PT Exam Scores – What to Aim For on NPTE Practice Exams

“What’s the bare minimum score I need to get for passing?” or “What score do I need to achieve to pass?”

If you have asked that, seen or heard it asked, you’re not alone. However, by asking this question, you are essentially saying: what’s the score I can get on the PT exam with the least amount of understanding to get a piece of paper that has a license number. Meaning: I’m not really into making myself be the best I can be to help people as I start my PT career.

Risk of Aiming for the Bare Minimum Score

If all you do is to aim for the bare minimum on the PT exam, then expect that you may fall short of the goal. You are only giving yourself two-thirds of a chance to actually pass. So, 67%. That percentage wouldn’t even get you a passing grade in a course. So, you are targeting less than what is expected of you from any courses that you have taken as a student. Here’s the thing — for one exam you could be right at a passing score, another exam below passing and another exam slightly over passing. Do you really want to gamble on those “chances”?

Let’s bring this to the clinic, what you’re saying is that you’ll only really helping 6.7 patients out of 10 for that day. How good would your reputation be at work if you are subpar treating patients? Essentially, when given 10 treatments, 3 of your treatments will not work at all. How many referrals would you actually get out of 6 patients? 

So, let’s say you fell below this minimum score; how does this translate to treating patients? From above, you’ll have the 3 that you didn’t end up “fixing.” Those that don’t get “fixed”, you’ll have to look further as to why they weren’t successful or into their complaints. For instance, did they really actively do what was asked for them to do? Or did they just brush things off, have a closed mind and disregard guidance?

If they didn’t reach out, they externally blame others for their lack of responsibility on their progress. They are seen more as negative people who want to air out things that may not be the full truth about how much actual effort they put forth. Honestly, you know if they did their exercises and are diligent. Those who don’t make progress usually have an excuse as to the reason why or they flat out say things don’t work without really putting in the effort.

This also relates back to those preparing for the exam when things don’t go their way or get the score they were expecting. There are several reasons why a score is below passing; such as test-taking errors, anxiety, content knowledge application, lack of confidence, negative mindset and much more. However, it’s more about what you do afterward to improve on the result than dwelling on a lower than expected score.

It’s the Number Not the Percentage

After getting the results from a practice exam, be sure to focus on the number of questions you got right instead of the percentages. A percentage may give you a false sense of confidence on how you are doing. When you take different practice exams from various sources, the difficulty can range significantly. To truly know how well you are improving and to keep the same standard, track the number of questions instead of the percentages. As most practice exams out there are not the full length, it’s harder to estimate how well you’ll actually perform with an extra section.

Since most practice exams out there vary by difficulty and the number of questions, progress is shown more clearly by focusing on the number of questions correct rather than a percentage. If you relate this to having the patient rate their pain from 0 – 10. It’s easier for you to be consistent among all practice exams when you are looking at the number of questions correct regardless of difficulty.

Forgetting to Buffer

When only aiming for the bare minimum score (let’s use 135 that is commonly heard), this doesn’t allow for any buffer on the exam itself. This is similar to looking at and aiming for the trapeze bar out in the middle of the air; however, after you jump towards the bar with arms extended, you realize you jumped too short and missed that bar. Below, there’s help to bring you down slowly but missing the bar can make jumping again harder by your mind bring up thoughts of missing again. It’s the same with the PT exam; so when you aim for a passing score, the best situation is to allow for an additional 20 – 30 questions to buffer you. This would let you feel better while you wait for your score results to show up.

This extra amount of questions to aim for, allows you to breathe more at ease when waiting for your results and raise your confidence that you have passed. The amount of stress during this horrible wait period only increases your “examzilla” impatience and you’re not so pleasant to be around at this time. Don’t be that person!

Thinking Big Jumps in Short Period of Time

Time is ticking down to the big exam day, so you’re hoping to have big gains — but — life keeps getting in the way. These unexpected or procrastinating times, where the academic cramming or pulling all-nighters, actually may backfire on you. Here’s the thing: to pay attention to the patient questions, you have to actively listen to what they are telling you in written form. However, beware of the expectation you can make over 40 points or something crazy like 120 points in 2 weeks — you’ll want to be realistic. You may be able to increase by 10 or 20; however, to pull off the NPTE without adequate preparation is hard. This hoping or guessing can only lead to guessing on questions, changing of answers and a lot of overanalyzing and this causes many points to be lost. Each point here and there, a string of them can add up by the time you get to the last section.

