3 Tips to Prepare for the New NAPLEX

This November, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is releasing a longer North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination.

This November, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is releasing a longer North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), and all students graduating in 2017 will need to take it. Additionally, a number of students who might have been unsuccessful with passing the current version will find themselves in a new testing environment. That said, I want to pass along some advice for preparing for the longer exam.

Pharmacy Times previously published an excellent quiz providing a glimpse into NAPLEX’s content and some materials to prepare for the test questions. In this article, I want to talk specifically about dealing with the test’s increased length.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint” is an adage some like to use for tests like this. A 9-minute pace, which is about average for many marathoners, will get a runner to the finish line in 3 hours and 55 minutes, while a 10-minute pace will take about as long as the old NAPLEX. Along the way marathoners have cheerers, water, restroom stops available every couple of miles, energy bars, and other food. There’s even a celebration at the end. However, 6 hours in a testing center is a very different experience.

I ran 2 marathons last year and had collegiate experience as a cross-country running coach. I think comparing the preparation for a marathon with this exam is a valuable thought exercise in understanding what you’ll need to do to succeed.

1. Long practice runs are the foundation for success.

Preparing for a marathon is a relatively straightforward process of building mileage. Likewise, preparing to take the NAPLEX involves building stamina while increasing the number of test questions.

I recommend simply multiplying Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 marathon training plan by 15 to get the number of questions you should attempt on a given day of the week:

  • Tuesday: 5 miles=75 questions
  • Wednesday: 8 miles=120 questions
  • Thursday: 5 miles=75 questions
  • Sunday: 20 miles=300 questions

Just as important is learning when you start to fade and lose focus. For me, it’s mile 18 to 20 in a marathon. When do you need food? What foods don’t upset your stomach? How do you stay hydrated without having to go to the restroom every couple of minutes? You’re going to want to try these things out during your Sunday practice, rather than find out something doesn’t agree with you on test day.

2. There will be a point where you want to quit.

You’ll hear that running the marathon is a mental race just as much as a physical one. Many times, I found myself questioning why I entered the race and what I’d get out of it. This self-talk comes and goes during the race. Often, an encouraging word with another runner or someone on the sidelines brings back positive energy.

On the NAPLEX, however, this self-talk is destructive and takes time away from working on questions. Instead of working on the question at hand, you start re-answering questions on your mind from earlier, calculating the probability of failing, or developing anxiety that debilitates your progress. Practicing sessions of 250 questions or more allows you to remind yourself that you’ve done it before in practice, and you can do it again.

3. Train as a team.

Although long runs are solitary events, midweek runs are generally social. You may have the self-discipline to practice on your own, but during a packed APPE final year, it’s as easy to not study as it is to study.

I had a small NAPLEX group, and I’d study some sessions with them. Other times, I’d go it alone, but they were always there pushing me to keep working. With Skype and other ways to connect, working with others weekly is manageable.

Final thoughts.

In competitive races, we’d always walk the course. That is, we’d have informal conversations about techniques for hills, weather conditions, and team strategy. Whether in a car or virtually online, many runners like to see the marathon course and imagine themselves succeeding.

So, practice eating what you’ll eat on test day, drive to the testing center beforehand and see what clothes you’ll need for the room temperature, and most importantly, plan a celebration for after the exam.