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6 Steps to Prep Your Students for the NHA CPCT/A Exam

Preparing students for the NHA CPCT/A exam is a huge task for a health science instructor.

You want to help your students pass the test and head off to their careers as patient care technicians or assistants, but that’s easier said than done!

So where do you start?

On this page, we’ll go over six key steps to get your students ready for the NHA CPCT/A exam and their future careers!

We’ll start with one of the most important steps first -- knowing what’s on the CPCT/A exam!

1. Get to Know the NHA CPCT/A Exam


The NHA CPCT/A exam measures a student’s knowledge across five healthcare domains, or healthcare topics.

These domains are:

  1. Patient Care
  2. Compliance, Safety, and Professional Responsibility
  3. Infection Control
  4. Phlebotomy
  5. EKG

Each domain accounts for a certain percentage of the NHA CPCT/A exam and includes a number of subtopics about the knowledge and skills a patient care technician needs.

In total, the CPCT/A exam includes 100 scored questions and 20 pretest questions the NHA uses to gather data.

Click here to learn the specific breakdown of each domain and the subtopics included: What Is the NHA CPCT/A Exam?

Once you’ve got a handle on what information you need to teach, you’re ready for step two!

2. Choose Your Main Instructional Resource


There are a number of instructional materials out there to help you teach patient care technician courses. But how do you know which one will work best for you and your students?

Your first thought may be to use CPCT/A test prep materials, but those resources only teach to the test — they don’t actually help you teach a curriculum.

That’s why it’s smart to start with a good foundational patient care technician curriculum as a base for teaching your classes.

When searching for materials, the best option will be one that aligns to the NHA test and includes other crucial healthcare topics and skills.

After all, your students will need to know more than just what’s on the exam to truly excel in their careers!

When it comes to teaching a PCT course, there are three common options:

  • Health science textbooks
  • Homemade curriculum
  • Digital curriculum systems

A common choice for health science instructors is patient care technician textbooks. Textbooks can give you a lot of flexibility when it comes to implementing your curriculum.

Unfortunately, textbooks can become outdated as quickly as they’re printed and can eat up your entire classroom budget in a snap.

With the healthcare industry changing as new technologies and techniques develop, the NHA changes the contents of their exams.

So if you’re using a textbook to teach PCT students, you’ll need to purchase new books on a regular basis to make sure your students aren’t learning outdated information!

This was especially important in the 2018/19 school year, since the NHA released a new CPCT/A exam for students to take in the spring of 2019!

Because of this problem, some teachers choose to build their own curriculum from their experience and resources they get from others.

By creating your own curriculum from scratch, you’ve got total control over every aspect of what your students learn at a pretty minimal cost.

This can help you keep everything in your classroom up to date, but building (and maintaining) a PCT curriculum takes a lot of long nights and weekends!

That’s why many patient care technician instructors ultimately choose a digital curriculum system as their main instructional resource.

A digital curriculum system can be the perfect balance between affordability and an up-to-date curriculum.

That’s because the system is built to stay aligned to the industry and certification exams through free updates. So if the test changes, you can rest easy knowing your digital curriculum will be updated to reflect those changes!

On top of that, digital curriculum is meant to be used in a blended learning environment, which works perfectly for the supplemental materials you pick in step three!

3. Supplement Your Curriculum with Additional CPCT/A Resources


After you’ve got your main curriculum squared away, it’s important to add other resources to really get your students ready for the NHA CPCT/A exam.

In general, the most common supplemental resources teachers choose are test prep materials and online study tools.

We’ll start with test prep materials

Test Prep Materials for the NHA CPCT/A Exam

The NHA has a number of CPCT/A test prep material options for students to buy. These include:

  • An online practice test
  • An online study guide
  • A study guide and practice test package
  • A printed study guide

What’s great about these materials is that they're specifically designed to help students prepare for the NHA CPCT/A exam!

The only downside is the cost of the materials. Because your students need to purchase them on their own, it might not be a viable option for you to use as a required resource.

To avoid this potential problem, some teachers create their own practice exams for students to study with. Though it will take a bit of extra time on your end, it can be well worth it to help your students pass the test!

Online Study Tools for CPCT/A Test Prep

In addition to the traditional study materials, many teachers use online study tools to help get their students ready for the CPCT/A exam.

