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How To Study For the NAPLEX

Published on: Nov 5, 2023
By: Jim Herbst, PharmD, BCPPS
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The NAPLEX is perhaps the greatest exam of your life. It is one of the last remaining obstacles in obtaining your license to practice pharmacy. Even though 80% of first-time applicants PASS, this exam can’t be overlooked and must not be underestimated. I’ve seen very intelligent and knowledgeable cum laude pharmacy graduates fail the NAPLEX firsthand. They were kicked out of their prestigious residency programs and were left questioning their decisions over the last several months. 

You do NOT want to be in that position. The NAPLEX is a very passable exam, but you must respect it, understand it, and prepare for it. You must prioritize your time and sacrifice certain things or events to gain long-term success in passing this exam. You should communicate to family and friends that you will be dedicating much of your life to preparing for this exam over the next weeks and months. Exam-day anxiety will be unavoidable, but the better prepared you will be, the less test-day anxiety you will have.

In this article, I’ll explain a schedule and the steps to studying for the NAPLEX exam.

The Study Schedule

Creating a solid NAPLEX study schedule is crucial for success on this comprehensive examination. Your learning style, study habits, and preferences are unique, so this plan serves as a backbone and must be customized to fit your needs. The keys to success are to start early, be consistent, and cover all the competency sections.

10-12 Weeks Before the NAPLEX:

Weeks 1-2: Assessment and Planning

  • Day 1-3: Practice Test: Take a full-length practice exam to identify your legitimate strengths and weaknesses

  • Day 4-6: Analyze Results: Review the Practice Test results and identify competency sections that need more focus

  • Day 7-14: Create a Study Plan: Develop a detailed study plan, allocating more time to your weaker areas

Weeks 3-8: Content Review

  • Weekly Routine

    • Many students will take off the final month of their APPE rotations to study for the NAPLEX. If you have been fortunate enough to be in this position, do not waste it. Be efficient and intentional with your time. If you have a rotation in your last month before graduation, you must find time earlier in the year to study. Trying to cram four or more years' worth of study material into several weeks after graduation will be very stressful. There will be graduation parties, there will be celebrations. You may need to spend time doing background checks or new employer orientation. It is often difficult to prioritize studying during this period. Ideally, you should use one of your months off APPE rotation to study rather than go on vacation or a Netflix bender.

    • Focus on a specific content area or disease state, such as pharmaceutical calculations or infectious disease, in areas where you demonstrated the greatest weakness

    • Review flashcards, practice questions, and reinforce key concepts

    • Summarize the day’s learning and plan for the next day immediately before bed. Studying right before bed is a very effective technique to retain knowledge

  • Weekend Routine

    • Consider taking a full-length practice exam every month or so to become familiar with the mental endurance to withstand a 6-hour exam

    • Review practice exam questions, continue to identify areas of improvement, and adjust your study plan accordingly

    • Your study plan should be a fluid document that constantly adapts to your progress

Weeks 9-10: Practice and Refinement

  • Continue to focus on practice questions, timed quizzes, and case studies to reinforce your understanding

  • Review weak areas and adjust your study plan accordingly

2-3 Weeks Before the Exam:

Week 11: Final Review

  • Focus on weak areas dedicated this week to a thorough review of your identified deficiencies

  • Take one final full-length practice exam to assess your overall readiness and instill confidence

Week 12: Final Preparations

  • Simulate exam day conditions, including waking up early, having a good breakfast

  • Know how to get to the testing center and how long it will take

  • Review and final identified weaknesses and reinforcing high-yield concepts

Week of Exam:

  • Day Before

    • Rest and Relax: avoid any intensive studying. Focus on hydration, nutrition, proper headspace, and getting a good night’s sleep

  • Exam Day

    • Arrive at the testing center early and well-rested with all your necessary items and documents for the examination

    • You have prepared; now it is time to perform - You’ve GOT this

Additional NAPLEX Prep Tips:

  • Consistency is KEY. Stay on schedule and avoid cramming

  • Active Learning. Engage in a variety of active learning practices such as flashcards, practice questions, and teaching concepts to others. Change your study environment periodically and move your body

  • Stay Healthy. Stay hydrated, eat well, get good sleep, and exercise. An alert body creates a sharp mind

  • Utilize Resources. Use review books, and online resources, and consider virtual or in-person study groups to optimize accountability

A successful study schedule is tailored to your individual strengths and needs. Create a plan, but don’t be afraid to modify it as needed; just don’t get behind. Regularly reassess your strengths and weaknesses to make the most efficient and effective use of your time. Put forth an honest effort so that you don’t need to go through this process again.

How to Best Study for the NAPLEX

Maximizing Success: The Advantages of Using a Tutor to Study for the NAPLEX

  • Personalized Learning Experience: tutors can tailor their instruction to address your strengths and weaknesses, creating a customized study plan that optimizes your NAPLEX prep.

