NAPLEX Question of the Week: Preparing for Success on the Exam (Part 1)

This week's question is a call to prepare well in 2024 for the NAPLEX.
NAPLEX Question of the Week: Preparing for Success on the Exam (Part 1)
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Happy New Year everyone! Excited to start off this year with an important post that isn't our traditional question and answer as usual. I wanted to take a couple of weeks and detail best ways I believe for you to formulate a plan for success as you prepare for this exam.

You've heard about the NAPLEX likely since before getting admitted into pharmacy school. It has been in the back of your mind throughout your pharmacy school career. Believe it or not...you will be taking this exam in about 6 months. So there is plenty of time to get ready...even if you haven't started! 

I have taught live NAPLEX reviews across the country for a number of schools/colleges of pharmacy for over a decade. I love interacting with the students and cannot wait to get on the road this year in April to continue preparing students in the classroom. The energy and excitement of students across the country is incredible in a live environment. 

I am surprised how often students do not do the "little" things that end up being "big" things that are critical for success. Many of these are common sense things that are easily applied and done prior to the exam. This is definitely not an exam you can just stroll into and pass. The national exam pass rate was 80% for first time takers for 2022. It is important to have an ironclad, workable, practical plan of attack.  Here are some practical steps you can take to prepare in the New Year for the exam.

1. Cramming is a really bad idea.  This is not a pharmacy school exam. There just is no way to cram 4 years of intense education into a few weeks or months of preparation. If you have not started studying in a formalized way, this should be your 1st New Year's resolution! Come up with a plan that works for you to divide and conquer. Just doing this will ease your stress tremendously and help identify areas of strength and weakness. Some areas that you are familiar with lend themselves to short bursts of studying (diabetes, hypertension) while others require more of a long-term approach (HIV, oncology) for retention due to degree of familiarity with the medications in these classes. 

2. Read the Candidate's Guide, Competency Statements, and Exam Question Types. What did you ask your faculty in class...What is actually going to be on the exam? NABP on their website has a guide for all students who will be taking the exam. There are additional documents on test design, competency statements, and sample questions as well as a signup for tips. This will give you a framework on how the exam will be structured and will not surprise you on different question types. Knowing what is possible and all of the various details of the exam itself can also alleviate stress.  The links can be found here:

Candidate's Bulletin

Competency Statements

Sample Question Types

Sign Up for Tips

3. Practice. Practice. Practice.  Questions are critical to your success. The more you practice, the more you get into a rhythm of "test mode". Additionally, you identify areas of weakness that you need to improve upon. Also you identify areas of strength which helps you tailor your study habits. Don't study things you know over and over like metformin or Lipitor :). 

AccessPharmacy has a number of great resources for studying and practicing questions including the following resources by Editor-In-Chief Dr. Scott Sutton, Clinical Professor and Chair at the University of South Carolina. These resources allow for creation of custom quizzes that cover a number of areas on the exam. You will likely need to create a personal account to access fully. 

Naplex Review Guide 4th Edition: https://accesspharmacy.mhmedical.com/qa.aspx?groupid=400&categoryid=0&resourceid=3036 

Naplex Online Question Bank: https://accesspharmacy.mhmedical.com/qa.aspx?resourceID=2255

All NAPLEX resources can be found on AccessPharmacy under the "NAPLEX Central" Tab on the top right of the front page. It can be found also here: https://accesspharmacy.mhmedical.com/naplex.aspx

**Note** There is now a fully simulated practice exam at AccessPharmacy. This should be used within a month or so prior to the exam to fully simulate the time and mental fortitude it will take to take an exam of this length. 

4. Calculations.  How many calculations have you done on your rotations this year?  Do most pharmacists in practice do calculations on a daily basis? Absolutely! Unless you had a compounding rotation, most of your experience is likely with pharmacokinetics or TPN formulation calculations.  You likely are very rusty and need to get back into the swing of things. Calculation questions could be fill in the blank (constructed response), so not just recognizing the correct answer. Therefore it is vital to practice and practice well. Don't cheat and look at answers working backwards :). Discipline yourself to work from beginning to end to formulate your answer. 

According to the latest NAPLEX competency statement, approximately 14% of exam questions are calculations. When you are well prepared for these through practice, these are questions that can mean the difference in obtaining a passing score. 

5. Remember the Intent of the Exam. Chances are on your rotations you are being challenged to practice at the "top of your future license". This includes being educated on all the most difficult and often unique cases available. It is important to remember that the exam is testing your ability to perform as an entry level pharmacist, not a specialist like many of your faculty or preceptors that trained you. Think "Bland" like my name when preparing :). 

Chances are also that you haven't been quizzed a lot on important parts of an exam such as brand names, storage required for certain medications, routes of administration, delivery systems, etc. As stated in #2 above, be sure and read the candidate's guide to review the competency statements to ensure you are studying for all aspects of the examination. These aspects are rarely covered on rotations. 

Next week's column will touch on some further points to help you prepare for success as you prepare to pass the exam. 

Please share this column on your social media accounts to anyone who is trying to prepare for this exam as well if you found this helpful.

Happy 2024!

Dr. B

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