Which is the best certification exam: PTCE (PTCB) or ExCPT (NHA)?

Many aspiring pharmacy technicians are confused by the possible differences between the two exams. However, there is no need to obsess over it.

Here we have researched in-depth this topic for you and have laid out  the information that you need to know when deciding which certification exam to take in order to gain CPhT designation and therefore recognition in this field.

PTCE vs. ExCPT State Regulations Overview

The exam offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) is called the PTCE (Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam). This was the first exam designed to certify pharmacy technicians, and for many years, it was the only one.

PTCB is by far the largest and most recognized certification organization for pharmacy technicians, with approximately 283,000 active PTCB CPhTs. Because of this, it has much wider name recognition. Up until recently, all the states that actually required techs to pass an exam required this exam by name.

The other option for people seeking certification is the NHA's ExCPT exam.  This exam was established by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) a few years ago. At first, only a few states accepted it. Now, it is recognized in most parts of the United States.

Many state regulators recognize both the ExCPT and the PTCE.  There are only three states where just PTCB is recognized that requires certification (WY, ND, LA). California, Arizona and Texas have all recently approved the ExCPT.

Altogether there are c.23 states that regulate and require CPhT designation and 22 that regulate techs without the national certification requirement. Five states (Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) do not regulate pharmacy techs, except for an age requirement of 18 years.

Why the need for two exams? It's really down to having consumer choice, as with everything in life, competition drives down costs, encourages improvements and drives innovation up along with offering candidates flexibility.

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Key Differences in the PTCE and ExCPT Certification Exams

The main difference between the two exams is the registration fee. The PTCE costs $129 (Application + Exam Fee) held over 110 minutes, while the ExCPT is slightly cheaper, at $115, held over 2 hours and 10 minutes. Other than that, the exams are pretty similar in terms of the content they cover and the end result for pharmacy technician candidates. In fact, in 2008 a court ruled that both exams were equal, and should be nationally recognized as such.

Both exams test have questions on the theory and practical topics which combine to test the candidates’ ability to perform the daily tasks of a pharmacy technician. This includes topics like math (in relation to dosage calculations), pharmacy law, compounding, and the most common drugs (along with their contraindications).

Does it matter which certification exam I take? YES

If the exams are so similar, does it matter which one you decide to take? The short answer is yes, although it depends on where you live and what your career goals are. Although legally the exams are equal, they are not the same. PTCB's certification program is the gold standard for certifying pharmacy technicians.

Some states still do not recognize the ExCPT. In addition, some employers have their preferred exam. The general rule is that the PTCE is the first choice of hospitals and other large employers, while the ExCPT is better for finding work in a commercial pharmacy (at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and similar places). Plus PTCE is recognized in over 44 states.

That is because a lot of employers still consider the PTCE to be the more difficult exam. Some people think that the PTCE has more math questions, and trickier questions about drugs. So the common thinking is that if a potential employee is good enough to pass the PTCE, they’re good enough to hire. When deciding which exam to take, you should contact the hospitals you want to work at, and simply ask which certification they prefer.

Bottom line, CPhTs, compared to non-certified technicians, report higher earnings, more promotion opportunities, enhanced self-worth, improved job satisfaction and increased knowledge.

To get a sense of which exam body may be preferred by employers in your state, check out some online jobs and the certification sought. Indeed.com is an excellent tool to research what some of the employers in your state are looking for.

Click on your state below to determine what your state's regulations and requirements are.

PTCE CPhT Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for PTCB CPhT Certification, an applicant must satisfy the following requirements:

Step by Step:

  • Possess a high school diploma or equivalent educational diploma (e.g., GED or foreign diploma)*
  • Full disclosure of all criminal and State Board of Pharmacy registration or licensure actions
  • Compliance with all applicable PTCB Certification Policies
  • Passing score on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE)

The PTCB have said that 2 changes will came into effect on January 1, 2020.

The first is an update on the education and eligibility requirement to apply for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE).

To take the PTCE, a tech must now have completed a PTCB-recognized education program or have a minimum of 500 hours of work experience.

The second change is an update to the test content.

ExCPT CPhT Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to sit for an ExCPT pharmacy technician certification examination and receive CPhT certification, each candidate must.

Step by Step:

1. Obtain a high school diploma or the GED/high school equivalent. Or

2. Successfully complete a training program or military training or have relevant work experience, as described below:

(i) Training Program :

Candidates must satisfy at least one of the following criteria:
1. Successfully complete a pharmacy technician training program offered by an accredited or state-recognized institution or training provider; or
2. Successfully complete an employer-based training program that:

a) Is recognized by the Board of Pharmacy of the state where the candidate completes the training program; or

b) Has been verified by the candidate’s employer to provide academic preparation, including technical skills and knowledge, sufficient to prepare the candidate to adequately perform the duties of an entry-level pharmacy technician.

(ii) Military Training:

Formal medical services pharmacy-related training offered by any branch of the US Military fulfills the training program.

(iii) Work Experience:

Candidates must have completed at least 1,200 hours of supervised pharmacy-related work experience within any one (1) year of the past three (3) years.

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