One of the most common tools teachers use for this is Quizlet. With a quick search, you’ll find a number of flashcard sets and study tools for the NHA CPCT/A exam.

These resources can be a great way for students to review material, especially when it comes to long-term retention and recall.

However, should keep in mind that these free tools aren’t monitored for accuracy against industry standards or the NHA exam.

If you plan to show students these study tools, it’s smart to review them on your own to double check they’re correct!

Once you’ve finalized which materials you’ll use to teach your class and prepare students for the exam, it’s time to plan your syllabus.

4. Plan Your CPCT/A Course Syllabus


To set your students up for success on the CPCT/A exam, planning is key!

By planning your syllabus from day one to exam day, you can be sure every bit of class time will help your students get that certification!

When creating your syllabus, we recommend this six-part structure:

  • Introduce key concepts
  • Students work independently
  • Students practice hands-on skills
  • Have students take practice exams mid-semester
  • Review practice exam results
  • Reinforce and remediate

Note: When planning your syllabus, you should repeat the first four segments for each topic or unit. That means you’ll include these four pieces multiple times throughout your course.

Introduce Key Concepts

Before diving into the details of a unit, it’s smart to introduce the concepts and set the stage for what students will learn.

An effective way to do this is by using a presentation to lecture and introduce the key concepts related to patient care technician duties.

To really set students off on the right foot, encourage them to ask questions and take notes to ensure they have the basics down!

Students Work Independently

After you’ve introduced the skills and concepts, it’s time for your students to work independently to learn and practice the details.

Depending on which instructional materials you use, this portion of your lesson will work differently.

If you’re mostly using a textbook, now’s the time for students to go through the book to take notes or fill out a worksheet you’ve created.

If you created your own curriculum, have students work through an activity or lesson you put together for the topic.

If you chose a digital curriculum system, this is the perfect time for students to log in and complete the digital lessons and take notes!

Students Practice Hands-On Skills

After your students have a good grasp of the background knowledge and concepts, it’s time to incorporate the related hands-on skills.

The best way to do this is to first demonstrate the skill at the front of class. During this demonstration, encourage students to ask questions about how you’re performing the skill.

After you feel they’ve gotten a good idea of how to do the task, instruct students to work in small groups to practice!

Have Students Take Practice Exams Mid-Semester

Once you’re well into the semester, it’s time to administer a practice exam! By having students take a practice test, you’ll get a good idea of how prepared they are for the CPCT/A exam.

In addition, these practice exams will help you complete the last few steps of creating a successful patient care technician course!

Review Practice Exam Results

After your students take the practice exams, you’ll have a ton of data to show you where they excel and where they need help.

When reviewing the results, pay special attention to questions or topics that most students missed. This will give you some direction for reinforcing information prior to exam day!

Reinforce and Remediate

When it comes to preparing students to take the CPCT/A exam, reinforcement and remediation are the critical last piece of your syllabus!

Some common strategies include tutoring, small group review, or even re-teaching entire lessons.

Overall, though planning your syllabus can seem tedious, it sets your students up for success in the long run!

5. Go Over What Students Should Expect on Test Day


As test day approaches, it’s smart to go over what your students should expect to help alleviate any feelings of confusion or worry.

A week prior to the exam, take time to discuss:

  • How many questions are on the CPCT/A exam (100 scored questions and 20 pretest items)
  • How much time they have to take the test (two hours)
  • When they’ll get their results (NHA posts them online within two days)
  • Where they will take the exam (at your school or another location)

By answering your students’ questions about the logistics of exam day, you’ll help them focus on what’s really important -- applying their knowledge to pass the CPCT/A exam!

6. Wish Your Students Good Luck!


When your students leave your classroom the last day before they take the test, the most important thing you can do is offer words of encouragement.

You’ve spent the length of your course teaching, assessing, and reviewing, but now it’s up to them!

While it seems small, a boost of confidence is all a student needs to put their best foot forward on the NHA CPCT/A exam.

Prepare Your Students for the NHA CPCT/A Exam Today!

Even if you follow all six steps we’ve shared, preparing your students for the NHA CPCT/A exam can be overwhelming.

To help take the stress and worries off of your shoulders, we’ve created an NHA CPCT/A certification success guide!

Click below to download the guide to spend less time worrying and more time setting your students up for success!

Download the National Health Science Assessment Guide