Insider’s Guide to Passing the PTCB Exam on Your First Try

Expert advice and resources to help you ace your pharmacy tech boards and become nationally certified

MEET THE EXPERT

Sadie-Black
Sadie Black

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Sadie Black is a certified and licensed pharmacy technician. She received her Associate of Science in Pharmacy Technician with a pre-major in pharmacy study before earning her state certification and national license from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Sadie has experience working in both chain and independent pharmacies as lead pharmacy tech and is a member of the National Pharmacy Tech Association.

Becoming a certified pharmacy technician is a huge milestone. It marks the end of late-night college study sessions and the beginning of a rewarding pharmacy career. But before you can call yourself a CPhT, you’ll need to pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam. While the PTCB will be challenging, the right test prep makes all the difference. This guide gives you everything you need to be test-day ready, including a detailed breakdown of the exam’s format (updated for 2020), effective study tips, practice exam reccomendations, and test-taking advice from a certified pharmacy tech.  

FAQs About the PTCB Exam

What is the PTCB exam?

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam is a computerized test offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. The exam is referred to as the PTCB exam or the PTCE. While is it technically the PTCE, both acronyms are used interchangeably.

It is designed for two groups of pharmacy technicians:

  • Recent graduates of pharmacy tech programs or current pharmacy techs who need to pass the exam to become licensed and legally work in their state.
  • Pharmacy techs working in states without certification requirements who want to become certified to strengthen their resume and improve their job prospects.

What certification does the PTCB exam prepare you for?

Upon successfully passing the PTCB exam, test takers can call themselves a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). The CPhT designation is proof to employers that you have been tested in all areas of pharmacy work and found to have the knowledge necessary to adhere to pharmacy procedures, keep patients safe by spotting drug interactions, know how to handle prescriptions, and more. To learn about certification requirements in your state, look at this map of state regulations.

Can anyone take the PTCB exam?

Candidates must complete one of the following pathways to become eligible for the exam:

Pathway 1: Completion of a PCTB-recognized training program, or enrolled in one that will be completed within 60 days of the exam date. There are more than 1,400 programs to choose from. 

Pathway 2: A minimum of 500 hours of work as a pharmacy technician. This pathway aims to help pharmacy technicians who cannot complete a PCTB-recognized training or education program. Certain knowledge requirements must be met to pursue this option.

All candidates must also provide full disclosure of all criminal or State Board of Pharmacy licensure or registration actions, and comply with all PTCB policies.

Where can I take the PTCB exam?

The PTCB exam is offered at Pearson Professional Centers. There are more than 1,400 of these centers available nationwide, including on more than 100 military bases. The appointment may be scheduled online.

How often is the PTCB exam offered?

The exam is offered year-round during the usual testing hours of the Pearson Professional Centers. Once authorized to schedule an appointment, test-takers can log in to look at the list of potential dates and times in their area.

How much does the PTCB exam cost?

The current cost of the exam is $129. Failing the exam requires you to take it again with the same fee.

What is the minimum passing score for the PTCB exam?

A passing score is 1,400, with the range of possible scores on the exam being between 1,000 and 1,600. The scores are shown on the computer screen immediately following the exam. Official scores are relayed two to three weeks later.

Is the PTCB exam hard?

A quick look at the numbers says that the PTCB exam has gotten more difficult in recent years. In 2009, the national pass rate for the exam was 72% compared to a 58% pass rate in 2019.

What happens if I don’t pass my exam?

If you don’t pass the first time, you can take the exam again after 60 days have passed. After that second attempt, you must wait six months before taking it again. After four attempts, you must provide evidence of being prepared for the exam before taking it again.

I heard the PTCB exam has changed in 2020. What are the changes?

The 2020 updates to the PTCB exam affect both eligibility requirements and the test itself. Eligibility requirements now include completion of a PTCB-recognized training/educational program, or the equivalent work experience before taking the exam. The test has scaled back from nine knowledge domains to four. To learn more about the 2020 updates, check out the “What to Expect” section below.

What to Expect Before Test Day

Understanding the PTCB exam before test day is incredibly important. Knowing how long the test takes to complete will help you time your practice tests to ensure you answer questions with plenty of time to spare. Remember, there are 2020 updates to the exam, so what you expected last year might not be the same right now. Here’s what you need to know.

  • The PCTB exam is a computer-based test. It’s administered year-round at 1,400 verified test centers.
  • The exam has 90 multiple-choice questions: 80 scored questions and 10 unscored questions (placed randomly throughout the test).
  • You’ll have about 2 hours to complete the exam (5 minutes for the tutorial, 1 hour and 50 minutes for the exam, and 5 minutes for a post-exam survey.
  • Test takers see their unofficial exam scores immediately after finishing the exam. Official test results will be posted online 2 to 3 weeks later.

