5 Tips to Pass the NBCOT Exam

If you want to become a certified OTA, use these five tips to pass the NBCOT exam: Create a study plan to hold yourself accountable, study strategically, use free NBCOT prep resources, participate in St. Kate’s NBCOT Prep Coaching Program and relax on test day.

man sitting at desk writing notes

In order to become a certified occupational therapy assistant, you’ll have to sit for the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. The exam is for anyone who has recently graduated from an OTA program, like St. Catherine University’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Program, which can be completed in as little as 16 months.

While at first glance the exam may feel like another obstacle to overcome before starting your career, certification exams are extremely important, especially in the healthcare field. Tests like the NBCOT exam ensure that practicing professionals are competent in their ability to safely treat patients.

Logistics of the NBCOT Exam

two OTA students studying together with books and laptops

Before we can talk about studying and test-taking strategies, you must understand the structure of the exam. Here is what you should know about the NBCOT exam before taking it:

  1. You have four hours to take the NBCOT exam. You can take breaks, although your time doesn’t stop.
  2. The exam is administered over the computer and is composed of three clinical simulation test (CST) items and 170 multiple-choice questions.
  3. If you leave a question unanswered, it will not count toward your overall score.
  4. You can go back and answer questions if you are within your time limit. If the answer doesn’t come to you right away, skip the question and come back to it.
  5. It’s $40 cheaper to apply for the exam online instead of mailing in a paper application. You can apply online through the NBCOT website for $515.
  6. You need a score of 450 or higher (out of a total of 600) to pass. If you don’t pass, you can sit for the exam again in 45 days. There is no limit on the number times you can take the exam; however, be prepared to pay an additional fee to retake it.

NBCOT Exam Prep Advice

Answering nearly 200 questions in four hours can be a daunting task. The key is to prepare yourself mentally to sit for the exam. Don’t overthink and work yourself up about it, but also don’t blow the exam off like it’s no big deal. Here are a few tips to prepare yourself to sit for the NBCOT exam.

1. Create a Study Plan and Stick to It

The best way to set yourself up for success on this exam is to plan ahead. This exam is not one you can prepare for in a week. You should be starting your studies eight to 10 weeks in advance and studying for at least two to three hours per day.

To do this, get a daily planner, and block out specific times in the day to study. Having set times will help you keep track of how long you’re studying each day, which can also help you hold yourself accountable.

If you need to rid yourself of distractions while studying, download a focus app on your phone to prevent temptation. Additionally, make sure the area where you are studying is free from clutter and potential distraction. This can mean setting aside an area of your home for studying or setting up in a local coffee shop where you can’t get distracted by household chores.

student sitting at desk studying with laptop and textbook

2. Study Strategically

With an exam of this magnitude, you have a lot of material to study, and it can be difficult to know where to start. We recommend starting by taking a self-assessment test to see where your focal points should be. Then tailor your strategy to systematically hit those. Write out your study strategy as a basic outline to keep yourself on track, leaving most of the practice questions for closer to your exam date.

Studying using this method will allow you to skim over the material that you are already familiar with and focus hard on the material that challenges you. Not only will this help boost your test score; it will also allow you to study more efficiently, as you won’t be wasting time poring over familiar concepts.

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Learn more about the seven occupational therapy skills you’ll need to acquire during OTA school. You’ll put these skills into practice during the NBCOT exam and throughout your career.

3. Take Advantage of Free NBCOT Exam Prep Materials

While you can pay for some quality NBCOT exam prep materials, there are plenty of free resources to take advantage of. And you might as well, especially considering that you will have to pay to take the exam, not to mention paying for your degree.

You’ll find several free practice exams, flash cards and COTA exam prep materials available for you to use. Some of the free resources we found include:

  • The NBCOT offers free COTA exam prep in the form of self-assessment tools. These will help you identify areas and topics to focus on as you develop your study strategy.
  • Quizlet offers you free flashcards to help you study. They provide you with the answers and an explanation of the right and wrong choices.
  • This resource offers you free questions taken directly from the COTA Examination Review Guide, second edition. They provide you with the answers and an explanation.
  • This resource offers more than 200 free flashcards with multiple choice questions, complete with answers and an explanation behind the right and wrong answers.
  • The NBCOT Facebook page will occasionally post practice exam prep questions. You can join in the conversation and/or use these to make flashcards of your own.
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4. Participate in St. Kate’s NBCOT Exam Prep Coaching Program

At St. Kate’s, we are invested in our students’ success. That is why, in addition to developing a quality OTA program, we offer an NBCOT Prep Coaching Program (NBCOT PCP). While this program is optional, we highly recommend you take advantage of it.

This program, if you choose to partake, begins in your third semester. You will take a practice exam, and we provide you with a study plan based on your results. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet with coaches and peers to review material.

5. Relax on Your Exam Day

Once exam day finally approaches, try to relax. If you’ve followed the tips above, you have likely set yourself up for success. To make your exam day as low stress as possible, consider the following:

  • Try to get at least eight hours of sleep the night before the exam.
  • Eat a filling and protein-rich breakfast the morning of your exam. Eggs, yogurt or cottage cheese would be a good choice.
  • Arrive at your test center early. Being late is stressful, and that’s the last thing you want before taking the exam. Expect to complete some administrative paperwork before you can begin.
  • Lastly, eat a light lunch and use the restroom before you enter the test taking area. Reduce the likelihood that you’ll need a break because the clock doesn’t stop if you do.

What Passing the NBCOT Exam Means for Your Career

You can take the NBCOT exam right after you graduate or up to three years into the profession. However, the last of our tips to pass NBCOT exam is to take it shortly after graduation while the material is still fresh in your memory.

Tiffany, a December 2018 graduate of St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program

Becoming a certified occupational therapy assistant means being an officially licensed OTA. It will help you legitimize your skills and give you confidence in your abilities. An OTA education can also help you find a job.

St. Catherine University’s online occupational therapy assistant program can get you in the field in as little as 16 months. Ask to speak with an advisor today. They can answer your questions about the program and help you start the application process.

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The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

Get answers to your questions about the field, about the OTA career path, and about St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.

book with cover title: Occupational Therapy Assistant Explained