Physical Therapist Assistant Test Guide

In order to become licensed to practice, physical therapy assistants (PTA) must sit and receive a passing score for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).  The exam is given four times a year.  The test is developed by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).  To sit for the NPTE, physical therapy assistant candidates must register in advance and be approved by the individuals state jurisdiction.  The state board will then notify the FSBPT that a candidate is eligible to take the exam.
The first time pass rates of individuals who graduated from a US accredited program was 88 percent in 2017.  The percent of individuals from US accredited programs who have ultimately passed the NPTE is approximately 95 percent over the last few years.  A passing score is six hundred points or higher.  A candidate may retake the exam three times within a 12 month period.  There is a lifetime maximum of six exam attempts.  After six attempts, a candidate who did not pass will no longer be able to sit for the exam. Scores are reported to the state licensing board.  There are numerous exam preparation materials and courses that can aide a candidate in passing the exam.
NPTE Content and Sample Questions

The NPTE PTA covers a wide range of topics. Those topic areas in order of most heavily questioned on the exam are:
  • Musculoskeletal System
  • Neuromuscular and Nervous Systems
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Systems
  • Integumentary System
  • Other Systems: (Metabolic and Endocrine, Gastrointestinal, Genitourinary, Lymphatic Systems)
  • System Interactions
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  •  Equipment, Devices, and Technologies
  • Safety and Protection
  • Professional Responsibilities
  • Research and Evidence-Based Practice
The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions and candidates are given four hours to complete the test.  There are fifty questions on each exam that do not count for scoring purposes.  These questions are being evaluated to determine if the question meets criteria to be included on future examinations.  Candidates will not know which questions do not count for scoring as those questions are intermingled with the regular exam questions.  The testing session includes a scheduled 15 minute break as well as unscheduled breaks in which the time will continue to run.
All exams are computerized and have multiple choice answers with four answer options.  A tutorial will review the necessary computer skills prior to the test.  However, it is always recommended to candidates to familiarize themselves with the format prior to test day.
The following is a sample question for the physical therapist assistant exam, according to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy:

A patient with impaired kinesthesia who is performing active range of motion exercises of the upper extremities will MOST likely require which of the following supplemental interventions?

a. Visual cues while performing the exercises
b. Pain-relieving modalities prior to performing the exercises
c. Trunk stabilization while performing the exercises
d. Stretching prior to performing the exercises

(The answer is A.)
Five days after the conclusion of the exam, FSBPT will report scores to state licensing boards.  After ten business days, free score reports are available from FSBPT and are accessible for 30 days. 

Candidates must begin the registration process by applying through the state jurisdiction that they wish to become a licensed PTA.  Registration is available online in all jurisdictions.  A candidate does not have to sit for the exam in the state in which they wish to become licensed.  Once a candidate has been deemed eligible by the jurisdiction’s license authority, FSBPT will be notified, and the jurisdiction will mail an authorization to test letter to the candidate with instructions on how to schedule their exam.  At this time, candidates will have 60 days to schedule their NPTE exam.
Exams are given four times a year at Prometric Testing Centers across the United States.  There are fees to take the PTA exam.  There are additional state licensing fees that vary state to state.
NPTE Rules
Testing centers have extensive security measures for the NPTE in order to prevent disclosure of test questions or cheating on the exam.  A government issued photo ID must be presented to take the exam along with an additional form of identification with a signature.  Acceptable photo ID include passports and driver’s license.  The signature on the second form of identification must match the name on the ID.  Social Security cards are not acceptable forms of identification.  The name on the identification must also match the authorization to test letter.  
It is required to arrive at least thirty minutes early to verify identification.  Thumbprint and identification must be provided when entering and exiting the testing room. Candidates are not allowed to bring any outside materials with them in to the testing center.  All test sessions are videotaped and candidates sign a waiver agreeing to not discuss test questions during or after the exam.  Violation of test center rules can result in a candidate’s test being invalid.
PTAs have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings including home health, acute care, inpatient rehabilitation centers, long term care and outpatient rehab.  Having a standardized exam ensures that PTAs providing skilled care are competent at the entry level.