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Top Math Study Strategies for the PTCB Exam!

Jan 8th, 2022
ptcb math study strategies

How Many Math Questions on the PTCB Exam?

Math is one of the most challenging parts of the PTCB exam. Inevitably then, many students ask the question – how many math questions will I be asked on the PTCB exam?

The answer is – it depends.

Some students are asked quite a few calculation questions, whereas other students are only asked a couple. It is not possible to know how many math questions you will be asked. The first of our PTCB math study strategies is, then: to assume that you will be asked a lot of PTCB math.

This way, your study casts as wide a net as possible – ensuring that there are no avoidable gaps in your knowledge. Even though some math topics may seem to appear more often than others, candidates should not assume that the same selection of questions will appear for their exam.

Instead, you could be asked seven math questions and these seven could be about the niche topics that you did not prepare for. In other words, there is no point taking unnecessary risks. The PTCB exam is already hard enough.

Math Study Strategies | Practice, Practice, Practice!

As the adage goes – practice makes perfect.

This is no less true for math on the PTCB exam.

And, of course, this means spending a considerable amount of your study time practicing PTCB math test questions. The more practice questions you take and learn the lessons from, the more equipped you become at problem-solving and filling gaps in your existing knowledge base.

And that’s the core skill at work here – problem solving and accuracy.

This is what the PTCB exam is testing: your ability to work through problems and arrive at an accurate answer. Pharmacy is not like other industries, such as manufacturing, where ordering the wrong number of car parts leads to any real, life-changing problem. Accuracy matters for pharmacy because patients depend on it.

There is an added layer of responsibility and it is incumbent upon pharmacy technicians to ensure that they build accuracy and problem solving into the heart of how they practice the profession. Anything less than this increases the possibility of medication error and, in some cases, severe adverse effects for patients.

Do you understand how to solve math problems?

One of the core math study strategies for the PTCB exam is understanding the steps involved in working out a problem. What matters is not so much the method of problem solving but rather your understanding of that method.

There is no point using a method if you cannot understand why you are using it or why the method works – from a step-by-step perspective. If, for example, you are using cross-multiplication to work out a target dose or volume, ask yourself the question: do I understand the steps involved in this question, or am I merely memorizing a method taught to me?

Memorizing methods is a very seductive method of studying math.

After all, it means avoiding the very real and difficult problem of figuring out – logically – why the method is used at all. It means you can jettison the hard work and hope to apply this method whenever it seems “to fit” the question type you have learned.  Students who memorize methods are more likely to be caught out by related questions that do not follow the same approach.

Instead, you need to invest the time to critically think through each step – understanding why exactly it is used.

Identifying Correct Information in Math Questions

And this is where the examiner comes in.

Examiners routinely adopt tactics that seek to test whether candidates actually understand what they are doing. One way of achieving this is to provide more information than is necessary to answer a question. Many students erroneously assume that all information provided in a math problem must in some way be used.

However, this is not the case.

Instead, you must identify the data to be used – and the only way to do this is to understand how to solve math problems. By knowing the method in advance, you can wisely select the data you need and begin to work through the problem.

Always work through problems in a step-by-step manner. It can be tempting to skip steps – but this only increases the risk of error.

Units, Units, Units!

Many PTCB math questions test a candidates’ knowledge of units.

For example: a question may ask about grams, but the four answer options provided are in milligrams.

It is very easy to oversee conversions such as this, but it is one of the essential math study strategies for the PTCB exam. Before you answer any PTCB math question – ask yourself the question: are units consistent?

If units are not consistent, then you must think through how and when to convert.

You may need to convert data within a question itself, or you must convert data towards one of the units stipulated in the answers. In either case, it is vital that you:

  • Identify conversions, if necessary, at the beginning of questions.
  • You apply the correct conversion.

In an earlier blog, we talked about the conversion data you need to know.


To succeed at the PTCB exam, candidates must employ time-management.

This is particularly relevant to PTCB math questions. That’s because it is very easy to spend more time than you need to on one question. Perhaps you prepared for this kind of question and – deep down – you know how to work out the problem. The pressure of the exam may hit you and you become frustrated – and you begin to hemorrhage more and more available exam time.

This kind of situation must be avoided.

If you spend more time than you need to on one question, you reduce the time available to answer every other math question that may appear. You may end up in the unfortunate situation of having to rush through later, easier questions – and may even end up getting them wrong!

That’s why it’s essential that time management plays an important role in the exam – not just for math, but for the entire exam itself.

Appreciate the Value of PTCB Math!

The last of our PTCB math study strategies is perhaps an unusual one.

Many people reading this study guide may not like math. Perhaps it wasn’t one of your strong subjects at high school. In fact, math may never become one of your strongest subjects.

But what you must not do is associate any past high-school difficulty with math with the pharmacy calculations you need to know to pass the PTCB exam. Yes, you may have had a bad experience with math in school and so maybe you are left asking the question: why do I have to study math for the PTCB exam?

If you have ever asked this question, it only serves to undermine confidence in your ability to study. You will become deflated and demotivated and will struggle through and become defeated by the subject itself. You may not appreciate the relevance of calculations to your career. Every calculation problem you work through will feel like hitting a brick wall at 1,000 miles per hour.

Rather than seeing math as something burdensome to overcome, try to invest extra study time not to “pass the exam”, but to become the best possible pharmacy technician.

In other wordsconsider PTCB math as a tool for self-improvement, rather than something to overcome for the sake of an examination.

After all, math is a highly relevant topic for pharmacy technicians.

It means building accuracy into your performance. And all of you, I hope, plan to become accurate, analytical performers who reduce the possibility of medication error.

Once you appreciate the value and relevance of pharmacy calculations, you begin to see these problems and topics in a new light. Rather than letting the calculations beat you, your study now becomes motivated to master the craft of calculations – to do your best, to learn from your mistakes, and to take pride in your ever-evolving ability to problem solve.

Take Home Message

By considering PTCB math through this lens, it considers math not only as something relevant to your career – but something that you should actively enjoy learning.

Enjoy the challenge of working problems out, of finding out where you went wrong, and how to continuously adapt, improve, and grow.

In the end, this is what makes you a better pharmacy technician – and that matters far more than “just passing” PTCB math for its own sake.

We hope you found these PTCB math study strategies helpful! Check back to our blog soon for even more content to help you master the PTCB test and become a qualified, professional pharmacy technician in the United States.

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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.