NHA ExCPT vs. PTCB PTCE: Comparing Exams & CPhT Certifications

If you are hoping to become a certified pharmacy technician, you may be wondering whether the ExCPT or PTCB certification is right for you.

The ExCPT exam is offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), an organization that has been training and certifying healthcare professionals since 1989. Candidates who pass the ExCPT exam become Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPhT). 

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) also offers a CPhT certification/exam and has helped 813,500 pharmacy technicians earn their certifications. 

While both lead to a CPhT certification, there are key differences between the two. In this guide, we’ll go over those differences, including how each certifying agency and their exams differ to help you decide which one is the better choice for you. 

NHA vs. PTCB Certification & Exam Overview

The NHA and PTCB certification exams are similar in content and length, but there are some important distinctions that can help you decide which certification is more likely to work for you and your goals as a pharmacy technician. 

Here is an overview of the two:

NHA’s ExCPT PTCB’s PTCE
Offered by National Healthcareer Association Pharmacy Technician Certification Board
Requirements Completed a pharmacy technician training
or education program within the last 5 years
Complete an accredited and approved training course, or have experience working as a pharmacy technician
Exam ExCPT PTCE
# Questions 100 90
Question format Multiple-choice Multiple-choice, with four potential answers to each question
Exam cost $125 $129
Requirements to pass Score 300 or higher out of 500 Score 1400 or higher out of 1600
Resulting certification CPhT CPhT
Nationally recognized? Yes; all 50 states Yes; all 50 states
Pass rate 63% 69%
Renewal requirements 20 hours of continuing education and a $55 fee every 2 years 20 hours of continuing education and a $55 fee every 2 years
Exam Time Limit 2 hours and 10 minutes 2 hours
Can I retake the Exam? Yes, the exam can be taken twice in a calendar year Yes, up to four times without approval of the PTCB

NHA’s CPhT Certification & ExCPT Exam

The NHA is a certifying agency that began helping allied healthcare professionals earn certificates in 1989. 

It is the largest allied health agency in the United States and offers certifications for pharmacy technicians, EKG technicians, medical assistants, billing and coding specialists, phlebotomy technicians, and more. 

The NHA’s CPhT Certification is recognized in all 50 states. Because the NHA offers so many different certifications, most healthcare organizations recognize its name and respect those who earn credentials from the organization. 

To qualify for the NHA’s ExCPT exam, candidates must either complete a pharmacy technician training/education program within the last 5 years or have 1 year of work experience (minimum of 1,200 hours) as a pharmacy technician.

This test covers a wide range of pharmacy technician topics, duties, and laws. It is a great exam for future pharmacy technicians who want to have enough knowledge to work in many different types of pharmacy settings such as retail pharmacies, hospitals, or mail-order pharmacies. 

All exams must be taken in a testing center or with an online proctor. 

PTCB’s CPhT Certification & PTCE Exam

The PTCB was created in 1995 to offer guidance and credentialing services for pharmacy technicians. Because the PTCB focuses solely on pharmacy technicians, they are able to provide pharmacy-technician-specific newsletters, conferences, training, and career guidance. 

The PTCB also offers many advanced certification options including advanced certified pharmacy technician, hazardous drug handling, controlled substances diversion prevention, billing and reimbursement, and more. 

To become eligible for the PTCB’s exam, candidates must complete either a PTCB-Recognized Education/Training Program or at least 500 hours of work experience as a pharmacy technician.

Similarly to the ExCPT exam, candidates can apply for the PTCE exam by submitting proof that they have graduated from an approved program or have gotten the required 500 hours of work as a pharmacy technician. 

PTCE vs. ExCPT: Which Exam is Harder?

If you struggle with test-taking or have test anxiety, it might be tempting to make your choice of certification based on which exam is harder. As you weigh your options, keep in mind that both exams will require you to commit time to study, but neither test is unnecessarily challenging.  

The PTCE has a slightly higher pass rate than the ExCPT. Pass rates in 2023 were 63% for the ExCPT and 69% for the PTCE. The PTCE also has fewer test questions but has a shorter time limit. 

