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The ABCs and 123s of NBCOT Prep ⟩
November 24, 2021, by Kayla

Classes Life Hacks

The NBCOT, the certification exam that solidifies new graduates as a ~real~ OT. For most, this is the last big exam in your academic career and a reminder of just how far you have come; quite literally everything has led you to this point.

So, let’s get right into it; as with many things in life, there is bad news and good news. Bad news first, studying is going to be stressful and require discipline and dedication; but the good news, you are NOT alone and it won’t last forever. During the process of studying I eventually gathered the sense that the NBCOT is like a rite of passage; not only because every OT has to take it, but because everyone remembers that unique time and the experience of it all. Everyone you speak to is going to have study tips and advice to give you . . . so it would only be right to pass unto you the wisdom that was imparted on me. Without further ado, I give you, the NBCOT ABCs and 123s.


N — Nail Down a Study Schedule
One of the first things you’ll want to do is create a study schedule, including determining how long you want to study overall and how many hours per day/week. The next step I took was to determine my study schedule and luckily for me (and you) there are many readily available online. I chose not to reinvent the wheel and use a pre-existing study guide because that worked for me, but creating your own is also an option. This step is all about formulating a study schedule that meets your needs and makes sense to you!

B — Build Endurance
This exam is four, count them, four hours long. A huge component to success is training your body and mind to be able to tolerate sitting in a chair and more importantly focusing and thinking clearly for that long. One of the best ways to do this is to gradually increase the amount of time you are in complete focus/study mode. Consistency is key in building test endurance.

C — Choose Exam Materials That Fit Your Learning Style
There are so many study materials out there and so many different opinions on the usefulness, but ultimately what really matters is how they fit with your unique style of learning. Below I’ve listed some commonly used study materials and a little bit about them.

AOTA Exam Prep: This resource consists of practice questions, practice tests, informational PDFs, and flash cards on virtually every practice area and study topic. This resource also provides rationale for the correct answers to questions, I personally found this very helpful! The price of these materials is $149 for AOTA members and $209 for non-members. (Pro-Tip: USC professors normally send out an email to get a reduced group rate on this resource so be on the lookout for that when the time comes around!)

NBCOT Study Pack: This resource has a pre-test, domain-specific questions, mini tests, flash cards, and study games to help you along the way. The most valuable components to me were the practice test and the full practice exam. The consensus among my classmates was that this resource was most useful for getting the feel of how questions would be asked and the format of the exam. There is also a myth that you are likely to score within 10 points (more or less) than your score on the full practice exam; my score proved the myth right in my experience! This resource is $75.

OT Miri: On top of this being a completely free resource, it is so useful! The videos are a great way to learn or solidify the information you’re studying. Personally, I absolutely LOVE OT Miri, she’s so relatable, covers a wide range of study topics, and presents information in a way that’s easy to understand and easy to remember. I’ll be singing the Finkelstein Test song for a long long time (IYKYK).

OT ExamPrepper Podcast: This is another free resource, this podcast is dedicated to helping students like us succeed on the board exam. The host explains study topics using pop culture references and creates clever mnemonics to help you remember information. There are even visual and study guides to refer to while listening to the podcasts; they’re great to listen to during a workout or on your daily commute!

TherapyEd: The TherapyEd book often gets a bad reputation because it is dense and has a lot of information. This is a very comprehensive resource that covers a lot of content and specifics within each study topic. I found the corresponding online questions and practice exams so useful because rationale for the correct answer is provided.

I started using mine about a week before my exam and I was so upset I didn’t use it sooner, the questions and rationale SO useful for my learning style.

O — Optimize Your Study Space
Here are some pointers to optimize and organize your study space/time!

  • Use the do not disturb/silent feature on your devices to decrease distractions
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to set up your study headquarters
  • Have water and snacks nearby
  • Take meaningful breaks when needed
  • Study at the optimal time for you (I’m a night owl!)
  • Switch it up every once in a while (I did this by zoom studying with a friend!)

My friend Kim and I on a Zoom study break!

My friend Kim and I on a Zoom study break!

T — Take Practice Tests
Taking practice tests is SO useful because it combines all of the skills you need to be successful on the actual exam. They help build endurance, help determine how long you take to complete the exam, and illuminate areas for you to focus on during your studies!


Another huge component of NBCOT prep is making sure that you are taking care of yourself so that you have the energy and mental capacity to study! This is more easily said than done but hopefully these tips will help.

