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 continue (or begin) to 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. Now that 2023 is here and you will be taking the exam in just a few months!
I have taught live NAPLEX reviews across the country for a number of schools/colleges of pharmacy for over a decade. I am surprised how often students do not do the "little" things that end up being "big" things that are critical for success come exam time. Many of these are common sense items 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 has been below 90% for the past few years for which data are available so it is important to have a solid, workable, practical plan of attack. Here are some practical pearls to getting prepared for the exam.
1. Cramming is impossible. 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 is actually 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. 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: https://read.nxtbook.com/nabp/bulletin/naplex_mpje_2022/cover.html
Competency Statements: https://nabp.pharmacy/programs/examinations/naplex/competency-statements-2021/
Sample Question Types: https://nabp.pharmacy/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/NAPLEX-Sample-Questions-1.pdf
3. Practice as Many Questions as Possible. Questions are your friend. 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 :).
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.
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.
4. Calculations. How many calculations have you done on your rotations this year? Unless you had a compounding rotation, most of your experience is likely with pharmacokinetics or TPN formulation calculations. You likely are 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 the exam 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 some of your faculty or preceptors that trained you.
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.
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.