Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) Examination Preparation

A whimsical reflection on 19 years of live presentations:

“Welcome to your review seminar. What do you hope to take home after our 8 hours together?” I look around the room for a few seconds and seeing everything from sleepy eyes to blank expressions. I offer some suggestions. “Algebra”, I say. The groans begin. “Hospital calculations”. The hands begin to rise along with the heads. Yes, they do know why they are here. One person says she needs help on those dosing calculations, another doesn’t understand how to convert temperatures. What about pharmaceutical law and aseptic technique? Pretty soon a conversation breaks out about the metric system and another about generic names and the top 200 drugs. I am writing down their requests as fast as they give them and when we are done, I look at them and say, “By the end of the day, I will cover all of this and then some. So sit back, get your calculator out and let’s get started.”

I have given seminars to groups throughout North and South Carolina. The technicians are as diverse as any group you could find. We have taught grandmas, college students, part-time techs and foreign med students. The one common thread that they all have is the desire to pass the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Exam (PTCB). This exam was developed as a group effort by members of ASHP, APhA and pharmaceutical associations from Michigan and Illinois. It was determined that a need existed to formalize a basic responsibility that all technicians could meet to perform their duties adequately. Since that time over 80,000 techs have become certified.

The PTCB examination is given 3 times a year at locations throughout all 50 states.  You can check their web site for the upcoming schedule and to register for taking the examination. An information packet can also be ordered by calling 202-429-7576. Visit

The exam consists of 125 multiple choice questions from which a score of 650 out of 900 must be achieved. The test is weighted so that hospital and retail technicians have equal opportunities. The test questions include information about pharmacy law, history, controlled substances, hospital IV administration and aseptic techniques. Much of the test focuses on math conversions, dosing problems, metric conversions, ratios, percentage preparations, allegations, hospital flow rate calculations, compounding problems and dilution of stock preps. The knowledge of commercial calculations such as net profit and business definitions along with the top 200 drugs, generic names, interactions and warnings is necessary. All in all, most people walk out of the exam wishing that they had prepared better for it.

One of the many questions that I get from the audience is “If I pass the exam. then what”? The fact that a tech is at least interested in looking into the exam says that the person is motivated to excel in the field of work that they have chosen. They know how much the pharmacist depends on them and understands that a professional team is what it takes to serve the public. The personal satisfaction of passing a national board exam has got to be one of the most gratifying feelings that a technician could have. To know that you are an accepted member of a specialized group of people that have mastered a complex body of knowledge and can prove it with a license, is a great honor. You earn the respect from your patients, peers and other health care providers, not to mention, the potential for improving your salary objectives has improved.

As I am based in North Carolina I have partnered with the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists (NCAP)  to bring a review course to locations throughout North Carolina with the intention of not only reviewing the basic information necessary to pass the exam but also preparing the “student” for the day of the exam. It is impossible to teach a complete pharmacy course in 8 hours and most people planning to take the test have taken some steps to prepare for it. We go over every part of the practice that the exam tests and reassures the tech that they have the basic knowledge necessary to pass. A workbook is given to each participant that they use throughout the day. Along with lecture notes, it includes problems and examples for later studying. A video on hospital pharmacy is presented with a discussion that follows. The seminar is designed to be interactive, thought provoking, casual and fun. The participant will leave tired but confident.

“Well”, I say, “it’s about 5:30pm and we have completed our review. Have I met your review expectations?” The common answer is yes and with a smile on their faces, they leave the class. I sit for a second, sipping the remaining cold coffee from the morning and reflect on the day. Did everyone understand? Did I spend enough time with this person on their specific question? Will they go back and study the techniques that I gave them? Was there enough time to complete everything? Will they all pass? I smile knowing that 219 out of 220 of my previous “students” have passed the exam. This tells me that I have done another good job. I pack my laptop, printed materials and head to the next city for the next presentation.