After years of hard-work, hundreds of exams, thousands of drugs, you are finally here with one final hurdle to overcome! As someone who just sat in on the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination, I can relate to your concerns, feel your pain and empathize with your distress. Many of you have written to me, requesting general tips and advice on the NAPLEX. Here are my thoughts, organized in three (3) parts or acts.
Disclaimer: My suggestions are made based solely on my personal perspectives/experiences, not tailored to individual’s competencies, and should not be viewed as the “standards” to approaching the NAPLEX. There are no shortcuts or tricks to passing the NAPLEX, people’s lives will be in your hands so you simply need to know your material. For more information, visit NAPLEX Registration Bulletin
PART 1: THE PREPARATION
Q: What Resource(s) to Utilize?
A: Personally, I find RXPrep to be extremely valuable, easy to follow, and includes most —if not all—of what you will need to know for the exam. Don’t overkill with multiple study resources. I recommend reading over RXPrep at least once—twice if you still feel uncomfortable— and jot important take home points from each of the 76 chapters. For example, write down formulas you need to memorize, for they are not provided on the exam. I highly encourage using the “My E-Learning Tools” on rxprep.com. For visual learners, take advantage of the module video lectures. After each module/chapter, take all tests in the RxPrep quiz bank. Take your time to understand not only the questions you missed, but also the questions you answered correctly.
Side note: A little insight on a project that I have poured much time into. I have been working on review materials aimed to aid APPE students on their rotations, but can also be a valuable tool in preparing for the NAPLEX. With enough support, I hope to get the handbook published in time for the class of 2017. If you’re interested in a chance to receive some of the very first copies (on the house), submit/enter here.
Q: How Long is the Preparation Process?
A: This should vary from person to person. Personally, I went through RXPrep by tackling three chapters per day for approximately twenty-five (25) days—excluding weekends. I spent roughly two (2) hours on each chapter, totaling six (6) hours of study time per day. Time spent on each chapter will vary. I usually spend more time on topics I am less accustomed to and less time on those I was more comfortable with. It is also important to prioritize, manage your time, find a productive study environment, and last but not least, resist temptations and distractions. Find a nice quite place (i.e., the public library), avoid social media during study-time, and most importantly, consider taking weekends off to stay “sane”. For the average Joe, three to five weeks of preparation time should be generously sufficient. (Again, this is my personal opinion)
Q: How/What to Study?
A: Study smart, not hard! I like to perceive the NAPLEX as a two parts exam. Part one (Ensure Safe and Effective Pharmacotherapy and Health Outcomes) assesses your overall clinical knowledge, major disease states, and applications, composing approximately two-thirds of the exam. The other one-third (Safe and Accurate Preparation, Compounding, Dispensing, and Administration) measure competencies in calculations, biostatistics, and compounding techniques. Logically, if you can own calculations and biostatistics, you will have won a third of the battle. (Note that scores are not percentage values and are scaled, not based on raw number of questions answered correctly). So please lease take the time to understand calculations and biostatistics to the best of your abilities, for this will be your biggest leverage. It’s imperative to understand concepts; not just simply memorize steps to solving each problem. Work on as many problems as you can get your hands on and work them until you get nauseated from the very idea of working on any more problems. Note: For extra practice, try this set of 120 math practice questions that can be found on Student Doctor Forum.
Further more, I highly recommend glancing over your Top 300 Brands/Generics at Quizlet.
Q: Should I Take the Pre-NAPLEX?
A: Is it absolutely necessary? No. Do I recommend it? Yes, most definitely because it’s a valuable tool for a reality check. Although the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) does not claim that passing Pre-NAPLEX score(s) will result in passing NAPLEX score(s), I find the Pre-NAPLEX exam to be a fairy good indicator of my performance. From word of mouth and personal experience, candidates “generally” find their NAPLEX scores to be slightly higher than their Pre-NAPLEX (Again, this is from personal experience and no factual validation). The exam will offer you reasonable evaluations of your knowledge, strengths, weaknesses, and inclusive does an adequate job of familiarizing candidates with the NAPLEX actual format. Some institutions will purchase Pre-NAPLEX vouchers for students to boost performance so it never hurts to ask.
