It’s that time again, where there are updates and changes made to the National Physical Therapist Exam (NPTE) and National Physical Therapist Assistant Exam (NPTAE). Every 5 years, the Federation of State Board of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) changes the blueprint format for the physical therapist (PT) and physical therapy assistant (PTA) exams. The changes are made to correspond with the current standards of practice at the entry level. The new format will be effective starting in January 2018.

This process of changes begins a few years prior to the new format being released, starting with a survey sent out to practicing clinicians. These surveys are then analyzed to provide information on what’s considered important to the practice of critical work areas and what’s considered not work related activities. These are then compiled to provide a practice analysis and guidelines for writing questions for the exams. Below are the activities that pertain to the particular exam.

PT Critical Work Activities

PT Non-Critical Work Activities

PTA Critical Work Activities

PTA Non-Critical Work Activities

Are There Major Changes in the New Format?

No, there are not a lot of major changes in the new format. There a few notable changes to be aware of; however, nothing drastically changes what you need to know to pass your board exam. If you think about it, it’s more about shifting items around to make sure the important aspects are covered as the needs in the clinic change over time. So, there’s no reason to panic over the new changes which are explained below.

Lymphatic System

The new format does take out the Lymphatics system from the CardioPulmonary System and makes it its own system. This “new” system has its own set of focus questions that you are being tested on and classified under the “Other Systems”. This isn’t any different than before when you were expected to know the same information, it is just categorized differently. By adding this new system, the number of questions being asked in the remaining systems and content sections are decreased.

Gastrointestinal System

For PTs

A few questions are added to the examination content section; otherwise, everything else has the same number of questions. The key is being able to recognize pain referrals and other interventions to implement.

For PTAs

A few less questions may be asked in the Disease / Conditions and Intervention content sections.

Genitourinary System

For PTs

A few more questions are added in the evaluation content section.

For PTAs

This is similar to the gastrointestinal system where a few less questions are asked in the Disease / Conditions and intervention content sections.

System Interactions

With System Interactions, it’s the only system that focuses on one content section for questions to be tested on. This content section is Evaluation for PTs and for PTAs is the Disease and Conditions. For both PTs and PTAs, the number of questions being asked and tested are increased.

Updated Content Outlines / Candidate Handbook

With the new NPTE and NPTAE blueprint format, new content outlines are provided. Below are the updated content outlines and candidate handbook to prepare for the PT and PTA exams starting in 2018.

PT Content Outline

PTA Content Outline

PT and PTA Candidate Handbook

Are There Changes to the Passing Score of the Exam?

It’s not known yet whether the new exam format will have changes to the passing score. Both PTs and PTAs have had their Standard Settings Meetings and the results of these meetings will be out later and updated.

Any Changes to Fees?

Yes, for those registering for the NPTE, there will be an increased fee for the application. The new fee will now be $485.

Are There New Eligibility Requirements in 2018?

Yes, starting in mid-2018; candidates will have to show proof of TOEFL completion and proof of educational equivalence.

2018 Eligibility Requirements

To understand the exam itself, you can learn more information about the NPTE and how the questions are derived.

In Conclusion….

There’s no need to get anxious about the upcoming changes or get freaked out by others who tell you ‘the sky is falling’. The truth is it’s not all that different from before. Thinking the new exam format is so different is a mindset that should be quickly changed as it only makes studying harder than necessary. And, no, you don’t have to know everything to pass the NPTE. Bottomline, be proactive on your preparation and think clinically to be successful.

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