etc. Essentially, there is a lot to balance, and it is an uncertain time full of transitions. Be kind to yourself, and lean on your support network.

 

If anyone is curious about other stress-reducing tips, feel free to email me at cpassarelli@regis.edu.

Best of luck, future PTs!

 

Finals Week: A Beautiful Struggle

It’s that time of the year again…

No, we’re not talking about the holidays.

It’s Finals Week, the crescendo of each physical therapy (PT) school semester.

If you haven’t experienced a finals week in PT school, then here are a few ideas of what Regis students encounter during this time each semester.

  1. …but first, Practicals Week

Gone are the days of “dead weeks” leading up to final exams. Practical Exam Week is usually the week prior to all of the written final exams. This is where the skills you have acquired over the entire semester are put to the test to see how you are able to apply them in a real-life situation. During the days leading up to these exams, you will often see students crowding into room PCH 409 to practice their skills and drill each other on the specific times to use them. Study sessions can extend late into the night for some students (Pssst…PT school secret: often these practicals require knowing information that will also be on the written final, so it’s like studying for two exams at once…now that’s a deal!)

  1. Review Sessions

It is not uncommon for faculty members to hold review sessions discussing what to expect on the final written exam. These are often a great help in refining study strategies (PT school pearl of wisdom: take advantage of these sessions!)

  1. Finals Week Schedules

Each class takes 4-5 exams the entire week, with one exam per day and each one for 2 hours. You can find last minute study sessions dispersed across Claver Hall in the hours leading up to the exams to review any lingering questions or fill any remaining knowledge gaps. And hey, after one exam is over, students have 22 hours to study for the next test…what an ample amount of time!

  1. Work-Life Balance

In the words of The Great Tom McPoil, “take a day for yourself every week.” This may be hard to remember during these challenging weeks, but still very relevant. Students usually make modifications to Tom’s “day” suggestion during finals week, and instead take a few hours to relax and meditate with various types of exercise (or naps) – whatever takes the mind off studying for a few moments.

  1. The Triumph of Completing a Semester of PT School

At the end of each finals week, you will find students celebrating another semester down and another job well done! It’s a time to look back at the terrific accomplishments with pride and relish in the fact that your hard work got you here

– Courtney Backward

Check out this video of first and second year students studying (and relaxing) for their finals!

 

Video Credit: Janki Patel

 

6 Weeks into PT School: Meet Kelsie Jordan

Name: Kelsie Jordan, Class of 2019
Hometown: Portland, OR
Undergrad: Oregon State University
Fun Fact: I spent the summer of 2014 studying in Salamanca, Spain.

IMG_2430.jpg

If I had to describe the first few weeks of PT school in one word, it would probably be “overwhelming.” I don’t even mean that in a negative way— so many of the experiences I’ve had so far have been amazing—but I would definitely not say it’s been easy. My classmates and I have been overwhelmed with both the excitement and nervousness to finally start this next part of our lives: in the past month, we’ve been introduced to a new school, new people, new homes, new habits, and—of course—with the amount of information we’ve received since the first day of classes.  More than anything else, though, I’ve been overwhelmed by all the new opportunities at my disposal and all the great people I get to spend the next three years with.

IMG_2973.jpg

Free concerts and NFL kick off!

You’d think that having a class of 81 people would make getting to know everyone difficult, but it’s been quite the opposite at Regis. It turns out that when you spend roughly 40+ hours per week with the same people who are in the exact same boat, you get to know a lot about each other in a very short amount of time. Of course, I obviously don’t know absolutely everyone well at this point, but it’s still easy to forget that we all met less than two months ago. Before deciding on Regis, I was a little apprehensive about having such a large class compared to other DPT programs; now that I’m here, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The biggest piece of advice I’ve heard time and time again from the second and third year students is to take time for myself and have fun outside of school. I’ve definitely taken that advice to heart!   Perhaps that means I should be spending more of my free time studying, but hey, at least I’m having fun, right? I’ve managed to leave plenty of time for hiking, camping, sporting events, concerts, Netflix, and IM sports—and I’ve been having a blast! Being a successful student is all about maintaining balance between work and play, so those mental health breaks are important to me for keeping my brain from being overloaded.