  • Focused Review of Deficiencies: Tutors can conduct an initial assessment to identify your areas of weakness. With this insight, they can design targeted lessons and practice sessions to strengthen your understanding of challenging concepts, ensuring you are well-prepared for all aspects of the NAPLEX.

  • Real-Time Feedback and Guidance: Tutors help you correct errors and refine your approach to problem-solving. Immediate feedback is crucial for reinforcing learning and preventing the perpetuation of incorrect information

  • Strategic Study Techniques: Tutors are well-versed in effective study techniques and can guide you in organizing your study materials, managing your time efficiently, and employing active learning strategies that enhance comprehensive retention.

  • Motivation and Accountability: Tutors can leverage their expertise to make the preparation process more manageable and bring out the best version of yourself on test day.

  • Clarification of Complex Concepts: Tutors can clarify murky intricacies or concepts. Their unique perspective can provide clarity to an otherwise complicated content area.

Mastery: Exploring Courses and Self-Study Resources to Ace the NAPLEX

To navigate the complexities of the NAPLEX successfully, many new graduates turn to specialized courses designed to provide comprehensive review and targeted preparation. Here are three popular courses available for studying for the NAPLEX and how they can enhance your readiness for this crucial knowledge test.

  • RxPrep NAPLEX Review Course

    • Well-known provider of NAPLEX review courses, offering comprehensive study materials and resources to help candidates succeed

    • Key Features

      • In-depth video lectures covering key NAPLEX topics

      • Detailed study guides and textbooks

      • Extensive question banks with explanations

      • Practice exams simulating the NAPLEX format and style

      • Access to instructors for clarification or enhanced learning

    • Benefits

      • Structured study plan with a focus on high-yield topics

      • Realistic practice questions and exams for a true simulation experience

      • Flexibility with online access to materials

  • NAPLEX Prep by APhA

    • A NAPLEX prep course aligning with its commitment to advancing pharmacy practice

    • Key Features

      • Online study resources and interactive content

      • Practice exams and quizzes for self-assessment

      • Comprehensive content coverage aligned with NAPLEX competency statements

    • Benefits

      • Integration of case studies and practical scenarios

      • Access to APhA’s network of pharmacy professionals

      • Updated content reflecting the latest changes in pharmacy practice

  • High-Yield Med Review

    • Reputable provider of NAPLEX preparation coursework, promising an effective and focused study experience

    • Key Features

      • Meticulously structured curriculum that aligns with NAPLEX competency standards

      • Comprehensive study materials, including detailed study guides, textbooks, and multimedia resources

      • High-quality video lectures delivered by experienced instructors

    • Benefits

      • Personalized study plans

      • Timely updates

      • Flexibility and Accessibility

Resources for NAPLEX Practice Questions

Drilling yourself with test questions is the key to a successful NAPLEX test prep. Here are some reputable resources for NAPLEX practice questions.

  • Prep Courses: RxPrep, Kaplan, and The Princeton Review provide access to extensive question banks and practice exams as part of their comprehensive study packages

  • NAPLEX Review Books: Textbooks designed for NAPLEX preparation often include practice questions. Make sure to check the publication date to ensure the content is up to date

  • NAPLEX Question Banks: Platforms such as BoardVitals, Pharmacy Examp, and NAPLEX Practice Questions by ProntoPass provide extensive question databases with detailed explanations

  • Online Platforms: Pharmacist Letter and Pharmacy Times often offer test questions and case-based scenarios

  • NABP Practice Exam: The NABP offers an official practice exam with actual questions from previous NAPLEX exams, not just simulation questions that you will get from other resources

  • Pharmacy Associations: APhA offers practice questions and exams

  • Online Forums and Communities: While it is not ethically appropriate to share exam questions, many online forums such as Student Doctor Network or Reddit’s pharmacy-related subreddits may provide insight into the types of questions they experienced or successful study strategies

Exam Day Tips

The NAPLEX is stressful enough. You don’t need surprises on the exam day to add to your stress levels. The information below will give you the confidence to know what to expect on the day of your exam.

Arrive Early

  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before your appointment to allow for check-in procedures. You will likely be checked for contraband by emptying your pockets and turning them inside out, pulling up your pants to expose your socks, and being checked by a metal detector. There is usually a locker to store personal belongings and a drink or snack, which can be accessed during one of two breaks.

  • Make sure to go to the bathroom ahead of time. Bathroom breaks during the test are allowed, but you will not get extra time if they occur outside the scheduled break times.