Both exams are scored similarly, with each question scored differently based on topic and difficulty. For a passing score, candidates must answer about 80% of their test questions correctly. 

Topics covered by the exams vary slightly. Each exam covers the following information: 

PTCE Exam Topics:

  • Generic names, brand names, and classifications of medications
  • Common and life-threatening drug interactions and contraindications
  • Medication Strengths/dose, dosage forms, routes of administration, special handling and administration instructions, and duration of drug therapy
  • Common and severe medication side effects, adverse effects, and allergies
  • Indications of medications and dietary supplements
  • Drug stability
  • Narrow therapeutic index (NTI) medications
  • Compounding and reconstitution
  • Proper storage of medications 
  • Federal requirements for handling and disposal of non-hazardous, hazardous, and pharmaceutical substances and waste
  • Federal requirements for controlled substance prescriptions (i.e., new, refill, transfer) and DEA-controlled substance schedules
  • Federal requirements for restricted drug programs and related medication processing 
  • Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies [REMS])
  • FDA recall requirements 
  • Patient Safety and Quality Assurance
  • High-alert/risk medications and look-alike/sound-alike medication 
  • Error prevention strategies 
  • Issues that require pharmacist intervention (e.g., drug utilization review [DUR], adverse drug event [ADE]
  • Event reporting procedures
  • Types of prescription errors (e.g., abnormal doses, early refill, incorrect quantity, incorrect patient, incorrect drug

ExCPT Exam Topics:

  • Dispensing Process
  • Prescription and Medication Order Intake and Entry
  • Preparing and Dispensing Prescriptions
  • Dosage Calculations
  • Overview and Laws
  • Role, Scope of Practice, and General Duties
  • Laws and Regulations
  • Controlled Substances
  • Drugs and Drug Therapy
  • Drug Classifications
  • Frequently Prescribed Medications
  • Medical Safety and Quality Assurance

The PTCB exam focuses heavily on medications including dosage calculations, side effects, and controlled substances. The ExCPT exam focuses more on the duties of pharmacy technicians and their role in keeping patients safe from harm. 

PTCB’s CPhT vs. NHA’s CPhT: Which Certification is Better?

Both the PTCB and the NHA are widely respected and recognized by healthcare organizations and state boards of pharmacy across the nation. 

Neither exam is clearly better than the other, and either exam can lead you to a successful career as a certified pharmacy technician. 

Both exams have similar levels of difficulty, cost, and recertification requirements. All states and organizations that require pharmacy technicians to earn their certification accept both types of certificates. 

Preparing for Your ExCPT or PTCE Exam

Whether you choose to take the ExCPT exam or the PTCE exam, you will have to prepare yourself well. 

The most important part of preparing for a certification program is finding a good training program that is approved by your chosen certifying agency. 

Our online pharmacy technician training program here at Stepful is a great choice because classes are convenient, less expensive than most alternatives, and cover everything you need to know to pass your exam. 

After your training program, make sure you give yourself time to review the information you learn and take plenty of practice exams. Both the NHA and PTCB have online resources including study guides and practice tests to help you prepare. 

To register for your exam, you will have to submit proof of graduation from your training program. Some states also require a background check and drug screening test

After you apply for your test, you will receive an authorization to test via email. Then, you can coordinate with a testing center or online proctor to schedule your exam. 

The night before your exam, try to relax and get to bed early. Review a few notes, but avoid cramming or staying up all night trying to study. In the morning, eat a healthy and filling breakfast and give yourself plenty of time to get to the testing center. 

PTCB vs. NHA: Renewal Requirements

Renewal requirements for the PTCB and the NHA are very similar. 

To maintain certification through the NHA, you must complete at least 20 hours of continuing education each year. One of the 20 hours must cover pharmacy law and one of the 20 hours must cover patient safety. In addition, $55 must be paid at the time of your renewal. 

If you forget to renew your certification with the NHA, you have one year to reinstate it. After that, you will have to retake your certification exam.

To maintain certification through the PTCB, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education. 15 hours must be technician-specific, 1 hour must cover pharmacy law, and one hour must cover patient safety. A $55 fee is due at the time of certificate renewal.

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