Becoming a pharmacy technician, much like many other careers, is not the type of future that is just handed to you. Like others, there are specific guidelines and expectations that a pharmacy technician should measure up to.
To prove yourself as a certified pharmacy technician, you must pass the PTCB Exam. But how hard, exactly, is the PTCB Exam? As a future pharmacy technician, what will be expected of you, and how can you make sure you leave the test room with a passing grade?
Is it Hard to Pass the PTCB Exam?
According to the Pharmacy Technical Certification Board, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Exam, the PTCB Exam, or the alliterative Pharmacy Tech Test, is the only way to gain CPhT certification as a pharmacy technician. You need 1200 points out of the possible 1600 to pass, putting your chances of success on the lower end of the scale. Only 80 of the 90 multiple-choice questions available on the test are graded, but you’ll never know which, so you need to spread your pharmacy technician knowledge evenly.
The difficulty of the PTCB Exam cannot be summed up with a simple “yes” or “no.” It depends very much on your ability to overcome these questions, as well as your knowledge of the field of pharmacology.
What is on the PTCB Exam?
The PTCB Exam is an online exam you take at a Pearson test center, offered the entire year. The exam cost is $129, which needs to be paid whenever the test needs to be retaken. You can retake the exam if necessary. However, the exam only needs to be completed once to obtain certification.
The PTCB Exam will measure your understanding of pharmaceuticals, dealing heavily with the nature of identifying disease states, medicine, and medication.
The test is distributed only in the United States, though U.S. military members and their spouses can take it from anywhere in the world.
The exam consists of 90 randomly selected multiple-choice questions–questions such as “What is the brand name for a particular kind of drug?” or ask for the proper measurements or medication in this particular instance. Out of the 90 questions, only 80 are scored, but which of the 80 questions is just as random as the selection of questions themselves, so blind guesses can only get you so far.
What Topics are Covered on the PTCB Exam?
As of 2020, the Pharmacy Tech Certification Board Exam and its questionaries fall into nine topics or “knowledge domains,” the domains being defined and briefly explained below:
1. Pharmacology for Technicians; a basic understanding of drugs classes and drug mechanisms and why certain drugs are prescribed for particular diseases and disease states,
2. Pharmacy Law and Regulations; knowledge of the laws and regulations for the distribution of drugs and the approval process,
3. Sterile and Non-Sterile Compounding – knowing the difference between sterile and non-sterile drugs,
4. Medication Safety; how to safely apply and take medication,
5. Pharmacy Quality Assurance; how to ensure that each medication reaches their patients safely and effectively,
6. Medication Order Entry and Fill Process; the procedure for ordering and filling medication,
7. Pharmacy Inventory Management; the process of the pharmacy delivery system,
8. Pharmacy Billing and Reimbursement; properly imbursing and reimbursing customers and their medication,
9. And Pharmacy Information Systems Usage and Application; the system and knowledge of the system to maintain the supply and organization of medication.
The PTCB Exam will rigidly fall within these eight categories, but it will not hurt to expand your horizons and study similar fields or the advanced versions of these topics.
Math Questions in the PTCB Exam
Woof! Math questions in the PTCB Exam? This may sound scary, but don’t worry: the PTCB Exam will not be pressing your knowledge of geometry, or calculus, or any higher-level math.
You are expected, as a pharmacy technician, to handle the following tasks:
- the proper labeling and identification of medicine,
- Knowing just how much you need to fill the pill bottles,
- Determining how many pills a person would need to take to help with their ailment (not too much that they would easily overdose, but not so little that there is no effect at all).
The primary forms of math you would have to deal with on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Exam primarily deal with weight, volume, temperature, and time.
In other words, you need to know and understand some rudimentary algebra (i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) as well as to know how to read and work with complex word problems, whose difficulty lie less in the complications of the formula and more how to identify the formula.
Math is an integral part of pharmacy tech, but you are not expected to be in any way a mathematician to be a pharmacy technician. So long as you understand how to formulate calculations, make educated guesses, and verify those educated guesses with educated processes, you should have an easy time clearing the math on the PTCB Exam.
But enough about what is on the PTCB Exam? How do you pass it? What score is needed never to have to worry about it again?
What is a Passing Score on the PTCB Exam?
