“A lot of the programs now don’t always start semesters in the fall, so sometimes there’s a little bit of a lag time before they can take their test, but I highly encourage them to take the test right away if they can.”
Angela Hoover, Group Technician Supervisor for the VCA Animal Hospitals Mid-Atlantic Region
If you recently graduated or are close to completing a veterinary technology program, congratulations! The majority of the hard work is behind you, but there is one final hurdle to jump before you can start your career as a licensed, certified, or registered veterinary technician: the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE).
There is an abundance of information on the Internet about how to study for the VTNE, as well as businesses that sell VTNE-specific study products that claim to help you pass—so much that it’s difficult to sort through which resources will be worth your investment of time and money.
Our guide highlights the study strategies and products that exam veterans say worked for them and gives pro tips for preparing for the VTNE from the mouths of two practiced VTs: Angela Hoover, group technician supervisor for VCA Animal Hospitals’ mid-Atlantic region, and Ava Bartley, specialist of VT student programs at Banfield Pet Hospital.
As a bonus, in the end, they shared what surprised them most about being a VT when they first entered the field after graduation.
The Basics: Preparing for the VTNE
Be sure that you need to take the VTNE in the first place; not all states require an exam to be a licensed veterinary technician. Use the VTNE’s search module or check out our detailed table of vet tech credentialing and renewal requirements to see what your state needs.
To take the VTNE, you must have graduated from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program. If you’re a prospective student of veterinary technology looking for a program near you, you can use our interactive map, which helps you find AVMA-accredited programs in your state.
The three-hour exam has 170 multiple-choice questions. Your score is based on your responses to the 150 operational questions. (There are an additional 20 pilot questions embedded in the test used for constructing future examinations that will not count toward your score.)
What Does the VTNE Cover?
You can view a full breakdown of the topics and subtopics covered on the VTNE by visiting the “Study for the VTNE” tab and downloading the “Domains, Tasks & Knowledge” file provided by the AAVSB. In sum, the exam covers nine domains:
- Pharmacy and pharmacology (12 percent)
- Surgical nursing (11 percent)
- Dentistry (8 percent)
- Laboratory procedures (12 percent)
- Animal care and nursing (20 percent)
- Diagnostic imaging (7 percent)
- Anesthesia (15 percent)
- Emergency Medicine/Critical Care (8 percent)
- Pain Management/Analgesia (7 percent)
If you are in a VTNE requirement state, you will need to visit AAVSB’s “Online Application” tab to view application windows and document deadlines. There are three time periods in which you can take the exam based on your graduation date and how long you want to prepare for the exam: one in spring, one in summer, and one in winter.
Once you start this process, it will prompt you to send your transcripts and provide your credit card information to pay the $340 exam fee. Request your school to send your transcript. Expect to wait two to three weeks for application processing.
After the application and eligibility have been processed, candidates will be sent an eligibility email explaining how to schedule their examination at a PSI testing center.
How Much Time Does it Take to Study for the VTNE?
If you feel fully prepared by what you learned in your veterinary technician program, it is best to take your exam soon after graduation, while the information is still fresh in your mind.
“A lot of the programs now don’t always start semesters in the fall, so sometimes there’s a little bit of a lag time before they can take their test, but I highly encourage them to take the test right away if they can,” Hoover said.
Bartley gave the same advice. She chose an exam date at the beginning of August after graduating in the spring to give herself about six weeks time to prepare but said she recommends just taking it as soon as possible: “I think the weight of the exam being on the horizon was kind of stressful,” she said.
If you feel that you would benefit from spending more time studying, Hoover advises taking the VetTechPrep course, which guarantees students pass on their first attempt. If a student completes all the assignments but does not pass the VTNE, VetTechPrep will pay for their next subscription.
Useful Books to Prepare for the VTNE
You will want to have at least one comprehensive book that covers all the subjects on the exam, which you likely already have on hand from your program. But if you don’t, choose from these top picks:
- Mosby’s Comprehensive Review for Veterinary Technicians reviews all of the different subjects in detail and has study questions after each section for review.
- You might prefer Ava Bartley’s recommendation, the Mometrix Test Preparation’s VTNE Secrets, which covers all the exam topics in a straight-to-the-point format.
- Review Questions and Answers for Veterinary Technicians by Heather Prendergast strictly contains review questions with answers and comes with a CD with exam questions that students say are helpful.
After brushing up on the material with a comprehensive study guide, you’ll better understand which subjects you know well and which subjects you need to work on more. Then, if need be, you can purchase books specific to those areas. Some examples:
- Anatomy is the biggest section of the test. If you’re struggling to learn the vocabulary, one reliable textbook for this specific subject is Clinical Anatomy & Physiology for Veterinary Technicians.
