This post is the first of a multi-part series on preparing for the NBCOT exam. In this post, I will be discussing seven essential tips for preparing for the exam. Please comment below if you have additional tips and ideas to share!
Know Your Study Style – You’ve taken countless tests in your graduate program – so you should know what study style works best for you. Think back to the tests you rocked and how you studied for them.
- Are you a sprinter who studies a lot shortly before an exam?
- Are you a ponderer who studies a little bit each day?
- Do you need a quiet, distraction free zone to study?
- Do you need to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop to focus?
- Love group study? Hate group study?
- Flashcard creator? Study guide maven?
Respect your study style! Don’t let anyone tell you that you should be studying a certain way.
Take Practice Tests – It’s one thing to know the brachial plexus and another thing entirely to apply that knowledge in clinical practice. The NBCOT exam is designed to test your clinical knowledge. The best way to practice applying what you know is by taking practice exams. There are a slew of online programs and books with tons of practice questions in them. In a future post, I will discuss which resources I found most helpful in studying for the NBCOT exam. The vast majority of my studying involved taking and reviewing practice tests.
Only Study What You Don’t Know – I know, I know… You’re probably saying, “DUH!” But, I’m the type of person who finds comfort in reviewing all the things! My initial inclination was to sit down and create a study guide reviewing each chapter in the four primary text books that I used in OT school.
Luckily, I stopped myself before going down the path of over-studying. Instead, I took a practice test and wrote a list of questions I got wrong because I lacked factual knowledge. For example, I got a question wrong on my first practice test because I had forgotten the differences in the various levels of the Ranchos Los Amigos Cognitive Scale. With this information, I created a simple chart listing the name of each level and a brief description of what I might see with each level. That way, I wasn’t wasting time reviewing stuff I already knew and spent my energy reviewing only those items that needed refreshing.
Build Up Your Testing Tolerance – Sitting down and completing the clinical simulation section and 170 multiple choice questions was mind-numbing! By the time I got to question 100 I felt like my brain was made of jello and the words on the page no longer made sense. When I built my practice tests, I would always include the clinical simulation portion and would add multiple choice test items in increments of 25. Here’s an example:
- Week 1: Simulation and 25 Multiple Choice Questions
- Week 2: Simulation and 50 Multiple Choice Questions
- Week 3: Simulation and 75 Multiple Choice Questions
I continued this pattern until I was able to complete the simulation and 200 multiple choice questions. I know that’s more than what is on the actual exam, but I like to add some padding knowing that I will experience additional emotional fatigue on testing day.
Schedule Breaks – Take study breaks during the test and between study sessions. I learned that I lost all common and clinical sense after answering 25 questions. Knowing that, I would force myself to take a 2 minute break after every 25 questions that I answered. During this break, I would take a stretch, focus on my breathing, and repeat a mantra to myself. I also took breaks between study sessions. Here’s the schedule I created for myself.
Notice that I gave myself some days off and broke up my study time throughout the week. I also scheduled my study time when I knew that I would be most focused. Arrange your study schedule so that it plays to your strengths.
Have Fun – Notice in my study schedule that I did not study on the weekends. I went out and had some fun! Meet up with friends who don’t want to talk about the exam. Go hiking, take a yoga class, hang by the pool – do whatever you need to do to relax, enjoy life, and take your mind off of the exam.
Gain Perspective – I’ve met several therapists who did not pass their exam on the first try. These people are amazing therapists who are doing great things for the field of occupational therapy. Not passing the exam on your first attempt says nothing about your skills, knowledge, passion, or ability in this profession. In the big picture of your life, this exam is a small piece that does not have the power to define you.
Please comment below if you have any additional tips that you used when studying for the NBCOT exam!