Physical Therapy in California Part 3 - the National Physical Therapy Exam

Ok, so I've finished and passed. I am now able to practice Physical Therapy in California!

It has been an incredibly challenging experience for me. I began my first course Jan 11 and finished my final exam October 27th and between that time I pretty much have been studying full time. Initially I wondered if it was all going to be a waste of time - proving that I have the knowledge of something I previously learnt. Honestly though, this was a mindset I needed to let go of and realise that the journey and new knowledge gained was the reward. If you are considering following a similar path as me, you need to enter the process with an open mind and a positive outlook on what you might learn. I would be kidding myself if I said I could remember everything I learnt at university the first time, or that I was paying attention in every class. Going through this process was a brilliant and unique opportunity to backfill any knowledge I previously didn't know and also expand on my current knowledge. I particularly enjoyed (in a painful way) learning about pharmacology again and the system interactions between cardio, neuro, musc diseases and metabolic/endocrine diseases. As a primary care practitioner in Aus, I could have definitely solved some problems more quickly by understanding the overlap and interactions that go on within the body. I was shocked for instance to find out how many medications have the side effect of headaches. Or how many metabolic conditions cause carpal tunnel syndrome. And why it is so important to know how to complete a thorough and accurate neurological examination. 

The timeline

The one thing everyone asks "how long did it take?". Since my last blog about the subjects I had to complete to gain my certificate of professional equivalency, this is how long it took to get through the NPTE. 

  • June 27th I received an email notifying me that I had met the educational requirements to qualify for a certificate of professional equivalency. That certificate arrived in the mail one week later. 
  • July 5th I submitted my application to sit the NPTE through the PTBC
    • Live finger print scan 
    • Photo
    • Cheque for application fee
    • Certificate of professional equivalency
    • Application form
  • July 22nd received a letter from the PTBC called "Initial acknowledgement letter". What I misread from this letter is that I was to wait for the Authorisation to Test letter before I could register for the exam.
  • August 9th called the PTBC and clarified that I first had to pay for the test and register before I would receive the ATT. 
  • August 11th received ATT for Cal Law exam and scheduled via Prometric for September 16th 2016. Study material for this exam taken from the Physical Therapy board of California website. Study material for the law exam.
  • August 16th received the ATT for the Physical Therapy exam and scheduled via Prometric for October 27th. I was relieved in this regard to get the ATT so early as there are deadlines for how late you can apply for and be approved to sit the exams. Technically I had until September 22nd to register for the NPTE and until September 29th to be approved. Always keep an eye on these registration deadlines when planning for the exams. This is another great resource for the application process and deadlines
  • September 16th sat the Cal Law exam (and passed).
  • October 27th sat the NPTE.
  • November 2nd notified online that I passed. 


This is a one hour multiple choice exam covering the laws and regulations of the Physical Therapy Practice Act. I found this one a little tricky to prepare for but I am so glad that I was required to take such an exam and learn about the local laws, responsibilities and expectations of Physical Therapists. 

It is helpful to know for example, that you have to do 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years, 4 of these hours are basic life support training, 2 of these hours are ethics, and you can get hours from teaching, studying and writing research papers. 

Another example is that you need to be aware of the signs of child/elderly abuse and neglect. That it is our professional responsibility to immediately report any concerns to the police and file a report within 2 days. Failure to do so is punishable by $5000 and up to six months in jail. 

I used the links on this page to prepare for the exam and also used the summarised points on these Quizlet pages

Study courses for the NPTE

When preparing for the NPTE there are many online courses available which either help you to study independently or as part of an online classroom. I am so glad that I decided to take an online course and be guided through my study period. This is not an exhaustive list, just the few that I thought offered the most for my learning style based off their description and reviews. 

What the PT final exam mastermind study course offered was:

  • 8 weeks of intensive lectures, assignments and mentoring, 
  • directing students to key content covered in the exam,
  • helping us understand what the expectations of the exam really are,
  • and how the questions are structured.

You aim to take a practice exam every week for 8 weeks leading up to the exam and complete and submit your assignments. I actually couldn't keep up with the pace of this course as felt like I was starting from scratch, with no notes or lectures to go off and reading everything again from the beginning. It felt like I was relearning 3-4 years of PT in 12 weeks. It was tough but also really helpful to be pushed along and guided in the best direction. The formal lectures finish 4 weeks out and by that stage it is expected you've developed a lot of study notes and can spend the final weeks focussing your learning on your weakest areas. The 4 final weeks are bonus lectures covering content that is directed towards the needs of the study group. Honestly, these lectures saved me. As a foreign trained PT - I would highly recommend taking a course like this just to understand where your knowledge is strong or deficient, where countries have different approaches to examination and treatment or even just different terminology and medical standards. 


Books that I used to prepare for the NPTE rented from Amazon ($250 in total). This was based on a 2010 survey by the FBSPT on the most commonly used texts in Physical Therapy courses. Having these books was incredible as every question on the NPTE has to come directly from the textbook. So if there is a topic on the exam you don't fully understand - you can go back to original source and work out what the exam question is trying to ask you. 

I also downloaded the Scorebuilders PT app onto my phone which gives you a more summarised version of the content in study guides and provides you with 750 multiple choice questions. I found this super helpful and could practice questions in sets of 25 anywhere and review the content that the question was founded on. 

Where to find practice exams:

  • In the O'Sullivan & Siegelman NPTE study guide there are 3 exams.
  • The PT final exam course I took included one. 
  • Scorebuilders offers 2 practice exams online
  • PEAT (via FSBPT) also offers 2 practice exams online. 
  • There is also a kindle e-book available through Amazon which has 300 NPTE questions.
  • Every exam includes a rational for the correct answer and reasons why the other answers were incorrect. 

In total, I sat 8 practice exams in the weeks leading up to the NPTE and reviewed 2750 multiple choice questions prior to the exam, read brief sections from the text books, read the O'Sullivan guide and PT final exam guide thoroughly, which took me 12 weeks to complete. It was a very busy time indeed. 

Where to now?

My hope is that by sharing these blogs (part 1 and part 2) many more physios can follow in my path and more easily make the transition overseas. I've hit many bumps in the road that I hope others will now avoid. And most importantly, I hope that I've shown it is possible. 

They say it is about the journey and not the destination right? It has been an incredible journey. I am so relieved to have got through the exam, but, I fear it is not over..... time to find a job and a probably a supervisor for my 9 months of clinical internship. Where my future path takes me, I'll be sure to let you know. Until then.... keep on keeping on. 


Apparently I like eating while I study??