The Basics About the National Physical Therapy Exam

The National Physical Therapy Exam (or NPTE) is the measuring stick by which all new physical therapy graduates are measured. To get into PT school, you had to overcome many course exams, and most schools require the GRE to even apply, but the NPTE is in a league of its own.

As of 2012, there are 24,848 students enrolled in 211 PT programs throughout the USA according to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Each of these students must graduate from a CAPTE accredited school and take and pass the NPTE in order to begin their career as an entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy.

The NPTE is an exam that is designed to not just test the basic recall memory of PT students. From personal experience, I can tell you that the questions on the NPTE really stretch your skills of clinical reasoning and putting multiple subject materials into on problem. The entire exam is comprised of multiple choice questions that can trick even the most seasoned veterans.

Who Designs the NPTE?

The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) creates and maintains the test in a fashion that is constantly updated and improved. The exam's purpose is to evaluate each potential clinician to make sure they have the basic skills required to practice effectively and safely. With an ever-growing body of evidence, it is increasingly important for the test to reflect current practices in the field of physical therapy.

How is the Test Administered?

The NPTE is administered through the chain of Prometric testing centers throughout the country. Each candidate must first obtain an Authorization to Test (ATT) letter that verifies that a student has completed the appropriate PT training. This registration can be performed at the FSBPT website.

How do I Register?

All registration must be completed through the FSBPTwebsite. The description can be a little confusing, so here goes the simplified version:

1- Obtain a licensure application from your state board of licensing. This link will take you to a page listing all the contact information of each state board. There is typically an application fee and a licensure fee (total approx. $100 depending on the state)

2- Officially register for the NPTE on the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website

a. Fees as of 11/2012 are $370 for both the PT/PTA exams

b. Some states have fees for the Jurisprudence Exam, but most are free and "open-book" as a part of the state licensure application.

c. You must provide accurate information about who you are and where you went to school.

3- The state will then approve your eligibility for the exam and submit it to the FSBPT.

4- FSBPT will then send you an Authorization to Test (ATT) letter which you will use to actually schedule a testing date with a Prometric testing center to sit for the exam.

5- The NPTE is now using FIXED-DATE testing, meaning that you can only take the test on 4 possible dates.

6- Study Hard! If all goes well, and you pass with flying colors, FSBPT will transmit the score directly to the state where you applied. If you pass, the state will then issue you a license number and send you a physical copy within a couple of weeks. To find out faster, I called my state authority directly and was given my score.

What is a Passing Score?

This is probably the hardest question to answer. The short answer is 600/800.

The long answer is this:

The exam has 250 questions on it, but only 200 are scored. They add 50 extra questions to "test" their testability to make sure they are not too hard or too easy. When you are taking the test, THERE IS NO WAY to distinguish these unscored items from the scored questions. Therefore, answer every question like it counts!

Each question is then scaled into the perfect 800 score. The FSBPT then tweaks the passing score of 600 up or down to give some leeway for a test that is "too easy," or "too hard."

The bottom line is that you have no way of knowing if your test is "easy" or "hard," so I would recommend not worrying about the details. Just do your best and study all of the available material. Check for the current pass rates published by FSPBT.

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