Our guest blogger is Miye Fonseca, PT, DPT.  Miye is the Founder and CEO of Therapy Exam Prep, a provider of online NPTE and NPTAE exam prep courses and practice exam simulations focusing on the clinical thinking aspects, test-taking strategies and addressing factors on confidence, fear and test anxiety. She has spoken at student conclaves, has been a guest on podcast interviews and written articles about exam preparation from a clinical thinking and practical approach.


Are you wondering how to balance studying for the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) while at clinicals? If so, you’re not alone here, as many candidates wonder what the ideal number of hours is to study for this important exam. When you are putting 24 to over 40 hours at clinicals, it may seem hard to imagine putting in just as much time for studying.

NPTE Studying isn’t a Second Job
The good thing is that you don’t have to treat studying for the NPTE as a second full-time job. Preparing for the PT exam while on clinicals can be a few hours a day. It’s not the all or nothing mentality when it comes to studying for this exam, but rather the consistency over time. View the studying aspect as an extension to what you are learning in clinicals instead of a totally separate task.

Ease Into Studying
When you begin your clinicals, wait a day or two before easing yourself into studying. You want to get into a rhythm and know what to expect with your clinicals before figuring out how to best manage your time for studying.

It’s okay to start your NPTE exam preparation with an hour or two a day while on clinicals. Limit the amount of information so you are not overloading your brain. Be realistic on how long and much you can be focused on studying after being at clinicals. Then build up your mental endurance as you become comfortable with your workload and ability to study.

A Few Hours a Day
Studying for the NPTE doesn’t have to be for several hours like the clinical hours of 8 to 10 hours a day. You can be productive with only a few hours a day once you get into the habit of studying. It may seem like it’s not worth studying for a few hours; however, taking steps to be consistent helps to retain the information better. You may even get in a little more by listening and actively engaging with audio podcasts on your commute.

Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of studying. It’s better to focus on one area than cramming a bunch of different topics in a short period of time. Take a few moments to jot down some review points or create a brain dump to help you refresh your memory later. In general, limit the number of hours to at most three hours of studying per day while on clinicals.

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Small Chunks Still Count
Studying a little bit here and there throughout the day also counts in preparing for the NPTE. When you think of studying, it doesn’t have to be all at once. It can be in small chunks, like 10 – 15 minutes in the morning, breaks, afternoon and evening. The goal is that you can take what you are learning in the clinic and relate to what is in the study guides.

When studying, there’s more to just reading the study guides. Studying can be engaging by taking an evaluation sheet and filling out what you would do to help a patient with a particular condition. You can gain a lot by making connections and correlations with the material to better help a patient. You’ll also find that you retain a lot more information when actively learning than just reading passively. Take a break from studying every 45 minutes just like you would when treating patients. This allows your brain to process the information in smaller chunks and easier for you to remember later.

Plan on the Weekends
Take more time on the weekends to study and prepare for the exam than during the weekdays. Spend at least an hour to prep in order to manage your time for the rest of the week. Being proactive and deciding what you want to get out of the upcoming week during clinicals as well as what to study will help you to reduce stress.

Utilize the weekends to take practice exams instead of the days you are at clinicals. After taking an exam, begin to analyze the types of questions you missed in order to recognize patterns. Pick a few concepts and then ask your clinical instructor to help you relate things clinically.

Keep in mind that you want to prioritize your time for studying when you have a limited number of hours after you come back from clinicals.

While your mind may be overloaded, there are ways you can still be proactive in your studying. Being able to get in some studying or reviewing each day helps to make more progress towards the NPTE.

For more ideas on studying, be sure to read this post “3 Ways to Balance Clinicals and Studying for the NPTE.” At the end of the day, just know that preparing for your patients and studying can be interactive and fun!


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