img_0753

Hiking Horsetooth Mountain in Fort Collins

So exploring Colorado has been the easy part of transitioning to Regis—I mean, what’s not to love? Starting school again, on the other hand…I only took one year off between graduation and PT school, but it still took some transition time to remember how to take notes and study. Fortunately for me, a lot of the material so far has been familiar information from undergrad, though it’s definitely more intense. One of the aspects of the Regis DPT program that I really appreciate is the collaborative atmosphere.  Anyone—students and faculty alike—with a little more expertise in a certain area has been doing their best to share that information by providing extra resources, study sessions, etc. It also helps that we’ve all been embraced right into the Regis DPT community by the second and third years, and I definitely get the sense that the faculty genuinely care about our success in school and in our future careers.

img_3080

We’re official! Our new PT supplies after the Professional Ceremony

We’re now six weeks into PT school and sometimes I still have these moments where I can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s crazy to think back to this time last year when I still hadn’t even submitted my first PTCAS application, and now here I am: a student physical therapist. Overall, it feels like I’ve adjusted well to my new home in Denver as well as the grad student life—despite the overwhelming moments. Now that we’re through our first round of exams, it’s probably a safe bet that our “honeymoon phase” has come to a close and we have an increasingly busy schedule looming ahead. I’m still developing responsible study habits and I have a lot to learn about how to be a successful student, but I look forward to the upcoming opportunities for service, leadership, and classmate bonding that the rest of the semester will bring!

A Guide to Passing the Comp Exam

The comprehensive exam is a two-part test that encompasses all class material through the first two years of PT school. It is the last major hurdle in the quest to obtain the beloved PT diploma. It’s very similar to fighting the giant hand at the end of single player Super Smash Bros. If you have a solid game plan, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, prepare to get smacked into oblivion. Fortunately, we are given a lovely break in between summer and fall that lasts about a month, which is more than enough time to prepare. But you do need to attack that time wisely. I’ve run through ways people have planned out this break for our class and have come up with a few recommended strategies for managing all that time.

The most important aspect for the majority of individuals is a consistent schedule throughout the week. Total hours massed for studying seems to vary a bit, but a safe estimate of time is 5-6 hours per day, 5 days per week. The total time is dependent on how efficiently you feel you study. If you study well, do less, not so well, take a couple extra hours where you need them.

What you study is the important part of the “study” aspect of your schedule. Not every course is weighted the same. The staff has been kind by giving us the breakdown of content for each half of the test. I’m not going to go into detail, but basically Musculoskeletal Management, Neurological Management, and Management Applications of Physiology are your most important classes (by a lot). Divide the total study into where you need the most help, and base importance partly on these percentages (in other words don’t spend an entire day on PT exam). Inside of those hours, try to avoid studying one class per day unless you really can devote the concentration. I suggest 2-3 different courses on an average study day. One caveat from a professor, if you miss a day on your schedule, DO NOT GO BACK. Move on with your schedule. You will most likely not miss any questions from that day if you are diligent with the rest of your time.

So you have the study hours scheduled. Now comes the break schedule. As you learned in Movement Science class, you need breaks, and you need exercise. Most of you won’t have as hard of a time with this as I have recently (running makes me cry more than sweat). Try to take a break when you complete 3-4 hours of studying (and honestly, make it exercise and food). Then go back for a few more hours of studying.

Now you need to decide where to study, which can be anywhere. I’ve studied at the park, home, school, coffee shops, and airplanes. It doesn’t matter where you are as long as you stick to the schedule. One suggestion I will make is try to avoid studying alone. Yes, some of you will disagree with me on this, but most will say that it’s nice to have someone around when you could use a better explanation than YouTube is providing for a concept you get snagged on (or if the video on YouTube is funny and you need affirmation that you have a sense of humor).

With all that said, you need to enjoy your break. Do things that you really want to do. Go to Uganda. Go to that music festival. See how many beer gardens you can attend. Take a day to try to sleep until 4:00 p.m. This is the part of the break where you keep a little bit of your sanity. Not to mention, you don’t have a lot of time after this period. You have made it this far just fine; don’t expect them to throw something at you that you can’t handle. It’s not worth destroying yourself studying without having any fun on the weekends.

Ultimately, most students find that it’s pretty relaxed studying (outside of the occasional panic attack). This is what we’ve worked so hard up until this point for, and we all know SO MUCH. Schedule well. Study efficiently. Play hard. This is just the next check mark to complete before we can call ourselves doctor on graduation day (and then go by our first names for the rest of our career).

Blogger: Tommy Hughes

Hometown: Bartlesville, OK

Undergrad: University of Arkansas

Fun Fact: I’m Seth Rogan’s cousin