PTCB Exam PTCB Test Prep

What Topics to Focus on for the PTCB Exam?

Jan 7th, 2021
topics to focus on for ptcb exam

In Perspective

Many PTCB students ask the question, “what topics to focus on for the PTCB exam?”.

Though it is understandable why the question is asked, many of the answers can be misleading. Remember, the PTCB exam is a random allotment of questions. One student may get asked 3-4 pharmacy calculations questions whereas another student on the same day may get asked more than 10 questions.

It varies, and so too should your study.

After taking the exam, some students may recommend to others, “study drug interactions and laws”. The list goes on.

And this can have the unfortunate and unintended consequence of misleading students.

Unfortunately, there have been many cases where students over-focus on what other students have been tested on to the detriment of other topics that ended up appearing on the exam.

Our advice, then, is not to focus on topics that other students were examined on.

Instead, you need to focus on the examination structure set out by the PTCB.

2020 PTCB Exam Structure

Many of you will be aware by now that the PTCB syllabus changed in 2020. Previously, there were ten knowledge domains. Now, there are just four.

Knowledge Domain% of PTCB Exam Questions
Medications40 percent
Patient Safety and Quality Assurance26.25 percent
Order Entry and Processing21.25 percent
Federal Requirements12.5 percent

There are 90 questions on the PTCB exam.

Therefore, the focus of your study should be proportionate to these percentages.

If 40 percent of the exam tests your knowledge of Medications, then 40 percent of your study should go toward that entire topic – and not just part of it.

Similarly, try to avoid studying a few major topics under Medications. Yes, the top 200 brand and generic drugs are important, but you should also focus on smaller topics that do not take much time to study – such as bioequivalence and ADME, among many others.

You should aim to cover as wide a base as possible – preferably, all topics.

By leaving out more subjects, you risk over-focusing on subjects which, in the end, may not get asked in the way that you had hoped and thereby leading to a fail result. There are many cases of students focusing on a few major areas, only to find that more peripheral questions were asked – topics they left out. Remember, the questions allotted to you are random. Focusing your study as if the questions are not random is an enormous risk. Focusing your study on what other students were tested on is an even greater mistake. There is no reason at all to assume you will get the same proportion of questions. In fact, it could be the precise opposite.

Why take the risk of having to take the PTCB exam a second time, when you can put in a little more effort to cover a wider base of topics?

The same principle applies to the other three knowledge domains. If you leave out topics across all four knowledge domains, you could be leaving out perhaps 20-30% of examinable topics.

That is an enormous risk – one not worth taking.

If you’re not sure what topics to focus on for the PTCB exam, the answer is simple – everything. But that doesn’t mean exam preparation has to be harder, either.

Study Smarter, Not Harder!

Studying more topics does not mean you need to invest more time studying.

Rather, it means studying smarter – covering a wider base of subjects in a way that saves time rather than expends it.

  • PTCB flashcards, for example, are an enormously powerful memory tool. Flashcards can be made to focus on the facts that matter.
  • If you do not understand a topic, don’t force yourself to “memorize” it or “hope for the best that you understand it”. Instead, seek out assistance – a friend, an online forum, a Google search – whatever you need to do to transform that topic into something that you comprehend.
  • There is no point over-studying the subjects you know best. The likelihood is that you know much if not most of the detail. Instead, more of your study time should be devoted to difficult topics or ones that you have hitherto been avoiding. Perhaps you find the topic boring and fail to summon the energy needed to confront it. This is normal. But you need to confront it, if not for yourself then for the profession you are about to enter. In healthcare, knowledge and accuracy is important. Remember, you are not just hoping to pass an exam. You are about to enter a profession that impacts the lives of patients in your community. Study and learn these challenging subjects for the sake of your future career and professional development. Let that motivate your study and drive you toward success in subjects you otherwise found difficult and tedious.
  • Take as many PTCB practice test questions as possible, from as many sources as you can find. Taking practice tests is a diagnostic tool. It identifies any gaps in your knowledge, offering you the golden opportunity of closing those knowledge gaps with targeted study.

Take Home Message

The next time you see or hear the question, “what topics to focus on for the PTCB exam?” – ignore it.

The best advice is to study all topics proportionately:

  • 40% of study dedicated to Medications
  • 26.25% of study dedicated to Patient Safety and Quality Assurance
  • 21.25% of study dedicated to Order Entry and Processing
  • 12.5% of study dedicated to Federal Requirements

Not only will this improve your chances of passing the 2020 PTCB exam, but it also makes you a more qualified pharmacy technician. It means you have the best possible, all-rounded knowledge to embark on a career you are about to enter.

To study as few topics as possible in the hope that you have struck gold is the maximum risk. Studying the subjects that another student focussed on and struck gold is an even greater risk.

Study all subjects proportionately. Study smarter, not harder. Assume that anything could appear on the exam at any time. Know that, by making this extra effort, you are building your knowledge to become the best possible, most qualified pharmacy technician in your community.

Do this and you will not only succeed at the exam, but also in your future career as a pharmacy technician, too.

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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.