- Decide the basics- When do you want to take your test? If you've already accepted a job, you'll need to do this relatively soon after graduation. If you have busy/stressful post-graduation plans (wedding, moving, etc) you may want to delay the test a bit. You should also consider what kind of studier you are and what situations will make you more stressed. If you're a perpetual procrastinator, it might be better to take the test earlier just to force yourself to study and keep things fresh in your mind. Make sure that you follow the earlier advice about licensure and registration so that you can minimize snags in the process.
- Make a plan- If you don't want to get overwhelmed, you need to plan out your study strategy. Are you going to commit to studying for a set time each day, or just commit to reviewing certain concepts each day? What study tools are you going to use? If you're going to buy special things, do it well in advance so that you can get the full benefit of them before the test. Here's a brief review of items that I used/looked into:
- NBCOT Examination Readiness Tool (cost= free!) This allows you to rate your strengths in the areas tested by the exam. It's a free pdf, just print and go.
- NBCOT Official Study Guide (cost ~$45) The prime selling point of this study guide is the 100 question sample test. The reasoning for correct answers is given, which can be very helpful when working independently. Before the test, there is a section on basic study skills, which I found to be unneeded. One of these questions was on my actual test. I did not take the online tests ($45-185) because I heard that there was some repeat of questions and I was already familiar with taking tests on computer.
- OT Study Cards in a Box (Sladyk) (cost ~$45) My school had a copy of these, which I browsed and ultimately decided not to purchase. Each card has a diagnosis or theory with brief related information. I decided that my notes from classes were just as good.
- Quick Reference Dictionary to OT (cost ~$35) This is not a study tool. I keep one in my desk at work, and have used it more for Spanish translations than anything else.
- Occupational Therapy Examination Review Guide(Johnson) (cost ~$40) I did not use the guide, but did use the CD. 200 questions set up on the computer similarly to the real exam. There are explanations of the reasoning behind the answers at the conclusion of the test. You can also choose to break down your score into how you did by question domain or area of practice. I thought that these questions were a little easier than the real NBCOT questions, but good for practice on the reasoning.
- IER Practice Exam or Guide (cost free-$80+) These people offer a "free practice exam" of 50 questions with answers given. The questions are rather irrelevant and far more specific to diagnoses than will be on the test. They also offer a guide and an intense review course. I would not consider paying money to these people unless you are retaking the exam.
- Your own textbooks and notes (cost= thousands of dollars but you probably don't want to think about that) The resource that I used the most. Hopefully you didn't sell ALL your books.
- Know what you know- If you have more than one practice exam in your collection at this point, take one. This will show you where some of your weak spots are. If you don't have this luxury, list out the varying areas of OT practice and types of clients/treatments encountered (orthopedics, pediatrics, hands, etc). If you had good Level II fieldworks, you shouldn't need to study those areas in depth. Rank your knowledge of the other domains and you can also jot down if there are specific things you know you need to review. (for example, I knew that I was weaker in mental health, and that since schizophrenia is a main diagnosis, I really needed to review that). You can also do this by looking at the tables of contents of your main textbooks.
- Start with the reading- hit the chapters of the textbooks that you've decided to review. Start with the basics- review frames of reference before progressing to diagnoses or treatments. See something that you know so well you're getting bored? Skip it and go on. If there are things that remain difficult to remember or understand, jot it down and go on.
- Take a practice test- 1-2 weeks before your test, take your final practice test. Review your answers and pay attention to WHY they are wrong. What are these questions telling you?
- Specific material you didn't know (specifics about precautions, diagnoses, equipment)
- Practice domains you are unfamiliar with
- Faulty reasoning / second guessing
- Not taking enough time / taking too much time
- Know when to hold 'em- Do not try to reread an entire textbook. As you get closer to your exam date (last week prior), make a final list of things to review. What do you need to review, based on your analysis of your last test results? This should include things that you have less interest in or are consistently weak in. For me, I knew that I needed to review nerves of the hand, feeding & swallowing. I made a 1 page review of the main concepts and concentrated on that during the final days before the test.
- Know when to fold 'em- At the end, there's only so much information your brain can hold. Since this is more of a critical thinking test than a memorization/regurgitation test, cramming is not going to help. Make sure you have all your documents that the testing center requires. Do something relaxing the night before the test, and get a good night's sleep. (Sleep is really important. I stayed on a friend's floor, they came back late and woke me up... not a good sleep environment. If you can't stay at home, pony up the money for a hotel.) On the day of the test, eat a good breakfast, take a snack with you to the testing center. Wear something comfortable and layered. Take a deep breath, and go for it!
- During the test- Don't be afraid to take breaks. They've given you 4 hours, go eat your snack, go stretch, move around in your PNF diagonals, whatever. Resist the urge to second guess, just use your good critical thinking skills. One of my teachers liked to say that rarely did the answer choices match what you would do in a situation, you just needed to pick the "least offensive answer."
NBCOT Study Tips
Ah, summertime! Time for students to rejoice, workers to lament, and OT grads to panic in preparation for the dreaded NBCOT exam. I have promised to put up some words of advice about this trial for my friends that are graduating this year. The first thing to note is that you should not panic. Yes, it is a pretty miserable experience, but you can (and likely will) pass. This doesn't mean that you'll feel good when the test is over... I spent 2 hours crying in the car and another friend spent the rest of the day violently demolishing parts of her house. Despite that set of awful feelings, we both passed, as did most of our classmates. Here's some tips to make the whole experience a little easier for you.