PTCB Exam PTCB Test Prep

How to Remember the Top 200 Drugs!

May 20th, 2022
how to remember the top 200 drugs

Why Learn the Top 200 Drugs?

The top 200 drugs always get tested on the PTCB exam, and remain just as important for the 2022 PTCB test.

The precise number of questions asked depends on the student. Some get asked only a few, whereas others get asked a lot more. That’s why it’s important to assume that you will be in the latter category. Better to be prepared for all possible questions than to rely on learning only some of the medicines.

Many students are unsure how to remember the top 200 drugs.

You must know:

  • The active ingredients
  • Indications of each of these medicines
  • Prominent side effects or drug/food interactions
  • Brand names

Therefore, there are hundreds of details to learn.

That’s why it’s important to build structure into your study. Do not attempt to learn all top 200 drugs in one, almost random way. That won’t work – and it’s too time consuming, too.

Building Structure into your Study

And the first and best way to learn the top 200 drugs is to first learn those medicines which are like the active ingredient – either in terms of the drug itself or in terms of the drug class/what the drug is used to treat.

Below, we take a look at 20 such medicines.

Medicine / Active IngredientMemory Method
Note that levothyroxine is a drug used to treat hypothyroidism. Note the name of the medicine, Synthroid.
Azithromycin is a drug used to treat a range of bacterial infections. Both the drug and medicine share ‘zithro’.
Lipitor takes its name from lipids – which are fats, and –tor; referring to the drug atorvastatin. Statins are drugs used to reduce blood lipids (cholesterol).
Glucophage takes its name from Gluco– referring to sugar; and –phage, which is the Latin for “eater”. Metformin is a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, so this name formation makes sense.
Both the medicine and drug share the beginning, Lam-, helping you to recall the similarity. Lamotrigine is an antiepileptic drug.
Both the medicine and drug share the ‘zeti’ component. Ezetimibe is a drug used to lower blood cholesterol.
ACE inhibitors always end in the suffix –pril – hence the medicine beginning with Pri-. There are many ACE inhibitors though, so the way to remember this drug is that Prinivil ends in L, for lisinopril. ACE inhibitors are used to lower blood pressure.
Lidocaine is a local anesthetic, often used in dental procedures. The name Lidoderm, therefore, makes sense – as ‘derm’ refers to the skin where drug administration takes place, and Lido-, refers to the active ingredient.
Tizanidine is a muscle relaxant drug. That’s why the medicine is called Zanaflex – with flex referring to muscle flex. Both the active ingredient and medicine contain Zan, to help you remember this further. The next time you see the medicine Zanaflex, remember what flex stands for (to help recall the indication), and then link the Zan to the drug, tizanidine.
Protons are hydrogen ions – and hydrogen ions are what contribute to excess gastric acid in the stomach. Pantoprazole is a proton pump inhibitor, preventing these ions from being released and so helping patients with acid reflux. All proton-pump inhibitors end in the suffix, ‘-prazole’.
Venlafaxine and Effexor share the f and x – helping you to link both medicines together (fax versus fex). Venlafaxine is an SNRI that works as an antidepressant agent.
Colcrys takes its name from Col-, referring to the drug colchicine, and –crys, referring to uric acid crystals that play the key role in causing gout; the condition that colchicine is used to treat.
Namenda is a medicine used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Note how the drug is called memantine, and this eman is reversed in the medicine name, Namenda.
The name of the medicine, Tamiflu, suggests correctly that it is used to treat influenza. Oseltamivir ends in -vir, means it targets viral infections. Both the medicine and the active ingredient contain the letters tam.
Ambien takes its name for Good Morning from Spanish (AM, and Bien). Zolpidem is a Z-drug used to treat insomnia, so the medicine name makes sense.
Levemir shares the suffix -mir with its active ingredient, insulin detemir. As an insulin, the medicine is used in the treatment of diabetes.
Haloperidol is an antipsychotic drug. Its medicine name is a combination of the first three letters and the last three letters of the drug.
The medicine is called Proscar because it is used to treat a prostate condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, a condition where the prostate enlarges and causes difficulty urinating – particularly in older men where the prostate naturally enlarges over time. Finasteride is a steroid used to suppress testosterone production to help reduce prostate size.
All triptans are used to prevent migraine, and zolmitriptan is no exception. Both the medicine and drug name are similar: Zomi versus Zolmi.
Klono versus clona- should help you recall the link between medicine and drug. Most benzodiazepines end in the suffix –pam.

We have now covered 10% of the Top 200 drugs and medicines!

Keep the Progress Going!

Of course, there are many more of these links between medicine and drug name. If you are struggling on how to remember the top 200 drugs, it must begin with breaking these 200 down into manageable, study-able chunks.

Note how over the course of these twenty drugs how:

  • Often the indication (what the drug is used to treat) plays a role in the medicine name, often in combination with part of the drug name.
  • How the medicine name is like the active ingredient name.
  • How the mechanism of action, how the drug works, is sometimes also included too.
  • How some medicine names are derived from Latin sources.

These links are very important.

The more links you can identify, the easier memorization becomes. Instead of learning a drug pair for the sake of it, you are breaking these words down to learn about the links – and from there, you can attach more details – including side effects – down the line. But do not overstretch yourself.

Do what we have done here and begin with the first twenty and commit these to memory. Then make a list of the next twenty and do exactly the same strategy. Don’t forget to revise these drugs and medicines are you continue through the rest of the 200 drugs.

Some students prefer PTCB questions, whereas others prefer flashcards. Do what works best for you. It takes time, for sure – but what matters is that you build this kind of defined structure into your study. No student will remember 100% of all details about all medicines and drugs. But by pursuing this path, you cover all the expected type of PTCB questions that often get asked on the exam.

We hope you found this guide valuable on how to remember the top 200 drugs! If you would like to learn the top 200, with detailed flashcards that cover indications, mechanisms of action, side effects, and the most important interactions, register to one of our PTCB online courses to receive instant access to these premium features.

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PTCB Test Prep Author


Elaine Walker

Elaine joined PTCB Test Prep in 2017, currently serving as the lead product development manager overseeing both course development and quality improvement. Mrs. Walker is a graduate of California State University and has worked as a pharmacy technician for over twenty years – with particular interests in pediatric pharmacy, extemporaneous compounding, and hospital pharmacy. Over the past 8-years, she has helped prepare thousands of students for the PTCB examination.