Q: When Should I Take the Pre-NAPLEX?
A: Note that once you register for the Pre-NAPLEX, you only have seven (7) days to attempt the exam. My advice is to take it one or two weeks preceding to the actual exam, giving you ample time to reschedule if deemed necessary. Do not wait until the night before to take it! Underperforming or receiving undesirable score(s) may put candidates in a panic state and/or destroy one’s confidence and morale. Moreover, I recommend against spending additional money on a second Pre-NAPLEX, unless you failed miserably on your first attempt. Visit Pre-NAPLEX for more information.
PART 2: THE EXAM
Test Taking Strategies: The Essence of Time. It’s crucial pace yourself and make sure you answer all the questions. The exam is comprised of 185 questions to be taken in 255 minutes (4 hours and 15 minutes), leaving you with you with approximately 1.38 minutes per question. That should be plenty of time if you pace yourself. Due to the exam’s adaptive technology nature, you may not skip questions. Do not dwell on any one question for too long. For your exam to be scored, you have to successfully answer 162 questions, and answering anything less than 185 questions but more than 162 will result in points penalization. So it is in your interest to set time parameters/markers/targets to ensure the completion of your exam. By doing so, anxiety levels are significantly reduced and you can avoid running out of time.
An example of time parameters/targets you might set for yourself to make sure you complete the exam entirely in the allowable amount of time.
Proficiency With Scenario-Based Format Questions. Initially, I like to read the questions to know what I will be looking for. Keep in mind that some questions can be answered based on your knowledge, without regards to background information (i.e., Brand and generic questions). Lab values are given so memorizing will be unnecessary, but understanding and interpreting the values will be crucial to your success. If you need help in that department, feel free to download my version of Common Adult Lab Values and Interpretations to assist in your reviewing process. Pay great attention to details such as dates, patient’s age, and allergies. Allergies are an important aspect of medical review; therefore, it can help you narrow down your answer choices.
Tips to Answering All That Apply Questions. These are the worst right? Here are some 5 useful strategies I find useful.
- Try not to overthink. Follow your gut instinct and go with your first choice. Avoid going back to change any answers unless you obviously overlooked something
- Read the question thoroughly and carefully. Watch out for that “one” words that could change the entire orientation/context of the question (i.e., “EXCEPT”, “NOT”, “ALL”, and so forth)
- Think of it as true or false. First and foremost, read and completely understand the context of the question. Next, read each option in a true or false type style format—pertaining to the referenced question.
- Read each question as its own entity entirely and cautiously. One “less word” or one “more word” may have detrimental effects to the accuracy of your answer.
- Practice. Practice.
PART 3: POST EXAM
Coping With the Aftermath. The hardest thing I found about the NAPLEX wasn’t the actual exam itself; rather, it was the three days waiting period for scores to be posted on NAPB (true for Texas but may be longer for other states). Those three days were arguably the longest days of my life. I couldn’t help but to think about questions that I overlooked, or questions that I “could have” and/or “should have” answered correctly. I experienced mixed emotional states, clouded with feelings of self doubt and angst. The truth is, we are not alone in feeling this way. Candidates, at some point, will experience similar reactions. The night before the scores were released, I woke up drenched in sweat from nightmares of a failing score of 74! Fortunately, that was that, it was just a nightmare. I woke up to a much better reality, one with a passing score.
My final advice is easier said than done. Try to forget about the exam the moment you leave PearsonVue testing centers. Don’t talk to anyone about the exam. Put your phone on do-not-disturb mode if you have to. Seriously! Take a vacation, call your buddies up and go out for drinks, or sleep for the next three days. Whatever floats your boat! You absolutely deserve it! Again, just my private position on this matter, but I highly encourage the practice of keeping your scheduled exam time and date on the hush-hush. There will be less pressure and less distractions.
One Last Word. Study well and ensure that you pass on your first attempt. Effective November 1st, 2016, NABP will increase the number of questions to 250 with 6.5 allowable hours to complete the NAPLEX. That’s a lot of questions and just think about the hassle of having to bring lunch to PearsonVue! In all seriousness, I wish everyone the best of luck and hope that passes the exam. Finally, congratulations to the anew registered pharmacists.