  • Arriving early will allow you time to clear or prepare your mind for the task ahead

Bring Snacks and Water

  • Pack some light, nutritious, non-disruptive snacks and a water bottle to stabilize your energy levels during breaks. Ensure that the snacks comply with the testing center’s rules

Bring Proper Identification

  • You will need a photo ID that includes your signature. You will also need to be aware of the name matching requirements, so if you have recently been married and have a name change or have a suffix or hyphenated name, you must be very careful that your name matches when initially registering

  • Unacceptable identification is the primary reason that candidates are denied entry into the testing center and not allowed to take the NAPLEX

  • Acceptable forms of ID include

    • US or Canadian passport

    • US or Canadian driver’s license (including those that state ‘Not for Federal Identification Use’)

    • Secretary of State-issued US state ID

    • US or Canadian temporary ID

      • State-issue temporary driver’s license

      • Secretary of State-issued temporary ID card

      • Must be current, valid, contain a recognizable photograph with your signature, and can’t be a copy

    • US or Canadian military ID


Follow Security and Site-Specific Procedures

  • Provide a digital signature and have digital photographs taken of your face

  • Remain seated once escorted to a workstation unless authorized to leave your seat by a testing administrator

  • Do not leave the testing room without permission

  • Do not leave the testing center building until the exam is completed

  • Read and agree to the terms of the non-disclosure agreement within 5 minutes

  • Misconduct such as attempting to take the exam for someone else, attempting to have someone else take the exam for you, selling, disclosing, reproducing, purchasing, or receiving exam content may result in forfeiture of testing fees, prevention of scheduling future examinations, and civil and/or criminal penalties or punishments, or denial of licensure or licensure revocation by one or more board(s) of pharmacy

Supplies Provided

  • Erasable note board and pen or scratch paper and pen

    • These may not be removed from your workstation at any time

    • Using your scratch paper or writing utensil is strictly prohibited

  • On-screen calculator

    • May be activated at any time during the exam

    • Can be used in a scientific or a 5-function mode

    • A candidate requesting a handheld calculator will only be supplied with a 5-function calculator (if available)

    • Use of a personal calculator is strictly prohibited

Prohibited Items

  • No reference or study materials may be brought into the testing center

  • No items may be taken into the testing room other than items given to you by the testing administrator and your ID documents

  • No electronic devices are allowed, including cell phones, watches, or wristbands

  • Beverages or food is not allowed into the testing room

  • No audio or visual recording devices are allowed

  • Bags, purses, or wallets are not allowed into the testing room

  • Loose change, car keys, coats, and hats are not allowed in the testing room

  • Weapons are prohibited

  • Friends and family are not permitted to wait in the testing center during the admission process or the test

Notify Pearson VUE Testing Administrator of Any Problems

  • Computer malfunctions

  • Need of note board or writing utensil replacements

  • Unscheduled break requests

During the Exam

  • Stay Calm and Remember: that you’ve prepared for this moment diligently, and you’re well-equipped to handle this exam

  • Time Management: Be mindful of the time while answering questions, but do not obsess over it. If you get a little behind early on, do not rush; this is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself to ensure sufficient time to address each section of the exam. Make sure to answer every question.

  • Read Questions Carefully: Pay close attention to the wording of each question as the specific language often contains clues that may lead to or eliminate one or more answers

  • Flag Questions: If you’re unsure about an answer or are down to one of two answers, consider flagging the question to review later. Sometimes, later topics will jog your memory or clarify previous questions. Don’t spend too much time on a single question. Remember, this is scored as PASS or FAIL. Perfect is the enemy of good.

During the Breaks

  • Use breaks strategically: If you need to, step away, stretch, and clear your mind. If you’re on a roll, you could skip the break if you think that the break will disrupt your rhythm.

After the Exam

  • Stay positive: Everyone feels like they failed when walking out of the testing center. That is unlikely. Resist the urge to dwell on specific questions or worry about the outcome. Focus on the fact that you’ve accomplished a significant milestone.

  • Celebrate and Relax: Now is the time to give yourself a well-deserved break or indulgence. It's time to recharge your battery before considering your next steps.

portrait of Jim Herbst PharmD

Jim Herbst, PharmD, BCPPS is an advanced patient care pharmacist at a nationally ranked pediatric acute care teaching hospital.  Dr Herbst received his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Ohio State University in 2012.  He started his clinical career as an inpatient patient care pharmacist covering the neurology and complex care services, before transitioning to a pediatric neurology ambulatory care clinic in 2019. 

Dr Herbst's areas of interest in pediatric neurology include treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy, infantile spasms, the ketogenic diet, and neuroimmunology.  He has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed pharmacy and neurology journals, including Neurology, Epilepsia, and the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.  Dr Herbst is board certified as a pediatric pharmacy specialist.

Opinions and information published by the author here on PharmDDegree.com are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer.

Education: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), The Ohio State University
Knowledge: Advanced Patient Care Pharmacy, Neurology, Epilepsia