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.

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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!

 

When Should You Take the National Physical Therapy Exam?

Name: Lindsay Mayors, PT, DPT, Graduated Class of 2017
Current Employment: Physical Therapist at KidSPOT Pediatric Therapies
Professional Goals:
to empower every child that I encounter to discover their vast abilities and reach their greatest potential, become a clinical instructor, and become a Pediatric Certified Specialist

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So, you’re a third year DPT student ready to graduate this upcoming May. The question is looming: when should you take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE): April or July? Lindsay Mayors, recent graduate, is here to give you a guide to deciding on when to take the NPTE.

Deciding when to take the NPTE is no easy task. If you are a third year student reading this and if you’re anything like I was at this time last year, your mind has felt like a teeter-totter repeatedly bouncing between April and July ever since you took the NPTE prep course at Regis. If your mind is on that teeter-totter at this point, take a deep breath and know that you do not have to make a decision right now. Now is the time to recognize all that you have accomplished in the classroom over the past two years, enjoy your last few days with your amazing classmates, embrace the uncertainties that undoubtedly come with the start of your final clinical rotations, and go out and enjoy those golden aspen leaves! Once you settle into your clinical (which, I promise, you ARE ready for), you can jump on that teeter-totter again with a clearer mindset.  The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer. It just takes a little bit of what Regis instills in us best…you guessed it…self-reflection!

There are 4 dates every year to take the NPTE; they are in January, April, July, and October.

I was one of the few in my class who chose to test in July. My fourth clinical was finally in the setting of my dreams: pediatrics! It’s a niche field of PT that is not heavily emphasized in the curriculum. For me, the thought of going home after clinic and studying for the NPTE did not stand a chance against going home and studying up on all things peds! My ultimate goal was to work in pediatrics, so I wanted to absorb all of the information I could during that rotation without spreading myself too thin between additional obligations. This decision allowed me to be fully prepared and present every day to each child; this is now something I highly attribute to the reason I was offered a position at that clinic.

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I traveled to Belize after graduation without allowing any NPTE thoughts to enter my mind.  When I returned, the 6-week journey of studying several hours/day began. Were there times over the summer that I was tired of studying and wished I had gotten it over with in April?  Of course. But were there times that I was thankful that I had un-interrupted time to study while maintaining a balanced lifestyle? Absolutely. Channeling my energy to be thankful for the process and reminding myself that it would be over in 6 weeks brought be back to my center. And those 6 weeks flew! A few days after receiving the results, I saw my very first pediatric patient independently. My mentoring PT signed off on all of my notes until my license number came through 5 weeks later. And here I am now, writing a blog post (instead of documenting on today’s PT sessions), still in disbelief that I have been a practicing PT for two months already!

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Here are some questions to consider during your decision-making process:

1. In what setting is your final clinical rotation?

 

Is it a setting in which you already have a high level of confidence, or is it a setting in which you have had minimal experience and may require additional preparation and study time?

2. What is your ideal study set-up?

Group study or individual study? Shorter bouts dispersed over a long period of time, or longer bouts concentrated in a shorter period of time? If the latter sounds better, maybe waiting until after graduation to settle into the rhythm of studying is for you.

3. What other tasks/activities/obligations do you have outside of clinical?

Research presentations, working on completing your capstone, finishing you clinical in-service presentation, family events, hobbies, weekend trips, etc. all will impact your ability to study–make sure to consider your time available from all angles.

4. Considering #2 and #3, what will set you up best to maintain a healthy life balance during your NPTE preparation?

Think about what’s realistic for you to accomplish.

5. Additional factors you may consider: travel and finances!

If you are planning on traveling after graduation, will you be able to relax and enjoy yourself if you still have to take the exam in July?

You should also consider:

  • If you want to take the exam in July, but feel it is financially necessary to begin working as soon as possible…
  • Does the state in which you plan to work allow you to practice under a provisional license while you study?
  • Does the setting in which you hope to work allow you to begin working in the time period between passing the exam and obtaining your license number? (~4-6 weeks is typical).

TIP: In general, it is more likely that a larger healthcare system will require a license number than a private practice.

The bottom line is, no matter what decision you make, there may be “the grass is greener on the other side” thoughts that arise. There may be doubts. There may be teeter-totters and remaining questions even after you decide on your test date. This is why I encourage you to consider what would be best for your own well-being. When answering the 5 questions above, consider your personal pros and cons. Reach out to your advisors, mentors, and classmates to assist you in the decision. Most importantly, make sure to have fun and create positive energies around your studies, no matter if they are for the April or July exam.

 

 

2nd Year Regis DPT students preparing to head off to clinical: Meet Adam Engelsgjerd

Name: Adam Engelsgjerd, Class of 2017

Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ

Undergrad: University of Arizona

Fun Fact: I am unabashedly 0/2 in the Palmaris Longus department

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After these final two weeks of the semester, Adam will be heading to Orland, CA for his summer clinical.

The goal of PT Exam Lab in our first year was to begin teaching our hands how to feel and assess what our brains knew to be there. For example: we studied the knee from texts, dissection, and lectures and then used our hands to palpate a classmate’s knee with our new, more clinical, perspective. The concept of our hands being “dumb”—or unable to differentiate what was beneath them—soon became all too familiar. Did we feel how there was a slight swelling of tissue on the medial aspect of the knee’s joint line that was the MCL? Sure we did.  Maybe. I mean, it has to be there, right? Let’s look back at our textbook again.

As the first year of the DPT program faded into our first clinical experience, we had the opportunity to translate our education into a real-world setting. Interacting with patients suffering with a myriad of different pathologies, varying levels of cognitive function, and real pains and concerns presented a new challenge: how to conduct PT evaluations. No longer volunteers or PT Techs hoping to one day be admitted to a program, we were now Student Physical Therapists and patients were looking to us for answers. We needed not only to know how the body worked, what normal and abnormal felt like with our hands, but also how to relate relevant information to a patient who may have little understanding of their body except that it hurts when they move.

 

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As my class draws near the end of our last full semester of classroom education, we are preparing for 30 weeks of clinical rotation—seasoned with a few more classes, a comprehensive examination, and the NPTE. Most of us can now all too clearly hear Dr. Tom McPoil’s words echoing back to us: a key challenge of being a good PT is not memorizing a list for a test or performing a skilled act for a practical, but being able to recall the massive amount of information we learn when you need it.

The goal ahead of us is the same it has always been: being able to put together the foundational information about how the body should work, overlay possible pathologies, identify red and yellow flags, conduct a concise but thorough evaluation, and accurately prescribe interventions. Yet, for many of us, it is now that the full scope and weight of that task is being felt.

And so, off we go around the country for the next two months where we anticipate being challenged, exhilarated, and scared all over again. We will once again surface from the classroom to rediscover why it is we’re here at Regis: to help those around us move better and for ourselves to get one step closer to becoming movement experts.