Top 200 Drugs: How to Study for Success
Medication Questions on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam
Studying the top 200 drugs is an essential part of preparing for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE). While much focus is placed on calculations, medication information represents a much larger portion of the exam. Comprising 40% of the content outline for the PTCE, test takers are expected to know a variety of information about medications. This was broadened in 2020 when the PTCB updated the content outline and eligibility requirements for the exam. Brand and generic names, classification, indications, side effects, interactions, contraindications, and more! There are thousands of medications; pharmacists spend the better part of 4-year doctoral programs studying them to be just well-versed enough to enter the workforce. The thought of learning all of this information, especially for test takers who haven’t spent a significant amount of time working in the pharmacy setting, is quite overwhelming.
Formulating a Strategy for the Top 200 Drugs
The good news is that there are some strategies you can take to learn just enough information to do well on the exam. Carefully balancing study time on the most pertinent medication information while not neglecting the other 60% of the exam content is important. One obvious approach is honing in on just the top 200 drugs. But even knowing this information for 200 drugs takes a lot of time and repetition. To make this easier, and ensure that you have ample time to learn the other knowledge areas, you need to narrow your focus a bit more. The intent of the PTCB isn’t for you to know all of the indications, side effects, interactions, etc. for all of the drugs. But you do need to know the big, obvious ones.
What you Really Need to Know
When going through the top 200 drug list, here are some tips to help you study efficiently:
For starters, make sure to break the drugs into their respective classes. If you can memorize which class a medication belongs to, it becomes much easier to identify everything you need to know about a given drug. Instead of 200 different side effect profiles, contraindication profiles, etc., you may now have around 50. Even though drugs within the same class can have different indications and effects, your time is much better spent just memorizing the common qualities across a given class of medications.
Brand and Generic Name Equivalents
Questions regarding brand and generic name equivalents are probably the most common on the PTCE regarding medications. Accordingly, this is one area that you should try to commit to memory for all drugs. Familiarizing yourself with common generic name suffixes for some of the classes can help. Examples include “pril” for ACE-inhbitors, “sartan” for ARBs, “olol” for beta-blockers, and “statin” for statins.
You will need to be familiar with the common uses for a medication. This is where knowing drug classes becomes really important! If you can memorize the most common use for the top medication classes, you will be in good shape here. By equating a given drug with a drug class, and knowing what drugs in that class are typically used for, you’ve cut your study time down quite a bit! Some drugs can have many uses, but you should only be concerned with the primary or most common use of a medication. The study guide we provide at the end of this article is especially useful for this.
Side Effects, Interactions, and Contraindications
This is where people tend to get overwhelmed. If you look up information on a given drug, you will see a seemingly endless array of side effects, interactions, warnings, and precautions. Fortunately, you aren’t expected to know all of this information for each medication. There was a recent post on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Community forum addressing this. One of the test writers noted that the intent is not for the test-takers to be prepared to answer complex questions around any potential side effect of a medication. They want you to be familiar with the big, obvious ones. Examples of big obvious side effects include bleeding with anticoagulants, or hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar) with insulin. Again, the study guide we provide here should steer you in the right direction on what you need to know.
A Simple Resource for Top 200 Drug Knowledge
To help, we have compiled a resource with this “minimum” necessary knowledge. I do want to iterate that there could be medication questions on the exam that aren’t addressed in this resource. But, if you focus on learning this information really well, you will perform well on this section of the exam. Also, by ensuring that you have time and capacity for learning the other knowledge areas, your total exam performance will be optimized. Too often students fare poorly on the PTCE because of a failure to prepare for the totality of the test.
If you are interested in additional study tools, our PTCB-recognized Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam Course instructs on all of the medication knowledge areas. Other concepts, such as narrow therapeutic index drugs, therapeutic equivalency, and drug stability are covered in detail. Also, feel free to join our Facebook group if you’d like to ask questions about the PTCE or medications!