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Studying for the BOC Exam: Perspectives on Resources, Structure and Consistency

As Birgid Hopkins, MS, ATC, associate clinical professor and director of athletic training at Merrimack College (North Andover, Mass.) works with candidates daily, her ultimate goal is to guide students through the preparation process for the BOC exam. We reached out to Hopkins to gain insight into her support process, as well as two of her former students who have recently earned their ATC® credential to see what advice they have for candidates preparing to take the BOC exam.

Birgid Hopkins, MS, ATC

How do you prepare your students for the BOC exam? What tools and resources do you use?

At Merrimack College, we prepare our students to challenge the BOC exam during their last clinical decision-making course.On day one, we have students perform a self-assessment of knowledge, skills and competencies (based on core competencies) and discuss when they plan to challenge the examination (which specific window), discussing advantages and disadvantages of each exam window timing.

Once students make their exam window decision (usually March/April), we then calculate the number of weeks until the exam and have students fill out a calendar to map out their classes, clinicals, class study time, exam study time and work/other responsibilities. It’s important that they are clear on the point that study time for the examination needs to be different/distinct from school and work priorities. This process is completed approximately eight weeks in advance of their exam date.

Each week during our class preparation, we focus on a different domain. Some definitely go quickly, while others may require up to two weeks of focus. Students are given the BOC Candidate Handbook, the BOC Practice Analysis and CAATE core competencies in order to know what to study (understanding that each student may be at a different place and want to work on different knowledge/skills.)They bring questions to class and work on refining hands-on-skills associated with each domain to foster a successful transition to entry-level practice.

Overall, during preparation, we use the following BOC tools, and other resources:

  • BOC website (Candidates and Educators sections)
  • BOC Candidate Handbook
  • BOC Practice Analysis
  • BOC Exam References
  • BOC Self-Assessment Exams
  • BOC exam development and scoring descriptions
  • CAATE core competencies
  • NATA position statements


Dalene Gomes, LAT, ATC Athletic Trainer at Boston College


What BOC and other resources did you utilize, and how did you use them, while preparing for the BOC Exam?

At the time, it felt like I was using numerous resources, however, looking back I kept it pretty focused and organized. My program director, Birgid Hopkins, set us on a path to review everything necessary for the BOC exam by moving through the five domains of clinical practice. I gave myself a week or so to concentrate on each, leading up to my exam date. Once I felt confident in each task that fell under that specific domain, I moved on to the next. I referenced my textbooks the most. I study best when quizzing myself and I made a lot of flashcards. My quizlet profile quickly became my best friend.


Which BOC resource did you find most valuable, and why?

Towards the end of my preparation, I utilized the BOC Self-Assessment Exams (SAEs). I found those to be the most valuable. I took almost all of them in “test mode” to mock taking the actual exam. The feedback made me feel confident and showcased where I needed to improve. The structure of the SAEs looks so similar to the actual BOC exam. It made the test less stressful, as I felt very prepared.


If you had it to do over, is there anything different you would do to prepare?

I think I did everything I had to do in order to be successful. I think it took me a while to manage, build structure and learn how to balance studying, class, clinical and social life. I eventually developed great habits to step away and relieve stress. I would have liked to get to that point sooner if I had to do it all over again.


What advice/tips would you give to any candidate preparing to take the exam?

My best advice would be to just do your own thing. I think it’s so hard to not pay attention to how your peers are focusing their time. Everyone has their own preferred study methods. With such a broad spectrum of material to master, the best method is your own. Do what you need to do. Prepare as you would for any other exam.


Chris Sousa, MS, LAT, ATC who currently works at TB12 in Boston


What BOC and other resources did you utilize, and how did you use them, while preparing for the BOC Exam?*

The resources that I utilized for the BOC exam were (in no particular order):

  • SAE
  • Clinical Instructors/Professors
  • “Study Guide for the Board of Certification, Inc., Athletic Trainer Certification Examination Fifth Edition” by Susan Rozzi, PHD, ATC, SCAT, Michelle G. Futrell, MA, ATC, SCAT
  • The Flashcard Study System for the NATA-BOC Exam: NATA-BOC Test Practice Questions & Review for the Board of Certification Candidate Examination (If I had downtime in class, I would use this resource to study with classmates, or on my own at clinical)
  • The NATA Athletic Training Education Competencies
  • “Principles of Athletic Training: A Guide to Evidence-Based Clinical Practice, 17th Edition”

*The study resources provided are from the student perspective and not necessarily endorsed by the BOC.

I began the preparation process for the BOC exam four months prior to my target exam date. My plan was to allow approximately two hours a day (more if I had additional time depending on classwork or clinical scheduling) to study the material planned out for the day. I took weekends off for myself to mentally reset from the long weeks of studying and preparing for the BOC exam.

I began each study session with the a study guide that included a section with the CAATE Athletic Training Education Competencies. It had over 150 questions that mimic BOC exam questions. My process was to go through all questions on a page then do an immediate check. I marked questions I answered incorrectly or did not understand. For incorrect questions, I would relate them back to the educational competencies and look up the correct answer in our class books or by using the books listed on BOC Exam Reference list. I would then develop a better understanding of the question and the competency by taking notes on what was incorrect and writing down the correct information next the test question.

If I could not find an answer, or if there was a question that I did not understand during the study period, I would consult my professor during our in-class study period and collaborate with classmates. I completed this process for each competency section in the study guide. It would take about two weeks for each section. At the end of the Study Guide sections there would be a practice exam where I would sit and take the practice test as if I was sitting for the BOC Exam. After the exam I would score it and then look at questions that were wrong and understand why I would get it incorrect.

After completing the Study Guide I had approximately a month left before my exam. I continued to study two hours daily. I would compile my notes and match them to The CAATE Athletic Training Education Competencies by using the BOC Exam References to relate the subject matter. At the end of each week, I would take online BOC SAEs to continue my preparation. I completed this process two days before taking the BOC exam. The day before I played golf to relax mentally and to instill confidence in myself that I was prepared for the exam, knowing that I did everything in my power to put myself in the best position to succeed.


Which BOC resource did you find most valuable, and why?

The BOC Exam Reference list. It simplified the process of checking/referencing resources used in classes for studying.

The BOC SAEs. These helped prepare me for the BOC exam by completing mock test-day situations.

If you had it to do over, is there anything different you would do to prepare?

I honestly would not do anything differently. During the BOC exam I felt very prepared and confident going in and after passing the exam I felt that what I did leading up put me in the best position to pass.


What advice/tips would you give to any candidate preparing to take the exam?

Trust your study process. Everyone is going to do something slightly different and that is okay. As long as you find a process that works for you and that you feel will help you prepare to put your best foot forward then you will do very well. Remember to trust and use the resources available, including those from the BOC as well as professors, clinical instructors, classmates and yourself. Finally, take time for yourself when needed. There will be times when you are overwhelmed as you have good study days and bad ones. Take a day to relax/refresh yourself then get back into your routine.

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