NAPLEX stands for North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination® and is one of the required components in a pharmacist’s licensure process. Everything about this exam is memorable: the study process, the stress, the budgeting, the planning, and the experience itself. Many pharmacy grads put NAPLEX-planning aside for a long while. They justify this by the need “to study more”, “get to relax”, or even get married. Should have anyone asked for my opinion several years ago, I would have answered: go for it the first day you are eligible. I did that myself and had zero difficulties passing the test. It must have been a combination of graduation euphoria and eagerness to get a pharmacist pay! But things have changed since then.
Today’s NAPLEX-readiness is dramatically different. The number of students choosing to pay for tutoring or NAPLEX reviews before sitting for either Pre-NAPLEX or NAPLEX continues to grow from a year to another. While this may be due to the vast heterogeneity of the pharmacy curricula, the role played by the licensing pressure before entering a residency program and the fear of failure to secure a pharmacist job cannot be excluded. Most pharmacy students invest between 6 and 9 years of study, make significant financial sacrifices, and surrender many privileges in exchange for the NAPLEX examination eligibility. Whichever your case is, that day is your ticket to the recognition you deserve, so prepare for it accordingly; allow no room for surprises, drive the speed limit, and don’t cross on red. Prevent any burst of adrenaline as that is the very last trigger you need.
As you prepare for the NAPLEX test, check out this brief of what you need to know the year before you plan on sitting for the test. Let me say this again: the year before, not the month before. This is very important as there will be many aspects that will build-up anxiety while walking your timeline toward this major life event. Studying is always hard, but there are at least a few steps that can help you wake up more relaxed and properly energized the morning before the test. First, know what to expect. Second, prevent surprises. Third, plan with your future in mind.
Know what to expect
Since November 2016, the NAPLEX exam consists of 250 questions and is administered over 6 hours. The exam structure has changed from an adaptive technology format to a fixed-form and candidates should expect that two thirds of the questions will evaluate their ability to ensure safe and effective pharmacotherapy and health outcomes while the rest of the exam content will be used to determine their readiness for safe and accurate preparation, compounding, dispensing, and administration, as well as provision of health care products. This new examination format employs a majority of scenario-based questions which are more precise in evaluating a candidate’s competence but are also more difficult to develop. Thus, in order to account for such extensive exam development NABP has increased the exam registration fee to $575. While the minimum passing score remains 75, a candidate’s score can range anywhere between 0 and 150. Plans are in place for a candidate’s options if technical difficulties or loss of power occur during a scheduled test. However, in the event of the test center being closed due to inclement weather, although Pearson VUE will attempt contacting candidates to reschedule their appointments, the responsibility lays on the candidates to contact the center and verify whether the testing center will be open during the scheduled appointment.
In preparation for NAPLEX, candidates may choose to familiarize themselves with the question types and exam-style by registering for up to two Pre-NAPLEX exams. The cost for each attempt is $65 and there are no refunds once the examination has been purchased. Anyone may register and take the Pre-NAPLEX, regardless of being or not eligible for the actual NAPLEX. Pre-NAPLEX consists of 100 questions and may be scheduled through the same website with up to a week in advance. Although its content consists of questions that have been previously used in actual NAPLEX examinations, NABP does not claim that a strong performance on Pre-NAPLEX indicates a higher chance of passing NAPLEX. With that said, Pre-NAPLEX is less about confirming how “ready” one is to pass the NAPLEX and more about identifying early on any areas that a candidate should focus on in the months preceding the actual examination. It is advisable to register for Pre-NAPLEX during the last pharmacy school semester and several months before the exam. The sooner a candidate is made aware of own weaknesses, the longer that candidate will have to properly practice and address them while being coached by pharmacy faculty in an actual clinical environment (i.e. hands-on-the-patient), during an already paid graduate program.
Thinking back, I did a few small things to increase my odds of passing the NAPLEX exam and that included the preparation of a worry-free path towards it. I read the NAPLEX Bulletin more than once starting in January. That gave me enough time to ensure that I have the two valid identification documents needed to enter the exam room. If your birthday is around the date when you plan to schedule your NAPLEX exam and your age is divisible by 5, or if your name changed after you registered for the test, please don’t take this part of the planning easily. There is a small, but fair chance that your driver’s license may need to be changed right before taking the test and you really don’t need to deal with such thing without proper planning. Should you need a new driver’s license, don’t overestimate the DMV’s availability as you’ll be surprised how many stars may align wrong if that’s right before your testing day. Just as you would expect, that DMV visit alone will require itself two valid identification documents – make sure you have them! Remember that name matching is supremely important and your name should display precisely identical in the authorization to test and each of the two identification documents that you present with. Also important: if you are a permanent resident, your green card will not be an acceptable form of identification. Interesting or not, these are the rules and everyone must abide by them!