The Four Knowledge Domains of the PTCB Exam

The PTCB exam will test your knowledge in four different areas, officially called knowledge domains. Let’s take a deeper look at what you can expect from each knowledge domain and how much they’ll contribute to your total score.

40% of exam

Medications

Since dispensing medications is the most vital part of the job, this section takes up the biggest percentage. Expect questions concerning names and classifications, therapeutic equivalents, drug interactions and side effects, drug stability, proper storage, strength and dosages, proper handling, and similar topics.

12.5% of exam

Federal Requirements

This covers federal regulations for pharmacies, including handling and disposal, how to handle controlled substances, restricted drug programs, recall requirements, and rules for prescriptions.

26.25% of exam

Patient Safety and Quality Assurance

These questions focus on high-risk medications, event reporting procedures, how to prevent errors, pharmacist intervention for certain events, types of prescription errors, and cleaning and hygiene standards.

21.25% of exam

Order Entry and Processing

This section tests knowledge on formulas, calculations, ratios, conversions, and other important points of procedure, as well as the equipment and supplies required for administering drugs, identifying and returning expired or otherwise unusable medications, expiration dates, lot numbers, and more.

8 Test-Prep Tips for the PTCB Exam

The PTCB exam can be tough and being prepared is the key to success. As with any other important exam, studying before the big day can make a big difference in your final score. Follow these study tips to make sure you feel confident once exam day arrives.

1

Focus on the top 100 drugs

Yes, there might be some obscure questions on the test. But the whole point is to ensure you have the knowledge to handle day-to-day work in a pharmacy, and that work includes dispensing many of the same drugs. Rather than focus on the wide formulary, look at the most commonly prescribed and work your way out from there.

2

Make sure your math skills are solid

Many PTCB questions involve conversions, formulas, and other calculations. Learn the math inside and out, and be able to work through them quickly.

3

Use flashcards

There are many in-depth terms pharmacy technicians must know. Study up on them whenever you have a spare moment with a stack of flashcards, or download some on your phone for on-the-go peeks.

4

Schedule study time

Life is busy. When will you find time to study? Make the time happen by scheduling it into your calendar, just as you would a meeting or a class.

5

Read all the manuals

There are many pharmacy manuals out there that focus on drugs, procedures, and regulations. Read them cover-to-cover and highlight the parts you don’t understand.

6

Schedule in breaks

Studying can eventually make you feel like you’re going crazy with drug names and formula numbers, so take the time to take a breather. Schedule a little downtime to get your mind off the test.

7

Sign up for a review course

Need a little help staying on track? If you find yourself not getting the studying done like you should, sign up for a review course that will hold you accountable.

8

Practice!

You can’t possibly take enough practice tests, so get started right now with quizzes. The more you take, the more questions you’ll be exposed to that might be on the exam. Find the best practice tests below.

Best PTCB Practice Exams for the 2020 Updates

The following list of PTCB practice tests and questions can help you master the PTCB exam’s new format in 2020. You’ll get a great idea of what to expect on test day, including questions from previous tests, a

* There are very few practice tests and study guides that have incorporated the new 2020 changes. This list will be updated with more practice exams and study guides as they become updated.

PTCB Exam MaterialOfficial PTCB Exam Prep Material

  • PTCB Practice Test
    Provided directly by the PTCB, this is the gold standard of practice tests for the PTCE. This practice test reflects the 2020 updates and has the same feel and functionality as the actual test – so you can feel confident the practice test will be a good preview of what you’ll see on test day.
    Cost: $29 each, or discounted $49 for two versions
  • PTCB Calculations Questions Exam Prep App
    This app allows for study at any time, anywhere on Android or iOS devices. The updated version launched in January 2020 and was modified with the new guidelines in mind. The 138 calculation questions can give test-takers a good feel of what to expect from the calculations they will be asked to do on the test itself.
    Cost: Free for base version; $14.99 for premium version

Practice QuestionsUnofficial Practice Questions

  • Pharmacy Calculations
    Offered by MeridianExamPrep, this series of 13 practice tests provides over 200 questions to help test-takers master tough pharmacy calculation questions found on the PTCE.
    Cost: $1.99 for each test; $17.99 for entire set
  • Top 300 Drugs Practice Questions
    Test-takers can lock-in their knowledge of prescribed drugs through this set of practice questions. Areas covered include pharmacological category, dosing, brand name, adverse effects, and more. Offered by MeridianExamPrep.
    Cost: $1.99 for each test; $17.99 for entire set

PTCB Exam Tips & Advice from a Certified Pharmacy Tech

Sadie-Black

Sadie Black, a certified and licensed pharmacy technician, passed her PTCB exam on the very first try. Here are her tips on how she did it and how you can follow her lead to ace the test and become a licensed CPhT.

