Reducing NPTE Test Anxiety by Controlling the Tempo

NPTE Question TempoAs the big day to take your NPTE approaches, let’s imagine you are at the Prometric Testing Center, already checked in and escorted to your computer. You are at the computer about to begin this endurance marathon of answering questions over the next several hours. After a few adjustments in the seat, you are ready to face this important PT license exam. Once you have completed the tutorial section, you take a deep breath and are ready to click on the “Start” button to begin the exam.


Ready to Begin the NPTE

There’s no turning back on this exam once you start. The anxious moment up until then is similar to being at the stop light waiting for it to turn green. It’s like a race against the clock even before starting, where fear and anxiety can build up inside. Once you start, this worried feeling in the initial section of the NPTE may occupy your thoughts, wondering whether you’ll finish in time. Other thoughts may pop up such as if you can remember everything for this important test. If you already feel rushed, you have already lost to the exam even before submitting any answers! This time control is a game and potentially is getting into your head (literally) already and mentally beating you at the exam.


Control the Tempo

Rather than have the clock decide the tempo of the NPTE, you’ll want to determine a comfortable pace and learn to take control from the very beginning of the exam. You can’t pass the PT exam on the first question; however, you can definitely take yourself out of passing the exam as well as lowering your confidence as the NPTE goes on. A negative or self-doubting thought soon after the first question, can throw off your pacing on answering the multiple choice questions and make it harder to regain it afterward.
The estimated calculated time to answer a question is 72 seconds which gives you an hour to answer 50 questions. A few false starts by going over the allotted “72 seconds” per question and then the negative cycle of rushing begins. The panicky feeling of having to go faster kicks in and leads to a series of not carefully reading the question or answers. This results in making the mistake of missing important keywords that can lead to an increase in missed questions and ultimately losing points on the NPTE.

It’s a cascading effect and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy until you actively change to stop it. Yes, it can be hard to shake off this feeling of not having enough time when caught off-guard without a plan. What you’ll want to do is to change that now during your NPTE prep in order to be prepared for the actual day with a time control plan. You’ll want to think about this part of wrestling back time as a game.

In general, you’ll want to be on the offensive side of controlling the time; however, there are occasions where you’ll have to adjust and play defensively to gain the time control again. So before going into the exam, it’s best to recognize your rate of answering questions as you are taking PT practice exams to figure out what your go to action plan will be. This may include taking a timeout to pause the clock and to calm any nerves you may have stirred up.


Don’t Get Sidetracked By the Time

You can’t worry about the time that has already elapsed but you can always stop and take back control. Just take a moment to gather your thoughts and figure out how you want to utilize the remaining time. If you have been rushing, take a moment to slow down your reading to avoid missing any clues especially on those “easy” questions that you can get correct.

If you find you are taking a long time on the questions, figure out what you can do to pick up the pace without panicking or missing keywords. Keep in mind, that you have enough information there in the question or answers. You’ll want to learn to trust yourself that you can pick out the right answer without having to second guess yourself.

After each section, take the time to reset yourself both mentally and physically with the remaining time left. Before moving on to the next section, clear your mind of the last 50 questions and determine the pacing you want for the next set of questions. When looking at the set of 50 questions as a sprint race, it’s easier to handle the time control game than the overall exam. It’s really a mind game you are facing with the clock and either you can beat it or let the clock beat you. If you are watching the time go by, you’re not paying full attention to the question and allowing precious time to be wasted. Don’t focus on the time counting down, focus on the question in front of you.


How to Approach the NPTE

So, when starting this important entry-level competence exam, you’ll want to learn how to take charge with confidence but not in overdrive, spinning tires and producing a lot of smoke. You don’t want to have a heavy foot by pressing the gas pedal and then braking to a screeching halt. You also don’t want to be an overly cautious driver that is nervous and going slow in the fast lane. And you definitely don’t want to be the student teenage driver that jerks back and forth giving yourself whiplash. What you’ll want to imagine and be, is a smooth and calm driver that is riding along and getting into the mental zone around the speed limit when answering questions. Remember, you’ll want to avoid making the NPTE harder than it needs to be.


Keep in Mind

It’s not realistic that you’ll focus the whole time on the physical therapy exam NPTE and it’s normal to get distracted. It’s more about what you can do to get back to focusing on the PT exam as quickly as possible. A strategy you can use is thinking of a trigger phrase whether it’s “focus” or something else, the goal is to mentally help you to return back to focusing on answering the question.

How many times can you lose focus? The question will be more – how quickly can you gain back the focus and time? It’s about thinking in the present and not worrying about the past. It doesn’t matter what happened before, what matters is what is in front of you. There will be times that you lose focus and once you recognize that you lost some time, remember that there’s nothing to get flustered about – as soon as you let the time get to you; you have lost the NPTE game.


Creating a Time Game Plan

Before going into the National Physical Therapy Exam, take the time to create what your game plan will be about controlling the time. Think of the following scenarios and provide 2 solutions that can help you regain and control of the time:

  • Taking too long on reading the question
  • Taking too long on choosing an answer
  • Noticing you are behind after a section
  • Running out of time at the end

There’s no reason to panic and throw out the first game plan, think of what you can do from this point forward to regain your control on the time. If the first plan didn’t work, think what’s the backup plan to taking back control of timing when taking the NPTE. Remember that by being proactive now and utilizing the NPTE practice exams beforehand helps to reduce test anxiety on the real day.

Let me know what strategies you plan on using and then how your pacing goes when taking the exam.