- Pharmacology is generally regarded as one of the most difficult sections of the test, so it may be smart to get a separate textbook to help you focus on this subject. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics for the Veterinary Technician will be your best bet.
Digital Resources to Prepare for the VTNE
Having a couple of quality textbooks to refer to is important, but the digital resources that have become available in the past few years will really boost your study game.
On Zuku Review, you can view sample test questions and sign up for a VTNE question of the day via email. Students appreciate having a daily prompt come straight to their inbox. There are also more resources available, such as their study app and visual flashcards, but you must sign up and pay a fee for those features. Zuku charges $175 for three months of access, $150 for 45 days, and $275 for six months, so it can be an investment.
The app VTNE Pocket Prep was Bartley’s go-to exam prep tool. “I liked this resource because it was convenient to use in the downtime between classes,” she said. “It provides practice questions broken down by topic. If you are consistently missing questions on, for instance, emergency and critical care, it would flag that. Then it tailors your approach to your preparation.” VTNE pocket prep is free, with in-app purchases that range in price from $9.99 to $24.99.
Closer to your exam, it’s highly recommended to go to the VTNE’s official website and pay $45 to take their official practice exam. Bartley said that spending the extra money to take the official practice exam—as opposed to the others available online and in textbooks—is worth it.
“It was really valuable exposure to see the questions in written format as they were going to be presented to me on the test,” she said.
Pro Study Tips: How to Pass the VTNE
Ideally, studying for the exam shouldn’t start after your program is finished. To maximize the amount of info you retain, Hoover recommends recording lectures.
“I felt like if I was listening to it just once and taking notes, I was missing stuff, so I would listen in class, record it, and listen to it a second time and fill in any holes in my notes. Then, I could review all my notes from that class and organize them into binders.”
While much of education is moving online, many students still enjoy having a physical binder organized by sections to jot down info they have trouble recalling. Studies show that writing down information by hand increases your memory. And as you begin your career, you can refer to your binder and continue to take notes in it.
Hoover said that in addition to independent study, she did the best working with small study groups of one to two people and using flashcards. “With larger groups, there’s too much opportunity to stray off-topic,” she said.
Bartley also emphasized the importance of self-care to students’ success. “They’re asking you to recall such a wide array of information—everything from equine medicine up to the gestational period of a rabbit. When you’re preparing, it’s so important to eat well and drink enough water and sleep the night before.”
She also suggests taking the time to drive by your testing center prior to the exam date to avoid getting lost or stressed out on the day of the test. If you’re more than 15 minutes late, the proctor cannot allow you to take the exam, so arrive 45 minutes early.
How Do I Know If I Passed the VTNE?
As soon as you finish your exam, a score report will be printed telling you if you passed or failed. Later, you can also find your score report in your MyAAVSB portal. (The AAVSB does not send you your score.)
Like most standardized tests, performance on the VTNE is based on your scaled score, not your raw score. The raw score is converted to a number between 200 to 800 with a passing score of 425.
Misconceptions About the Role of Veterinary Technician (VT)
In addition to gathering pro tips on preparing for the VTNE, we asked these industry pros about their professional experiences and what surprised them the most about working in the field compared to their expectations as students.
Many people have the impression that VTs are low-skilled employees, perhaps because of the implications of the word “technician,” but in reality, VTs are highly skilled and trained to be able to perform many tasks independently.
“I think there have been historical issues with people not understanding our role [and clinics] not utilizing technicians to the highest point of their license,” Bartley said.
VTs are capable of more autonomy than the general public and even veterinary centers themselves may realize, but now, the tides are changing. For instance, it is becoming widespread in the industry for VTs to complete their appointments with clients—a policy Banfield practices.
“I would really like students to know that they worked so hard to develop and refine their skills over the course of their schooling and they should really find an employer that values that,” Bartley said.
Another misconception about the role of the VT is that it is more of a “job” than a legitimate career, based on the belief that VTs make little money and their potential salary growth is very minimal.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) reports that VTs make a median of $36,850 per year, which is $17.72 per hour, but Hoover pointed out that these figures are a bit misleading: “[The BLS figures] just look at technicians working in our general practice hospitals—and even if it includes supervisors in GP hospitals, it gives a very narrow view of what that pay range is, when in reality, if you start there and you really are dedicated and carve out a niche for yourself, your pay range can go up significantly,” Hoover said.
“I would have never thought I would be in this place 10 years ago,” she continued. “If you have a passion for behavior or for emergency medicine, you can do that, and specialize in those areas. You genuinely can make a career path and do really awesome, amazing things and continue to grow within your company.”
The BLS (2021) projects that demand for veterinary technologists and technicians is projected to grow 15 percent between 2020 to 2030—much faster than the average for all occupations (8 percent). So, whether you’re just thinking about pursuing an education in veterinary technology or you’re getting ready to take on your first role as a licensed professional, it’s a great time to become a vet tech.