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The ABCs and 123s of NBCOT Prep


November 24, 2021

Classes Life Hacks

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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.