UPDATED 2021

The Physical Therapist Test Guide

The Physical Therapist Test Summary
What: The National Physical Therapy Examinations (NPTE) for Physical Therapists
Who: All potential physical therapists who want to enter clinical practice must pass the test, which is developed and maintained by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy - FSBPT.
Where: Prometric, the company which administers the exam, has more than 300 testing locations.
When: Physical therapist candidates must register with the jurisdiction they hope to be licensed within. Once eligibility is proven, the FSBPT issues a letter and candidates have 60 days to schedule their exam.
How: Physical therapist candidates have five hours to answer 250 test questions.
Type: The NPTE test is a timed, multiple-choice computerized tests.
Why: The FSBPT requires that all physical therapists be licensed.
Time: Five hours.
Language: English
Preparation: National Physical Therapy Examination review guides and study aids are available commercially. The FSBPT sells online access to a practice exam and assessment tool.
Cost: There are fees to take the NPTE.

The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is the required licensure test for all physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in the United States. It is developed and maintained by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). The exam measures a candidate’s competency to become an entry-level practitioner.

According to the FSBPT, at least 85 percent of physical therapist (PT) candidates have passed the NPTE over the last four years. More than 80 percent of physical therapist assistant (PTA) candidates pass the test each year.

For informaiton on becoming a physical therapy assisant, see our guide and practice test for PTAs.

NPTE Content

The NPTE covers the following subject areas:

  • 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 PT exam is a computerized multiple-choice test.  A computer tutorial is given before the exam.

The exam features 250 questions and is five hours long. Fifty questions on the test are pre-test questions that will not be scored but are being evaluated for inclusion in future exams. The pre-test questions are scattered throughout the NPTE and are not indicated in any way, so the test candidate will not know which ones are pre-test items.

Sample Questions

The following are sample questions for the physical therapist exam:

A patient has used crutches with a partial weight-bearing toe touch gait for the past 3 months. When progressed to full weight-bearing, the patient is unable to demonstrate a heel-toe gait sequence with the involved extremity. Which of the following disorders is the MOST likely the origin of the gait abnormality?
 
a. Plantar fasciitis
b. Fibular (peroneal) nerve palsy
c. Heel cord tightness
d. Hammertoe

(The answer is C.)
 
 
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.)

Test Scoring

Exam scores are tallied by FSBPT and transmitted to the licensing authority. Six hundred points equals a passing score. Candidates can retake the test three times within a 12-month period.  There is a lifetime limit of six exam attempts.  A PT candidate who is unable to pass the NPTE in six attempts may also sit for the NPTE for PTAs six times within a lifetime.

Registration

Potential PTs should obtain NPTE registration material from the jurisdiction in which they want to be licensed. You do not have to physically take the exam within that jurisdiction. All jurisdictions allow for online registration.

The jurisdiction licensing authority determines the candidate’s NPTE eligibility and notifies the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. The federation then sends the candidate a test authorization letter with exam appointment-setting instructions.

Physical therapist candidates then have 60 days to schedule their NPTE test at one of about 300 US testing centers run by Prometric Testing Services.

There is a fee to take the NPTE, as well as varying state licensure fees. Prometric charges an additional fee to administer the test.

NPTE Rules

Security is tight around the National Physical Therapy Exam in order to prevent cheating and disclosure of the test questions. Candidates must arrive 30 minutes prior to the examination and must present a driver’s license or passport and an additional piece of identification with a signature, such as a credit card. The signatures and first and last names must match exactly. Candidates also provide a digital thumbprint and have their photos taken.

Test sessions are videotaped and candidates provide their thumbprint each time they leave the room. No bulky jackets or scratch paper from home are allowed. Candidates sign a FSBPT waiver agreeing that they will not discuss the test questions later.

NPTE sessions include a scheduled 15-minute break and opportunities for unscheduled breaks. Although ear plugs are not allowed, earphones are available on site.

Additional Physical Therapist Certifications

After passing the NPTE and becoming licensed physical therapists, PTs with more than 2,000 clinical practice hours in a specialty area or an accredited residency program can apply for additional certification. The tests are voluntary for those wanting formal recognition of advanced clinical knowledge.

The American Physical Therapy Association provides specialty testing in nine areas including, cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatric, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, pediatrics, sports, and women’s health.  More than 24,000 physical therapists have received the added certification, according to the association.

Are you interested in finding NPTE study materials? Check out our Physical Therapy Test Directory.