Planning to become a credentialed veterinary technician?
Then you’ve probably heard of or are already preparing for the VTNE. The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) is the final hurdle you must clear to become a licensed, registered, or certified* veterinary technician in the United States or Canada, and it has the reputation for being pretty difficult (but definitely not impossible).
Hound and Love Huvet have collaborated to bring you this comprehensive guide on everything you need to know to prepare for the VTNE and pass with confidence. Not a reader? Hound’s Lucy Nash, RVT and Love Huvet’s Emily Ahsan, CVT went live on Instagram to answer the most common VTNE questions asked by our community. Check it out here.
*titles vary by state
What is the VTNE?
The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) is administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) and is used to evaluate the competency of entry-level veterinary technicians.
The exam is computer-based and consists of 170 questions designed to assess your strengths and weaknesses in nine different areas including Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Surgical Nursing, Dentistry, Laboratory Procedures, Animal Care and Nursing, Diagnostic Imaging, Anesthesia, Emergency Medicine/Critical Care, Pain Management/Analgesia, and Communication and Veterinary Professional Support Services.
The passing score for the VTNE varies from state to state. In some states, the VTNE is scored on a range from 200 to 800, with the passing score being set at 425. For other states, the VTNE is scored on a range of 0 to 100 with a passing score set at 90. (When you register for the VTNE, you’ll need to specify the state you plan to work in as a credentialed vet tech).
If you do not pass the VTNE on your first attempt, you’re able to take it two more times, although you’ll have to wait for another testing window and start the registration process again. Some states will allow you to take the VTNE more than three times, you’ll just need to get approval first.
Confirm You’re Eligible for the VTNE
The first thing to do when you’re preparing to take the VTNE is confirm your eligibility. Most states require VTNE candidates to have graduated from a veterinary technology program accredited by the American or Canadian Veterinary Medical Association but there are some states, like California, Alaska, and Wisconsin, that offer alternative pathways like on-the-job training or graduating with an alternative degree. Be sure you are confirming eligibility for the state you are planning to work in as requirements can vary from state to state.
To learn more or confirm your eligibility, check out https://www.aavsb.org/vtne-overview/verify-your-eligibility
Signing up for the VTNE
Your next step is signing up for the VTNE! The VTNE costs $345 (as of Sept 2023) and is administered during three exam windows each year:
- March 15 to April 15
- July 15 to August 15
- November 15 to December 15
You’ll need to sign up for your preferred exam window during the designated application window. See https://www.aavsb.org/vtne-overview/the-online-application for complete details on application windows, deadlines, etc.
If you require testing accommodations due to a disability, you can apply for them during the registration process. After submitting your application and fee (and any necessary transcripts), you'll need to wait approximately 2-3 weeks for your application to be processed. Once approved, you'll receive an eligibility/scheduling email from the AAVSB.
You’ll have the option to take the exam at a PSI Test Center or opt for a Live Remote Proctored (LRP) Exam (please note: not everyone will qualify so check out https://www.aavsb.org/vtne-overview/schedule-your-exam#task1 for complete details).
And if you need to reschedule your VTNE, you can do so as long as you are at least 48 hours before your scheduled exam and within your 30-day exam window.
When to Start Preparing
The ideal time to start preparing for the VTNE will vary depending on your background. If you've recently graduated, you might not need as much dedicated study time as someone who graduated years ago or someone who feels rusty when it comes to certain areas on the test. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to start preparing for the VTNE at least three months prior to your test date.
However, if you're coming from an alternate pathway like on the job training or an alternate degree, you may find it helpful to start studying earlier. And if you’re currently pursuing your degree in veterinary technology, you can start preparing for the VTNE now by taking excellent notes or recording lectures that you will be able to reference later.
But regardless of your situation, avoid cramming. You will find consistent, focused study sessions to be far more effective than trying to learn it all the week before the test. Did we mention there are NINE domains 😅?
How to Prepare for the VTNE
The best approach to preparing for the VTNE is the one that works for you. Similarly to when you should start preparing, how you should prepare will vary depending on your background and your preferred learning style. Not everybody learns the same way and that’s perfectly okay!
Some people can read a book, take some notes, and they’re good to go. Others may need hands-on experience or visuals to help them understand and retain what they’re learning. Again, that’s okay. Embrace the learning style that works best for your brain and tailor your study techniques to fit your preferred learning style.
Here’s a quick overview of a few different learning styles + study techniques that would fit each:
- Visual Learners
- Best Techniques: Dual Coding, Picmonic
- Why It Works: Visual learners have a knack for remembering images, diagrams, and color-coded information.
Dual Coding leverages this by associating verbal information with visual elements. For example, if you're studying drug interactions, you could create a chart that visually represents how different drugs interact with each other.
Picmonic takes this a step further by turning information into highly memorable and often humorous visual mnemonics. These techniques make complex information easier to recall because they tap into the brain's natural affinity for imagery.
- Auditory Learners
- Best Techniques: The Feynman Technique, Recording Lectures
- Why It Works: Auditory learners excel when information is presented through sound.
The Feynman Technique involves explaining a concept in your own words, as if you were teaching it to someone else. This forces you to clarify your understanding and identify any gaps in your knowledge.
Recording lectures allows you to replay them at your convenience, providing multiple opportunities to absorb the material. Not in college or don’t have access to a recorded lecture? Record yourself reading aloud. Both techniques engage your auditory processing skills, making the information more memorable.
