How to analyze NPTE questions in N 3 simple steps

Let’s get right into it. Read the sample NPTE question & answer set.

A physical therapist works with a patient on scapular stability. During a prone push-up, the therapist observes the medial scapular border winging away from the thorax. Upon standing from the push-up position, the patient reports severe lightheadedness and dizziness. What is the MOST appropriate physical therapist action?

  • a) Place the patient in Trendelenburg position
  • b) Place the patient in reverse Trendelenburg position
  • c) Check the patient’s blood sugar levels
  • d) Refer the patient to the emergency department

Let me guess, you read the question (stem) first. Then, before even finishing the question, you started thinking about scapular winging and possible answers. Then, you finished the question and realized it has nothing to do with scapular stability or winging. Now you have to re-read the question all over again.

The national physical therapy examination allots 5 hours to complete 250 questions. Let me do the math for you. You’re going to have about 72 seconds per question come test day. In other words, there is no time to waste. CONTINUE reading to learn 3 simple steps oh how to analyze NPTE questions and save time.

STEP # 1 – Answer Options First


Read the answer options below. Then, read the question.

A physical therapist works with a patient on scapular stability. During a prone push-up, the therapist observes medial scapular border winging away from the thorax. Upon standing from the push-up position, the patient reports severe dizziness. Which of the following nerves is MOST likely injured?

  • a) Thoracodorsal
  • b) Suprascapular
  • c) Long thoracic
  • d) Dorsal scapular

Notice how reading the answer options first makes reading the question easier. This method allows test-takers to extract pertinent information and disregard useless distracting data the first time they read the question.

STEP # 2 – Categorize Answer Options

Read the answer options below. Then, take a moment to broadly categorize the options. We’ll explain further.

A patient presents to physical therapy complaining of lateral ankle pain after suffering an inversion injury yesterday. There is noticeable swelling and the patient has difficulty bearing weight. Palpation reveals bony tenderness at the posterior aspect of the lateral malleolus. Which of the following is the MOST appropriate course of action?

  • a) Perform retrograde soft-tissue massage and grade I-II joint mobilizations to reduce swelling and pain
  • b) Perform pulsed ultrasound to reduce swelling
  • c) Perform gait training with an ankle stirrup and axillary crutches
  • d) Refer to the primary care physician to rule out a fracture

Read the answer options first. Then take a moment, only 5-10 seconds to see if the answer options are categorical or an obvious outlier exists. More often than not, there is an outlier in the answer options. Let’s take the answer options above to further explain.

  • a) is a manual therapy technique, which is an intervention.
  • b) is a physical modality, which is an intervention.
  • c) is assistive device and gait training, which is an intervention.
  • d) is a clinical decision to rule out a condition prior to initiating physical therapy intervention

D is the correct answer. The Ottawa ankle rules were developed to help clinicians determine when ankle or foot radiographs are indicated. In the scenario above, there is evidence of malleolar (bony) tenderness. According to the Ottawa ankle rules, this patient should have an ankle radiograph to rule out a fracture prior to initiating any physical therapy intervention.

Step # 3 – Don’t Fall Victim To Analysis Paralysis

The exam is long and difficult. There’s going to be groups of questions that frustrate you. A tough batch questions can linger in your brain for five-minutes, making it difficult to stay focused. It’s crucial to quickly move on and fuhgettaboutit! Your confidence will be shaken. Don’t abandon the answers first option methodology. Stick to your answer analysis technique and focus on the present question.

In summary, remember to read the answer options first. You will thank us later for this advice, as it will save you time and reduce test-taking errors. Take a moment to categorize answer options and you’ll start to recognize outliers. Most importantly, don’t over analyze the decisions you make. Approach each question with mental clarity. Use your best judgment and reasoning, select an answer option, then fuhgettaboutit!

Be confident and prepared. Shift the way you prepare for the most important exam in your career!

Check out Modern Learning Company for instant access to high-quality simulated PT board exams and test-taking tips.

Please feel free to contact us with questions or to obtain answers to the practice questions above!

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