With July boards coming up, I can’t help but think back to my own experience with preparing for boards, and the mental breakdowns I inevitably suffered along the way. I graduated in late June and sat for boards late July. Of course during the last quarter of school we took practice boards, and I bought extra practice tests along the way, but that month in between graduation and the NPTE was torturous and anxiety inducing. First, I want to share the resources and methods I used for studying for boards. Everyone has their own study method they prefer, of course, but this was something a little different I did than usual when preparing for boards.
- In a planner, I laid out what to study each day and what days to take a practice test or quiz. Sometimes I would go even more specific depending if I knew something was stumping me. I usually spent the day studying 1-2 subjects. For example Focus on MSK for a majority of the day and then transition to Cardio. Then focus on Cardio for most of the day, and then transition to Neuro, etc.
- At the beginning of each day, before I would begin studying, I would turn to a blank piece of notebook paper and write down everything I remembered studying from either the previous day or even the day before that. My goal was to fill up the front sheet of the paper each morning with what I remembered.
- I would take several quizzes and practice tests. I usually studied at the library, but not always. However, if I was taking a practice test I tried to make it as realistic as possible. I would set a time and prepare the night before as if the next day was exam day. Go to a quiet part of the library, turn my phone off, and only took breaks in between sections.
- I also made notecards. I made note cards on both questions I missed and questions I got right but didn’t necessarily understand. I remember at least a handful of questions on the real boards that I knew because I remembered getting a similar question wrong on practice. I remember talking with friends after the fact being like “oh yeah I remembered that one b/c I got it wrong on the practice exam so I knew it was this.” So, don’t get overconfident with just getting a question right off chance. UNDERSTAND why/how you got it right.
- Mental breakdowns: I specifically remember just finishing a long practice quiz and I’m pretty sure I had just failed a practice boards that week or something. The quiz was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a Friday and I just cried. I spent the rest of that day AND weekend not studying, and on the couch binge watching Grey’s Anatomy. Sunday night, I pulled myself together and set a study schedule for that week. I feel like the mental breakdowns and specifically the study BREAKS are not emphasized enough. Know your OWN study limits. I can’t tell you how many times I compared myself to my classmates posting 4 white boards worth of studying on social media or talking about how they spent 16 hours studying. I felt like garbage. I felt like “how do I expect to be successful if I’m over here only studying 6-8 hours”, I was literally getting down on myself for still studying a whole day’s worth in school even with taking classes! I would have friends be like “oh yeah I’m freaking out” but they were always studying and never admitted (or maybe never partook) in taking studying breaks. Again, during studying for boards all I could think was “how am I going to pass boards when I’m always taking breaks/naps, and everyone else has been up since 6 am studying?!” Well, I know my limits. When my brain gets too fried or I am too tired, there is just NOT retaining new information and I KNOW that about myself. I would rather step away from an hour and nap/refresh and get back to it ready to take on a couple more hours than push through the exhaustion for another hour without learning anything and then having a breakdown.
- I’m still working on not comparing myself to others in every form of life but dear lord if I learned anything during boards preparation its: FOCUS ON YOU, TRUST YOURSELF. Obviously don’t be lazy about it and brush it off “I’ll be fine, I don’t study like others, I only need about an hour a day”, you do need to push yourself, but don’t break yourself.
I’ll never forget, about 2 weeks before boards, I received an email from a professor. The school was monitoring the practice test/quiz resources we used from them. The email explained that since I had not passed a practice exam recently, I should consider pushing my boards back to October. I was devastated. I called my mom and my friend who received the same email. Freaking out, wondering if I should push it back, what were the costs. Again, knowing myself and my abilities, I decided to stick with my July date. I knew that even if I didn’t pass, getting a feel for the real Boards would help me if/when I were to have to retake it. I was lucky and thankful to run across a post on the Doctor of Physical Therapy Students facebook page where someone posted asking for Boards advice. I saw several PT’s post to stop studying 2-3 days before the exam, and how some of them didn’t pass a single practice boards but still passed the real thing. That stuck with me. I sat for boards, didn’t sleep the following week due to stress, and found out I passed the NPTE on my first try. And you better believe I sent a screenshot to the dean and the professor suggesting I wait until october.
Here are some resources I used:
- True Learn: We were able to use it for free from our school because they had just created a part for NPTE prep and I really enjoyed this.
- This of course is what my school used for our NPTE prep class and I feel like it is widely used. I felt like the “peaks/mountains” (whatever they used for you to get through subcategories of each section) only scratched the surface of what you would then take the practice test on. I remember watching all the videos and there would still be questions that weren’t reviewed in the videos. I did use the book throughout my studying however.
- PEAT exam for a practice test
For all the students taking it in July, best of luck and BELIEVE IN YOURSELVES.
For all those who are waiting, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about prepping for boards.