1 I learned the test

When I say I learned the test, I mean I knew what categories there were, how long I would have to take it, and the format of the questions. My goal was to walk into the test and not be surprised by anything, I wanted to be prepared. There are 9 categories on the test, which I then used to decide what I needed to study more or less of. I had already been working as a Pharmacy Technician for a while, so I was fairly confident with the Pharmacology section, but I had never compounded so I studied the Sterile and Non-Sterile Compounding information as much as I could. I also knew that you had 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete 90 questions, and 10 of them were unscored, so I didn’t give myself any more than 60-to-90 seconds per question. By doing it that way, I ended up having time left over, and I was able to flag the questions I had trouble with and go back to them. Pearson Vue, the testing center for PTCB, offers an exam tutorial so you know exactly what the test will look like, and I took full advantage of that. Again, I didn’t want there to be any surprises. Also remember, the law portion of the test is for federal law, not your state’s law.

2 I purchased study materials, and even used free ones

PTCB offers two different practice exams, priced at $29 for one or $49 for both and I bought both. Based on the practice exams, I created paper flashcards that I would keep with me and if I had downtime at work, home, school, really anywhere I could possibly get 5 minutes of studying, I would pull them out. I kept super easy questions on the flashcards, like the top 200 drugs name brand to generic, medical abbreviations (also known as sig codes), and anything else that would be a short one- or two-word question and answer. The most helpful thing for me was to download and purchase the PTCE Pocket Prep app. At the time of me purchasing it, there were 700 questions to go through and a new one added every day as a Question of the Day. Using that app, I could create mini-quizzes for myself that were specific to the category or categories I chose. If I got a question wrong, it would tell me why the correct answer was correct, which made me feel like I got double the value.

3 I scheduled my exam in advance

This one may sound like a no brainer, but a lot of people don’t realize that you have to actually apply to take the test. It may sound silly, but you don’t apply and get to schedule the exam the same day. PTCB requires certain eligibility requirements to be met such as being a high school graduate, or within 60 days of graduating, a disclosure of any criminal or State Board of Pharmacy licensure actions, and they do actually verify this information. I decided to take my test in April, was able to schedule it in May, and actually took my exam in September. I’m not suggesting you wait 3 months, but definitely give yourself plenty of time to study. There is too much knowledge needed to try and cram it in within a week and expect to pass.

4 I used my testing skills

By testing skills, I mean the things we all heard growing up in school; read carefully, don’t take too much time on any one question, don’t leave a question blank and only guess as your last option. The biggest takeaway, however, is read carefully. The PTCE will try to trick you and word things strangely to trip you up. For example, a question may say Billy, a large child for his age is 12 years old and in sixth grade. Billy weighs 120 lbs and has an infection. Billy’s doctor has been practicing for 30 years and has prescribed him Amoxicillin 400mg/5mL, how many milligrams will be needed for his dose? That question has over 40 words, yet only a few are needed: 120lbs, Amoxicillin 400mg/5mL, how many milligrams will be needed? With really wordy questions, I would answer the question but flag it and go back to make sure I really understood the question.

Overall, I know this seems like a lot, but give yourself plenty of time and you will have no problem! The test seems scarier than it actually is. As a bonus, at the end, you will get an unofficial score so you will have an idea on whether or not you passed.

PTCB offers two different practice exams, priced at $29 for one or $49 for both and I bought both. Based on the practice exams, I created paper flashcards that I would keep with me and if I had downtime at work, home, school, really anywhere I could possibly get 5 minutes of studying, I would pull them out. I kept super easy questions on the flashcards, like the top 200 drugs name brand to generic, medical abbreviations (also known as sig codes), and anything else that would be a short one- or two-word question and answer.

The most helpful thing for me was to download and purchase the PTCE Pocket Prep app. At the time of me purchasing it, there were 700 questions to go through and a new one added every day as a Question of the Day. Using that app, I could create mini-quizzes for myself that were specific to the category or categories I chose. If I got a question wrong, it would tell me why the correct answer was correct, which made me feel like I got double the value.

Additional Resources for the PTCB Exam