What else is worth taking care of during the weeks to months ahead? Check the expiration date on your debit and/or credit cards to ensure their validity throughout that summer. Make sure they are signed too as such card is a valid secondary identification in order to be admitted for the NAPLEX test. In addition to this, do sign up for at least one NAPLEX review and practice using a question bank. That will lower your liquidities but will increase your confidence. For me that was well worth it; it made me feel better about myself and helped me decide easier on the date I felt comfortable with to take the actual exam. Nowadays the NAPLEX boot-camps are trendy and require a much bigger budget. They will, no doubt, improve your confidence. So, if that’s what works for you, go for it! I’m sure that will be good learning. However, identify your needs, plan the budget, and make your decisions long ahead; by that, I mean before the middle of your last Spring semester in the pharmacy school.
With rotations getting busy and several assignments to turn in as flawless as possible is easy to forget simple things. Although they may seem benign and out of context, an out-of-town experiential rotation, a trip to present your research poster, or the much sought after residency interview may impact dramatically your ability to plan for NAPLEX timely. Should you need any special accommodation to test, be prepared to allow extra time for the additional forms needed and their respective approval. Last, not least, while one should always avoid speeding, this is particularly advisable as you approach the dates of renewing your documents or sitting for the actual NAPLEX exam. Scheduling a hearing or simply going through the bitterness of paying a speeding ticket right before paying for your NAPLEX, MPJE, and any score-transfers would make anyone miserable and you certainly don’t need that before sitting for, probably, the most important exam in your life thus far.
Plan with your future in mind
Many NAPLEX candidates delay exam registration for a considerably long time. That isn’t advisable. I registered for NAPLEX in April and used the window of time until the Board of Pharmacy notified NABP of my eligibility to brainstorm and decide what states I wanted my score to be transferred to. One only has a one-time shot at score-transferring and that is before you sit for the NAPLEX exam. So, you better gauge very well where your life may take you over the next 30+ years. Each score-transfer will cost you money and they will quickly add up. That is the moment in time when you will need to quickly decide whether states like California and/or Florida stay on your radar or not. If you graduated a pharmacy program outside these two states and want either of the two licenses, get prepared for significant additional homework. Careers such as pharma research and development or academia draw paths that may easily take you form a coast to another within the same year. Deciding what states I wanted to transfer my scores to was no easy task. I sought the advice of several friends and had to read hundreds of pages of licensing guidelines for all the states that I considered. Location, where you want to settle, will play a major role. For instance, living in Memphis, TN one may find that practicing with a Tennessee pharmacist license is insufficient and having an Arkansas and Mississippi pharmacist license at the same time is almost a must given the geography of the place and the distribution of the job opportunities. Have such details in mind when you make your decisions because you will need options, many options available during your career as a pharmacist.
Many NAPLEX candidates delay exam registration for a considerably long time. That isn’t advisable.
I took several exams with Pearson VUE and not because I failed or missed exam appointments. I did not screw up with any of their rules either and won’t recommend to anyone thinking of this not even in a million years as the consequences will be frightening. I sought licensure in 6 different states, thus went successfully through several testing appointments (in several cities and testing locations). Here is a success-recipe that worked for me. Try to diminish caffeine intake and sleep on-time for at least a week before the actual test. As you get closer to the actual test day, make time for a rehearsal drive from home to the actual testing location on the same day of the week, at approximately the same time. This will give you a feel for the time in traffic and will give you the confidence that you are in control of the situation during the day of the test. The day of the test, dress comfortably without layering as you will not be accepted in the room wearing sweaters, jackets, etc. I still recall the room feeling cold, so consider this when deciding what to wear. Accessories of any kind are prohibited. Leave everything but your ID documents in the car or, ideally, at home. You will be asked to place all your personal items in a rather small locker box (~popcorn bag size). Get ready to be photographed, palm-scanned, and observed closely while you sign your documents. The testing room is continuously monitored video, audio and in-person by Pearson VUE personnel. Just get used to the idea that they will see if you pick your nose. While breaks are allowed, never enter or leave the room without permission, regardless of reason. You will have a total of 6 hours to complete the test. Use them wisely and trust that you will be a licensed pharmacist soon!
For complete and up-to-date information about the latest NAPLEX Candidate Registration Bulletin, visit https://nabp.pharmacy/programs/naplex/.