1 — Listen to Your Mind and Body
Honestly, some days are going to be better than others. Some days you are going to be studying and really understanding the material and motivated to keep going. Other days, you may be tired, overwhelmed or busy with other things, or just not have the energy to study. And guess what, that’s OKAY! The process of studying for this exam is just that, a process, and the results will be a culmination of the effort you put into your preparation. That means, if one day you feel like you just cannot focus or are too exhausted to study, give yourself some grace and rearrange your study schedule. I promise it is 100% better than trying to push through and burning yourself out. Extra Tip: schedule rest days into your study schedule! It can help ease the apprehension that can come with taking a day off!

2 — Do Your Self Care!
This counts for during your studying as well as before the exam. This is a great time to practice what we preach, take time to do the small things that make you happy and the things that make you feel like your most authentic self. It is easy to assume the identity of “studying for the NBCOT” and let that and the stress consume us (guilty as charged) but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Extra-Extra Tip: The day before your exam, don’t touch any of your study materials and schedule some R&R activities for yourself. Spend some time with family or friends, grab your favorite latte, just do things that make you feel good. I promise, your brain and body will thank you.

3 — Affirm and Reaffirm Yourself . . . and Reaffirm Yourself Again!
Mindset is EVERYTHING and this starts way before test day. While you are studying it is easy to get down on yourself or doubt your abilities but it is important to reaffirm yourself that you can do this! Positive self-talk and reframing how you’re feeling will go miles farther than putting yourself down; it could even be the extra edge that helps you pass.


I’m So Happy That I DIDN’T Get It ⟩
November 4, 2021, by Kayla

Admissions Fieldwork

Let’s start off by setting the scene. It’s 2019, I’m in my first semester of the Master’s program and I just got my very first Level I fieldwork placement. I was so excited to be placed at Keck Hospital of USC and even more excited to experience the acute care practice setting. It was absolutely everything I could have hoped for and more, I learned so much from my clinical instructor and had amazing interactions with my patients and before fieldwork came to an end I had made up my mind. I needed to be a Keck OT resident.

Jumping forward to September of 2020, the time had come to apply and interview for the USC Chan Residencies. I was so excited to start taking steps towards something that I wanted for SO long. I did my best to prepare; I edited my personal statement for hours on end, I prepared answers to every possible interview question I could think of, and being selected for that residency was all I could think of. October comes, applications are due and I participate in residency interviews. November comes and residency offer letters are sent out . . . but mine never came.

I take pride in being honest and transparent so I would be completely lying if I say that I wasn’t devastated and felt like everything I had worked for up to that point had been a waste. I would also be lying if I said that it was an easy task to pick myself back up and figure out what was next for me. This was the first time in my academic career that I had to deal with not achieving a goal that I set for myself and it was a hard reality to accept. After a period of allowing myself to feel my emotions authentically and grieving what could have been, I accepted that this was not the end of my journey and that there was a path for me. I just had to go out and find it!

This experience gave me the opportunity to take a step back and be honest with myself and make a conscious effort to work on areas that needed some extra TLC. Although this insight came at the cost of not being selected for the Keck residency, I was on the path to being better equipped for future experiences. I learned how to communicate more efficiently, I learned to have more confidence when interviewing for positions, and most importantly, I learned how to advocate for myself and ask for what I wanted! On top of the opportunities to develop these invaluable professional skills, I had some amazing experiences that would never have happened if things had played out differently. I was able to complete an out-of-area Level II fieldwork over the summer, I have the opportunity to design and tailor my residency experiences to my specific interests, and I have the opportunity to define myself and begin my career in an entirely new city!

So rather than choosing to see this experience as a rejection, I have chosen to reframe it to see it as a redirection; one that I am so thankful for! I am a VERY firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that the things we go through are set in our path to help us become better versions of ourselves. I fell right into where I needed to be and I promise, you will too.

With all of this said, as residency offers begin to roll out and whether or not you receive the outcome you are hoping for I want to remind you to give yourself some grace, give yourself some extra love, and to reassure you that you are more than enough.


So You Made The Decision . . . Now What? ⟩
September 30, 2021, by Kayla

Admissions Beginnings and Endings

Am I Really Doing This?