To pass the PTCB Exam, you need to score 1400 out of 1,600 possible points. The passing score is on the higher end of the scale, where there is only so much room for error.
The average PTCB passing score percentage in 2020 was only 70%, which is actually a higher percentage of the average scores between 2014 and 2019, which never went higher than 58%. You can also compare those scores to the earlier years of the exam (circa 1995), where applicants would pass with a 70 – 80% or higher. In general, these statistics imply an increase of difficulty over the years. This may be reflected with the recent updates that require completing a training program or the equivalent work experience before you can even take the exam.
These numbers and percentages may seem daunting, but understanding where the bar is raised only makes it easier to pass it through. However, what is most needed to be understood is the process we need to take to reach that score—or even higher!
How to Study for the PTCB Exam?
We feel that it is essential to mention the difference between a pharmacy technician and other jobs or fields of pharmacy, like a standard pharmacist. A pharmacist would hand you your required prescriptions behind the counter, but it’s the pharmacy technician who works in the back of the pharmacy, dispensing prescription medication and performing jobs like measuring medication amounts, entering the orders within the pharmacy computer system, and verifying patient insurance. The job is very technical. You need to burrow the technical jargon into your skull and use it.
Your quest in studying for the PTCB Exam will see you run your fingers on the ink of textbooks, download assistance apps, and stare through the glare of our computer screens.
Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
There are many different practice tests for the pharmacy tech test, giving you an excellent test run. Mastering these practice tests, if nothing else, can give you a good idea of how the PTCB Exam will play out. If you happen to be lucky, you may even run into those exact questions on the big day.
Complete A Training Program
You might be wondering: “But I already have ten or fifty or a hundred whole hours of work experience passing around pill bottles. Why would I bother the training program if I already have the equivalent work experience?” The PTCB-Recognized Education/Training Program is designed explicitly for the PTCB Exam: it is issued by the same people for the specific purpose of gaining certification. Thus, the training program gives you the exact toolset you need to pass the PTCB Exam. There is a reason a single training program is treated as equivalent to actual work experience—it is also considerably easier to apply for a training program instead of working in pharmaceuticals to earn the license to work in pharmaceuticals.
There are training programs in nearly every state, typically affiliated with a university, and more online for distance learning. Completing a training program requires quite a bit of your time, but it is certainly worth it to gain the right skillset.
Hit the Books
Textbooks and reading material on the given subjects will help you understand the questions and material on a technical level. Books use the most technical and precise jargon, which would be valuable to know when you see the same jargon in the test.
Take some time out of your day–an hour or maybe two–to hunker down and study the material. The most important aspect of studying is not just how much information you can cram into your skull but how often you can come across and understand the information. If you study irregularly or every other day, then you will only barely remember the fundamentals, maybe, and absolutely none of the important details.
Study regularly enough, and you’ll be thinking about and solving questions even when you are not studying. Take advantage of your free time because that information will also be important when you’re out on the field after you’ve finished your test.
All of this being said…
Don’t Stress Yourself Out; It is Only an Exam
One mistake many test-takers make is over-exerting themselves in their studies and running themselves ragged come “Judgment Day.” No matter how hard is the pharmacy technician test, it is still a test. You don’t need to drink suspiciously cheap energy drinks to cram an all-nighter: a good night’s sleep and a thorough but brief session a day keeps the low scores away. Drink water and make sure you are well-rested and prepared when the day comes, instead of freaking out at the last second.
If you fail the exam, it is no big deal. You can always retake it. Failure is even a blessing sometimes: you can learn from your mistakes and fortify your study plan so that you can become an even better test taker!
Wrapping Things Up: Is the PTCB Exam Hard?
The PTCB Exam expects much from its test-takers. It will only be conquered by participants who take the job very seriously and clearly understand the procedures and knowledge involved in the field. Like any test, the PTCB Exam’s difficulty reflects the test taker; those who are prepared to pass the exam will pass. The test will still ask much from its test-takers, and you must be ready to respond in kind.
Is the PTCB Exam hard? Only if you believe it is! Turn your brain a pill bottle rattling with all sorts of pharmaceutical knowledge, tips, and tricks, and go in with a confident pen-hand! The PTCB Exam is a critical start to any pharmacy technician career.