Journey to the NBCOT® Exam from a Mediocre Student

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My Story

Hello! I’m Breanna, recent MSOT grad and even more recent OTR/L! I passed my test this past July and am now working as a full-time OTR in a SNF.  I’m writing this because I would have loved to have this when I was preparing to study and studying for my NBCOT exam. I searched all over the place for blogs or forums of people telling their stories; how they studied, if they worked, how they did on practice exams, etc… Gaining insight from other people is one thing that really helps to reassure and reduce anxiety for me. After 7 weeks, countless hours of studying, hundreds of practice questions, and with the help of OT Miri videos on YouTube, I passed my exam on the first try!

One thing you should keep in mind about me is that I was a mediocre student. I got A’s and B’s throughout my college career, including my years in OT school. I did well, but I wasn’t a top scholar. I’m NOT a Type-A personality. I could only do school stuff for so many hours a day. I said “good enough” plenty of times through school. I made time for things I enjoyed, I skipped class from time to time, and I wasn’t always the most prepared. But I did put in the time and effort and I learned what I needed to know.

Resources & Study Plan

SO… That being said, what did I do to prepare?? I’ll start with the books. I primarily used TherapyEd, AOTA Exam Prep and 45 Days and Counting. First, the TherapyEd book was supplied to me by my school. We also all took the course that goes along with this book. Both the book and the course were helpful for me. The course primarily went over how to read the questions; how to pick out key terms, figure out the frame of reference, etc… This helped me SO much. Learning how to read and dissect the questions was probably the single most important thing I learned in studying for the NBCOT. The TherapyEd book is VERY comprehensive and has a lot of material. Many people that I’ve talked to didn’t like this book for that reason. It was overwhelming at times, especially pediatrics. I had to continuously tell myself to think about the BIG PICTURE and to not focus too much on studying and memorizing the minute details.

In order to help myself focus on what was actually important to focus on, I used two other resources in to supplement TherapyEd. First, I purchased 45 Days and Counting. This book was much more concentrated than TherapyEd. This book is really nice in the fact that it sets out a plan for you, if you chose to use it as your main study source. It also has worksheets, which I found the most helpful part of this book. The second resource I purchased was the AOTA Exam Prep, which is an online resource that consists of PDF study guides, 1,200+ practice questions and practice clinical simulation items. If answering questions and taking practice tests helps you study, BUY THIS. It was SO worth it for me. There is nothing that helps me learn information more than testing myself. Not only did it help me feel more confident with the answers that I got correct, and get me used to reading and answering OT related, clinical questions but the questions that I got wrong, I know I’d never get wrong again. The CST items were also great to help me practice completing these types of questions. The AOTA Exam Prep also helps tell you which areas you are strong in and which you are weak in. From there, you can use their PDF study guides to review things you have trouble with. The information provided from AOTA is even more concentrated than 45 Days and Counting, but the questions alone were worth purchasing it.

Back to practice tests: I also took all 3 practice tests that came with TherapyEd. Let me tell you now, these practice tests made me feel like I was going to FAIL the NBCOT. I took the first practice test before I had finished the TherapyEd book, which they advise not to do, but I wanted to take the first one with plenty of time left to study. I think I had about 3 weeks of study left when I took the first one. I scored in the 60’s. I scored in the 60’s or low 70’s range for all three tests. This really scared me. This made me picture getting my results back and seeing “FAILED”. This was honestly a terrifying thought. But I used all of my wrong answers as study material, as well as motivation to push through the last couple weeks of studying. I went through each and every question that I got wrong and made sure I understood why the right answer was the right one. This was super helpful.

Don't Let These Tests Scare You

These tests don’t directly translate to whether or not you will pass the exam. Use these exams as study material to help guide your studying.

Like I said earlier, I took 7 weeks to study for the NBCOT. I started the first week after graduation. I didn’t start studying at all during fieldwork or classes. I also worked 20-30 hours per week while studying at the job I had through college. I didn’t want to work full time, but there was no way that I would be able to not work. The first couple weeks of studying I was working 30 hours a week, which translated to 3 days. I didn’t study much or at all on the days that I worked. After the first couple weeks, I decided to cut down to 20 hours per week to focus a little more on studying. So, I worked 2 days and studied for 4 or 5. On my study days, I would wake up around 8 AM. First, I ate breakfast and enjoyed my coffee without cracking open the books, to get my day started. I would study for 2 – 4 hours, then hit the gym, then come home and study for 1 – 3 more hours. I refused to let my love for lifting get thrown to the wayside during studying. I also refused to turn into a hermit during studying. I still did things with my fiance, friends and family during the weeks that I was studying. Sometimes I had planned to study, but then something fun came up, and I went with it. You have to take care of your mental health in order to take in all this information and retain it. You CANNOT study for 12 hours per day, every day, for 8 weeks. You don’t need to. You went to school for years for this. You went through two 12 week long fieldwork experiences as an OTS. You know more than you think.

The Day Before the Exam

I reviewed a few things I felt more weak on and I watched a few OT Miri videos. I went to bed early, although it didn’t matter because I could not sleep. I was honestly so nervous to take the exam. I showed up to the exam and my heart was racing. I just had to keep telling myself that I could panic later, when the exam was over. I made sure to stay calm and read each question carefully. I marked the questions that I wasn’t sure on and went back to revisit them at the end. I didn’t take any breaks during the exam, mostly because I didn’t want to waste any time. I finished with 5-10 minutes to out of the 4 hours to spare. I left and didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know whether I passed or failed. I really had no idea. I had to wait a week for my results, which I thought was going to be torture but actually wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t torturous until the day before I got my results. That whole day my stomach was in knots and every time I thought about getting the email telling me the results, it would flip. I intentionally stayed up really late the night before the results so that I could sleep in until I got them. I checked my email at 6:30 AM, nothing. I checked again at 8 AM and found out that I PASSED! This was definitely one of the best moments of my life. So much time, effort and money went into it and this was the moment that it all paid off.

My Best Piece of Advice

Remember that you absolutely know more than you think. Don’t panic. Don’t let negative thoughts creep into your brain. Focus on the material. Put quality time into studying, but also put quality time into doing things you enjoy and that keep you sane. Write down quotes on your notebook that inspire you. “Those you say they can, will” was the one I wrote inside of my study guide the first day of studying, and I referred back to it throughout the 7 weeks. I said I could, and I did. And you can too!

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