I’ve always found a reason to stay pretty close to home; for undergrad I only strayed about 45 minutes down the 210 (including the time added on by traffic) and then I thought I was really stepping out on my own when I moved to LA for grad school at USC. So with that background information, you can imagine the shock that my family and friends felt when I said the words, “I’m moving to Chicago.” I had a hard time wrapping my head around the reality of the decision I had just made as well. Truth be told, I was in denial for a while, but after the denial came acceptance . . . then came stress.

Feeling All The Feels

Stress. It doesn’t discriminate between positive and negative things, it just happens. So while I was excited that it was almost time to actually set off to Chicago, my mind was constantly racing thinking about all of the things that I still needed to plan/organize/do.

Anxiety. It can happen even if we can rationally think through our problems, sometimes that alone just isn’t enough. The OTD program follows a traditional schedule, beginning in late August; I was not set to start the clinical portion of the program until September 20th! And while I knew that the program is designed to be flexible to these very situations, I was worried that I was somehow falling behind. I had to remind myself that this is MY journey and that comparison is nothing but the thief of joy.

During this phase, I really had to believe that everything would come together, be confident that I was prepared to handle the changes coming my way, and more than anything remember the reasons why I decided to complete the OTD.

Strength in Goodbyes

As the time came closer for me to load up a moving truck and drive across the country, I started reflecting on all of the reasons WHY I stayed so close to home for so long. The two most prominent being my family (including my two nephews that I absolutely adore) and the remarkable group of people I get to call my friends. I made sure to be intentional about spending time with my loved ones (and eating as much delicious California food as possible) before I left. The love and support they poured into me made it so clear that no matter where I went, or how far I was, I would not be going through this year alone.

Lunch in Santa Monica with Guarina

Lunch in Santa Monica with Guarina

A polaroid with my classmates, Kim and Alex

A polaroid with my classmates, Kim and Alex

No Turning Back

2,000 miles, 35 hours, 7 states, 3 days, and 2 AMAZING parents that dropped everything to traverse the country with me in a moving van. As we put more miles behind us and got closer to Illinois everything became real and (despite a quick moment of apprehension somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma) I finally felt ready.

Last day of our road trip!

Last day of our road trip!

I wanted to share this with you all because I know that this is the time when you are making some pretty big decisions about your future and it can feel like there are so many unknowns ahead of you. If there is one thing that I have learned thus far in this experience is to not let that stop you from taking a chance on yourself. As deadlines are approaching keep that in mind, because you never know, it might be turn out to be everything you hoped for, good luck!


You, Me, and the OTD ⟩
September 5, 2021, by Kayla

Admissions Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

Being a Master’s student at USC Chan was an amazing experience filled with lots of learning, involvement in an amazing community, and one-of-a-kind experiences. So there’s no surprise that making the decision to apply and complete the Post-Professional OTD was quite simple. To me, this program means more than continuing my course of study or earning the distinction of “Dr”. To me, this program is all about personal and professional growth! Over the course of this next year I hope to work to reach a place where I will be prepared to achieve my professional goals and transform into the best therapist that I can be.

Along with choosing to complete the OTD with the above in mind, I could not pass up the opportunity for the amazing mentorship opportunities that are built into the program! Through my fieldwork experiences during the Entry-Level Master’s program I learned that I really really (really) love acute care OT. As I did my research on the different residency tracks offered, I was looking for an experience that would allow for specialized mentorship. I wanted a track that could support me while I work on my weaknesses and amplify my strengths to help me become a better therapist within my specific setting. The advanced clinical practice track consisted of everything that I was looking for and proved to be the perfect fit for me.

In the time preparing to embark on this journey and in the very short time since classes have begun, I have gained a deeper understanding of what I want to get out of this experience and ultimately made important decisions about my future career. That is honestly the biggest difference between the Master’s program and the OTD program. As a OTD resident you have the opportunity to decide and design your experience, from the practice context to your focus during your doctoral year. This freedom to tailor your residency plan is what makes this experience so meaningful and unique. And don’t worry, if the sound of that much freedom is off-putting to you, you are not alone during this experience!

Through all of the moments of feeling overwhelmed, doubting myself, and wondering if I would be able to find a residency site that was everything I wanted, I am so grateful that I stayed the course and found the site that is perfect for me! I have already gained so much so early in this journey and am excited to see where it takes me. More than anything, I am excited to be your OTD ambassador and be a part of your OTD journey as well!

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