How to Study for the BCPS Versus NAPLEX Exam


I get asked lots of questions about the BCPS exam as well as the NAPLEX. One question that has come up more than once, is how do I study for the BCPS versus NAPLEX exam?

BCPS Versus NAPLEX: Format

The major format difference is the question type. As someone who has taken both exams, the NAPLEX is more difficult in this respect. Multiple, multiple choice questions and fill in the blank are naturally harder (depending upon the content of course) because it is much more difficult to “guess” the answer correctly if you don’t know it.

The BCPS exam is MULTIPLE CHOICE ONLY. This is nice in the fact that you know that the answer is on the “page” (actually computer screen). There are 4 potential answers provided with only one being correct (or the most correct).

Drug naming is also a major difference. On the NAPLEX, brand names and generic names are fair game. One thing that makes the BCPS exam “easier” (but it isn’t easier) is that the drugs used in the exam are listed by GENERIC name ONLY.

Length of the Exams

One thing I always advise pharmacists (or students) taking either of these exams is to be sure to prepare for how long they are. The BCPS exam is 175 questions while the NAPLEX exam comes in at 250! This is a ton of questions, and much like a marathon you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do it without doing some training. I would strongly encourage you to take at least one (if not two or three) practice exam sessions to make sure you have the stamina and focus to get through the entire exam. These exams are likely going to take you 4-6 hours to finish. If you don’t finish in the allotted time, you will be punished by getting the unfinished questions incorrect.

BCPS Versus NAPLEX: Statistics

When preparing for the BCPS exam, you must start with statistics. Statistics and literature review are on this exam in a BIG way. While statistics has become increasingly important on the NAPLEX, BCPS takes the cake for the percentage of questions you will likely be asked on this topic area.

BCPS Versus NAPLEX: Calculations

While statistics reigns supreme on the BCPS exam, the NAPLEX is dominated by calculations and math questions. Do calculations matter on the BCPS exam? Yes (to a small extent), but you will NOT get compounding questions, flow rates, and items of that nature. Simple stats calculations and clinical pharmacokinetic concepts would be the more likely type of calculations questions to show up on the BCPS exam. I WOULD NOT spend a lot of time doing practice calculations for the BCPS exam. I WOULD spend a lot of time practicing calculations for the NAPLEX.

BCPS Versus NAPLEX: Clinical Content

The “clinical” questions are on average much more difficult on the BCPS exam. While on the NAPLEX you will frequently be asked to recognize common or unique side effects of drugs, the BCPS exam wants you to go a little deeper.

With the BCPS exam, you must be prepared to make clinical selections. Weighing contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, and guidelines to select the “most appropriate” agent is commonplace. When preparing for the BCPS exam, you should be able to recognize “the best option” from 2 to 4 viable answers.

Having a greater understanding of therapeutic drug monitoring is also important with the BCPS exam. Recognizing which labs to monitor is an important concept for those taking the NAPLEX, but the BCPS will likely probe deeper and ask what to do to solve the lab abnormality caused by a drug or potentially make you recognize if a lab abnormality is truly clinically relevant. Depending upon the situation, a solution may involve a reduction in dose, discontinuation, no change, further monitoring or assessments, switch to another drug, etc.

BCPS Versus NAPLEX: Regulatory

The NAPLEX is NOT going to have a heavy focus on regulatory topics, while the BCPS exam does have a significant chunk that can make or break your exam. You can find a solid list of must know regulatory topics for the BCPS exam right here.

With the NAPLEX, new graduates are more likely to see their regulatory questions come on the MPJE which is also an essential exam to become licensed.

BCPS Versus NAPLEX: Pass Rates

In 2018, approximately 1/10 failed the NAPLEX exam. The NAPLEX has changed over the last several years and this is probably part of the explanation as to why there is a lower pass rate.

The BCPS pass rate has historically ranged in the 60-65%. I think this demonstrates more than anything, how much more difficult this exam is compared to the NAPLEX.

Hopefully you found this helpful if you are looking at taking either or both of these exams in the future!


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Written By Eric Christianson

March 31, 2019

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