I’ve heard about candidates stop taking the exam and estimate how many they have already missed and how much they can miss till the end of the exam. This is not how we want to be seen or portrayed by others in the profession. We want to be competent and at the same level, so let’s aim to take small steps each day to make big strides over a longer period of time.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Rather than asking what others are getting on their practice PT exams, focus on how well you can perform. This is what will matter in the end when preparing for your board exam. Comparing yourself to others only creates an internal anxiety and added pressure or even frustration when not doing well. If you find that you are comparing yourself and not doing well, this can easily create negativity and being hard on yourself. When you see that you are not improving, then even more frustrations or mistakes are made. So, instead of a negative downward spiral, focus on what you can do to improve your scores. This includes what your mindset is towards the exam, your mental and physical endurance, how good you are as a test-taker and how well you can relate to the material clinically.

What you do want to focus on with each practice exam is whether you are improving, staying the same or going the other direction. In each case, you’ll want to analyze what you did right and continue doing that and then look to see where you can improve. This includes timing, number of answers you have changed, recognizing whether you missed a question because you rushed or overanalyzed. Reflecting and assessing areas and then making mini goals to what you can improve on for the next time will keep you on the success track.

When you see a score that isn’t where you want to be, first thing, don’t get down or beat yourself up. This is a game and so objectively you want to assess: what do you think prevented you from obtaining a successful score? By doing this exercise, you’ll gain more insight on what you can do to improve the next time.

It Trickles Down to Your Patients

The amount of effort you put in is also what will be mimicked by your patients. So, if they see you did or think that the bare minimum is ok, then the progress for them will also be subpar. Remember, you are a model of the healthcare profession and just like kids, the patients will look to you for guidance. They will follow your instructions only for what is presented to them and keep in mind most won’t give their full effort. You’ll want to encourage them to do so and with that, you are also encouraged to go beyond the bare minimum to pass.

Be Aware of Those That Just State You Need X to Pass

If all you want to do is pass with the bare minimum on the NPTE, this mentality can cause unnecessary stress when waiting for the results. This where I see many candidates worry, hope, pray and wish to see a passing result. This all can be eliminated with proper preparation and having solid PT exam scores prior to the actual exam. There are many exam versions and so when someone claims “all you need is x” it’s not necessarily true. If you are looking at percentages (FSBPT prefers not to focus on this but actual numbers) for passing and someone states “all you need is like 75%”, you’ll want to actually aim higher to be confident on passing.

Translates to Confidence

Many PTs and PTAs don’t want to take the exam again and those that have passed will tell you, they never want to face this exam again. There tends to be a correlation with candidates who score higher also have higher confidence. Those who score lower tend to have lower confidence and worry more about their results.

What’s the difference between those who are confident and those who are not as confident? It has to do with how they are able to handle a question without freaking out when taking the PT exam. Those who are confident, feel they can answer simpler and harder questions with ease as opposed to those who don’t know what to do when an unfamiliar topic shows up. At times, those who are not as confident also get thrown off by wording or something that wasn’t in the textbook or study guides. It’s also not so much of how much content material you know, but rather what you can do with the information presented in front of you to make the right decision.

So, What Score Should I Aim For?

Rather than looking to see what the bare minimum score is to get, work towards doing your best. Aim high and although you may not get every question right, the goal should be to help as many patients as you can for that day. The more you help, the better you’ll do. A confident and solid score would be to aim for 180 or higher. If you think that’s too high, then you’re saying that you don’t want to help all the patients get better. This number of questions right gives you that buffer to confidently walk out of the exam without having to worry about the PT exam results. Having a score of 165 plus gives some breathing room on the actual exam while a score of 135 may have you at risk of falling short with no buffer.

On any given day, your score could fluctuate depending on different external and internal factors. So, to reduce the anxiety and stress, preparation is key and being able to tackle the exam from multiple aspects – your mindset, how well you are able to apply your knowledge clinically and how well you perform as a test-taker. The combination helps for the best outcome that you can get to succeed on the exam. Bottomline — do your best to be able to help as many patients as you can.

As the days get closer to the actual exam, read about switching your NPTE Mindset into “Getting into the Zone”.