For the past four months, preparing for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination has been at the forefront of mine and my friends’ minds. This means that although we’ve certainly had some free time, we’ve always been worried about the NAVLE. The consequence? My friends and I have barely hung out, I’ve had to postpone editing my second novel (The Ripple Effect), and I’ve had far fewer Jimmy Neutron Nights than normal.
For your own reference.
Back in the summer when it came time to start really worrying about the NAVLE, I tried to find some information on it online. I was surprised to find that there was no easy-to-read condensation of what the NAVLE exactly entails. So, I figured I’d make one myself. I’ll try to avoid my usual playful (and/or offensively annoying) exaggerative style in this post. When I complain how much this test sucks, know I really mean it.
So let’s start with the basics. In order to become a licensed veterinarian in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, you must pass the NAVLE. Of course, you must also graduate from veterinary school. Confusingly, you actually take your licensing exam far before you graduate. You’ll take the NAVLE during November or December of your 4th year of veterinary school, then graduate in May.
The test consists of 360 questions split across 6 testing blocks That means you have to answer 60 questions at a time. Only 300 of the questions are scored. The remaining 60 questions are new ones that the NAVLE developers are testing to see if they’re worthy of joining the test for real next year. You have no way of knowing which questions aren’t scored and they’re scattered across all the blocks. You’re given 65 minutes to answer each block of 60 questions, which means a total of 6.5 hours for the test. You also have 45 minutes of break time you can use however you please between blocks. So the whole test lasts about 7 hours. And it costs about $600 to take.
In order to pass the NAVLE, you must get between 55 – 65% of the questions correct. Let’s be clear, I think this is utterly ridiculous. What kind of test gives you a range of passing? What does that even mean? It’s stupid and immature but that’s how the NAVLE rolls.
Anyway, the questions follow a rough species / topic breakdown. Here’s that breakdown for you:
Now how do you study for the NAVLE? Most people primarily use either Zuku or VetPrep. These sites are review services that you pay for. Each offer around a couple thousand practice questions and cost approximately $200. (There are different packages and you’ll often find deals several months before boards; you shouldn’t have to pay full price). Zuku is apparently better for visual learners, but in my class by far most people chose VetPrep. That’s what I chose, so I’ll go into it a little bit more.
VetPrep had over 2,400 unique questions. You could either take practice timed tests of various lengths or just do random practice questions for however long you wanted. For the random practice questions, you could let them be truly random or only get questions in certain categories (such as canine surgery or bovine reproduction). The questions could be about absolutely any disease or metabolic process…literally anything related to vet med because that’s what the NAVLE covers. Every question has an explanation, the vast majority of which helpfully summarize the topic and give you some additional info. When you get a question right, you won’t see it again (although many practice questions are repeated on timed tests and vice versa). The basic VetPrep package also comes with around a hundred “Power Pages”; short summaries of major diseases and topics. These are all really helpful and quick ways to review things.
I shelled out an extra $50 for the deluxe VetPrep package. This contained many dozens of “Power Lectures,” short discussions by experts about different topics. Like the power pages, I found them very helpful. The NAVLE costs about $600 to register for and you’re going to spend another $200 or so on VetPrep (if you choose that over Zuku), so in my opinion what’s another $50 for the lectures if they help.
I think that pretty much covers the basics of how the testing and studying works. Here’s some random tips from my studying in list form because I’m getting tired and lazy:
- I would start studying 5 months before your test, around May. At this point, I would recommend only answering the VetPrep questions that you are completely sure of. Don’t try to learn new things yet, just reinforce stuff you already completely know. Skip questions you’re not completely sure of because if you guess and get them right, you won’t see them again later. Even if you just get through 1% of the questions before serious studying, you can say you’re partly done. It’s an emotional boost.
- About 3.5 months before your test, start studying for real. I’d recommend starting with going over your lecture notes for topics you know you’re weak in. For me, that mean theriogenology, cardiology, orthopedics, and dermatology. I’d suggest reading through power pages at the same time. Answer VetPrep questions occasionally, but focus on reading and learning things first.
- Regardless of what you’re studying (power pages, power lectures, class notes, Merck Manual, etc.) write things down that you learn. Throw the important things in a giant word document and try to keep it organized by species and/or topic.
- Have pocket notebooks with you on all your rotations. Write down things you learned and things you need to research. Make sure to actually research those things and put them in your giant study document.
- At 2.5 – 3 months before the test, you should have finished reading many power pages and reviewing a lot of your class notes. Now’s the time to really hit VetPrep hard. Shoot for getting through 1% of the course (~50 questions) a day.
- VetPrep Pro Tip: If you’re doing a timed exam and want a different question, press “Timed Exam” again.
- DO NOT SETTLE FOR SIMPLY GETTING QUESTIONS RIGHT. This was my biggest mistake and I didn’t realize it until I took the NAVLE a few days ago. NAVLE questions are much more convoluted than VetPrep questions. VetPrep routinely asks you to recognize a disease based on clinical signs. Very few of those questions were on the NAVLE. They ask much more about recognizing a disease first, then choosing the proper diagnostic or treatment. So read the explanations for all questions. Know a disease’s clinical signs, unique facts, treatment, and diagnostics.
- Memorize the epidemiology 2×2 square (sensitivity, specificity, etc.) the morning of the test. It takes 40 minutes to learn, the VetPrep power lecture does a great job explaining it and has practice problems, and you’ll see a few straightforward questions on it on the NAVLE.
So what was my NAVLE experience? Not great. I’d reached 80% completion on VetPrep,which was my goal. (VetPrep has a guarantee where if you finish at least 80% of its course and fail the NAVLE, they’ll offer you a free VetPrep subscription renewal.) Most people in my class seemed to reach between 40 – 60%. There were many things that I didn’t know the morning of the test, but it’s utterly impossible to know everything. I figured I’d be able to handle most of the test, but I just felt dead by the end of the day.
As I mentioned above, the test questions were very convoluted. There were very few “slam dunk” questions that had obvious answers, I’d estimate 15 – 20% of the questions seemed to have 2 very reasonable choices. There were bird and horse diseases that I had never even heard of. I’d feel momentarily reinvigorated when I had a couple questions in a row that I knew, but then I’d see something about llamas that I’d never heard of.
I should have reviewed a few things more (I plain forgot to go over the coagulation cascade), but I also know that I did put a ton of effort in over the past few months. I felt like the test is unfair and that I failed, but I know that most people also feel this way and end up passing. Like I said, you only need around 60% of the questions right and over 90% of people pass the NAVLE.
I hope that answers some questions about the monstrosity that is the NAVLE. To help you guys out, here are some links to my organized study guide and my unorganized study guide. The unorganized study guide was my first effort; I realized too late that it was a mishmash of random facts. So I tried to copy and paste it in a neat order into a new study guide. If you want to finish doing that for yourself and/or others, you’re more than welcome to. I hope these documents help you, and good luck whenever you take the NAVLE.
Ugh, you’ll need it.