How Others Passed Deanna Mazzei

It took me 4 times to pass the NBCOT – that’s the National Board Certification exam for Occupation Therapy. That’s right, 4 WHOLE times. Whoever said the 3rd time would be a charm was wrong. It took me over 5 ½ months to finally pass it in early 2019, which ended up being the worst 5 1/2 months of my life. I didn’t understand what was going on. I’ve been a certified occupational therapist assistant for 7 years and I passed the boards my first time when I graduated from OTA school. I’ve been on this journey for nearly 10 years – how was I dropping the ball at the goal line?


I graduated from OTA school in 2011 with my Associates Degree. I passed my COTA exam on my first attempt and I went straight into working towards my bachelor’s degree in health sciences so I could move forward in pursuing my Master’s in Occupational Therapy. I got accepted into the Texas Woman’s University COTA bridge program. This was a 3 1/2-year program that was primarily done online with the exception of having to report to campus in Denton, TX (270 miles away) once a month every semester – with 6 months of full time clinicals before graduation (meaning no income for 6 months!)

I completed this program like a boss – working full time in a level 4 NICU at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. AND as if I weren’t busy enough, I started my photography company called “Deanna Mazzei Photography” because I needed an additional source of income to support myself during clinicals. 

After 3 ½ years of crazy program torture, I finally graduated in December 2018 with my master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, with honors! I couldn’t believe it. Me, Deanna Mazzei, graduated with her master’s degree! I am pretty sure I was the first Mazzei to go to college, let alone get a master’s degree.

The Struggle Begins...

Right after graduation, I quickly registered for the NBCOT boards exam. I took the first one the end of January and I FAILED. I failed by 10 points and I was absolutely devastated. How could I fail this test? I’ve been working in this field for 7 years and I knew this information. I quickly doubted everything. I was so sad and depressed. I had to wait another 30 days to register to take it again, but I signed up for it as soon as it opened. So here it goes, exam number 2! I’ve got this right? Let’s pretend the first one didn’t even happen and now I know what to expect. After the 2nd exam, I had to wait 3 whole weeks this time for the results. In the meantime, all of my coworkers kept asking if I had passed yet…. sadly no…not yet. 

The day arrived to receive my results and I opened my email. FAILED again. This time I only failed by 8 points. I cried. I cried HARD. I felt like I got punched in the gut – repeatedly. I have never felt more like a failure than I did after seeing the word “failed” next to my name after those scores were posted. I cried every single day randomly. At the gym, in my car, at work, at the grocery store. I’ve never been sadder and down in my whole life.

I Knew the Material. But I Failed Again.

What was I doing wrong?? I passed all my practice exams. I got a tutor and studied more than I thought possible. But the thing is, I already knew all this information. So here it goes, exam number 3. I felt confident. I did everything the tutor said. I took breaks throughout the 4-hour exam and thought I killed it. I left thinking, this is my day. I’m finally going to be an OTR. This time around, I only had to wait 1 week for the results. The night before the scores were released, I sat up in bed all night with the worst anxiety I have ever had in all my life. It took forever to get the scores that next morning. Because they were taking so long to post, I couldn’t check my phone at work, so I asked my wife to check for me. Scores were posted. She hit refresh and all I heard was “failed.” 

I failed AGAIN!!! This time by 6 points. Are you kidding me!!!??! I punched the door. I was angry. How did I not pass this stupid test AGAIN? How is this dumb test of 200 random questions going to tell me I can’t be an OTR when I know this stuff. My heart was broken into a million pieces. But most of all I was angry. Angry at myself, angry at occupational therapy, and angry at the world.

Perseverance and Determination

In the meantime, I continued to work full time as a COTA in the NICU. The worst thing was having to tell family and co-workers when asked that I didn’t pass again, for the 3rd time. Totally embarrassed. The kind of embarrassed and depressed where you just want to quit at everything and totally re-think all your life choices. But I didn’t. I wiped my tears away and immediately signed up to take it for the 4th time. I used my tutor again, study guides galore. I also cried when I looked at my bank account – did I mention that every time you take this test it costs $555 + $$ for the tutor, etc. Anything to pass this exam.

This time I took every practice test imaginable and passed them all. I listened to EVERY SINGLE OT Miri video over and over again. I even listened to her in my car. Just hearing her stories about passing and how she did not pass the first time really hit me. I cried and listened. 

Final Attempt and Victory

The day came for exam #4. I didn’t feel good after the test was over. I felt better after the 3rd exam. I had barely told anyone I was taking it again as I didn’t want them asking me whether I passed and have to disappoint them again. At this point, 5 months had passed, and we had planned a vacation to Jackson Hole. The day before the exam scores were to be posted was our travel day. I couldn’t sleep at all again that night and it was the worst feeling ever.

Morning came, I signed into the score portal and pulled my shirt over my eyes. Did I see this wrong? It said PASSED. I immediately started shaking and crying, like literally lost control of my emotions. I couldn’t believe I passed. I was honestly sleep deprived and exhausted, so I could have hallucinated the whole thing, so I made my wife double check it. It was true. I had PASSED. Finally – and it couldn’t have been better. Here we are in Jackson Hole in the mountains and I finally passed my boards exam on the 4th attempt.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wouldn’t have been able to go through this journey without amazing supportive friends and my wife. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She was perfect when I cried every single day for months. But after all of this, the girl that couldn’t care about anything in high school, who skipped A LOT of classes and barely graduated high school finally can say she not only has her master’s degree but is an occupational therapist!

I fully believe everything happens for a reason. I missed out on going to D1 schools on a softball scholarship because my grades were so poor, so I ended up getting a softball scholarship to a smaller college. But if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have this story of grit and determination to tell.

My point is: Never give up. The saying is true – it doesn’t matter how many times you fall. What matters is how many times you get back up. And always be kind and nice to people. You just never know what someone else is going through either. I hope this story of my struggles and journey through the fire might inspire someone who’s experiencing major setbacks in their live to keep persevering. Perseverance is key to your victory. 

-Deanna Mazzei