- Kinesthetic Learners
- Best Techniques: Real-World Experience, Active Recall
- Why It Works: • Kinesthetic learners benefit most from a hands-on approach.
Real-world experience, such as volunteering at a vet clinic, allows you to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical setting, reinforcing your learning.
Active Recall involves testing yourself on the material you've studied. This could be through flashcards or even just reciting information from memory. The act of recalling information forces your brain to retrieve and consolidate knowledge, making it easier to remember later.
- Read/Write Learners
- Best Techniques: The Cornell Note-Taking System, Spaced Repetition
- Why It Works: Read/Write learners thrive on textual information.
The Cornell Note-Taking System involves dividing your note paper into sections for cues, notes, and summaries. This structured approach makes it easier to review and retrieve information later.
Spaced Repetition involves reviewing material at increasing intervals over time. This technique is based on the psychological spacing effect and is proven to increase the rate of retention.
- Logical Learners
- Best Techniques: Chunking, Interleaved Learning
- Why It Works: Logical learners have a natural ability to see patterns and make connections between disparate pieces of information.
Chunking involves breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable "chunks" or categories. For example, instead of trying to memorize a long list of medications, you could group them by their uses or side effects.
Interleaved Learning mixes different topics or subjects in order to improve learning. This approach keeps your brain engaged and allows you to make connections between topics, which is a natural strength for logical learners.
Finding the learning style and study techniques that work best for you will help you understand and retain information more quickly and on a deeper level. Work with your brain and strengths, not against them 💪.
When to Start Preparing for the VTNE
Another aspect of how you’ll study is when you’ll study. Creating a study schedule can be incredibly beneficial, especially if you’re worried about keeping track that each domain is getting enough attention. You should review everything that’s going to be on the VTNE but it’s a good idea to dedicate time early on for learning new things and becoming comfortable with the domains you are less familiar with.
Not sure which areas you need to focus on? Try taking a practice test (there are free ones available online or you can buy a practice test from the AAVSB for $45 here) to uncover the areas you’ll need to spend a little extra time studying.
The Best Study Resources for the VTNE
Here are some of our favorite study resources for the VTNE:
Our #1: Vet Tech Prep - Vet Tech Prep is a go-to online resource for VTNE preparation, offering a comprehensive suite of features like VTNE-like timed exams, detailed performance metrics, and expertly crafted questions (that are written exactly like the ones you’ll see on the VTNE). With mobile-friendly access, various subscription plans, and a money-back guarantee, it's designed to fit your study needs and schedule. Whether you're a first-time test-taker or looking for that extra edge, Vet Tech Prep provides a tailored and effective study experience.
Zuku Review - Zuku Review is another top-tier online resource for VTNE prep, emphasizing visual learning methods. With features like visual study prep and daily questions of the day (QOD), it's designed to keep your study sessions engaging and effective. Zuku Review also offers specialized prep for other veterinary exams, making it a versatile choice for your educational journey.
Mosby’s Comprehensive Review for Veterinary Technicians - Mosby's Comprehensive Review for Veterinary Technicians is a must-have book for anyone preparing for the VTNE. The 5th edition is designed to reflect the most recent changes to the VTNE and offers a user-friendly outline format that breaks down complex topics for easier understanding. It covers everything from basic and clinical sciences to anesthesia and pharmacology. The book also comes with an Evolve site feature that includes 500 review questions and a computer-based testing environment to simulate the VTNE experience.
Activity Book for Veterinary Technicians — This supplemental study guide by LVT Leah Calarino will help you test your knowledge, learn, and retain information while having fun coloring, completing crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, fill-in-the-blank activities, and matching activities. It’s a great way to break up your mundane study sessions and add some creativity into your VTNE prep.
Vet Helpful Notes — Vet Helpful Notes offers a variety of study aids specifically designed for vet techs and students. From pharmacology flash cards to medical math guides, they've got you covered. Their best-selling bundles, available in both digital and hard copy formats, offer comprehensive study materials at discounted rates. What sets them apart is their focus on visual aids like flashcards and pocket guides, making it a fantastic resource for visual and kinesthetic learners.
Preparing for Areas of the VTNE You're Weak In
Still not feeling great about the domains you’re weakest in and looking for some extra help? Consider joining a study group, either in-person or online, with people who are also preparing for the VTNE. You might find that someone in the group is really comfortable with an area you are struggling in and they can better explain it to you. Alternatively, teaching can also help solidify your understanding around a topic and can be a great way to test how comfortable you are in different areas covered on the VTNE. Can’t find a study group? Create one! Make a post in one of the popular vet tech Facebook groups that you’re looking for VTNE study buddies and set up a weekly Google Meet.
Another great option is reaching out to or shadowing an experienced vet tech who deals with the type of scenarios you’re struggling to understand. Sometimes you just need to see a scenario in practice to fully grasp it, especially if you’re more of a kinesthetic or visual learner. And if you already work in a clinic, don’t be afraid to let your team know that you’re preparing for the VTNE and looking for opportunities to test your knowledge. They can help you by giving you opportunities to test your knowledge or by literally quizzing you.
Finally, you can always make your own resources. Can’t find flash cards that work for you? Make your own! Need a quiz that only focuses on one domain or a certain set of questions? Keep a running list of questions that have stumped you in the past and create your own quiz on Quizlet. Need something that engages your creative side? Check out resources like the anatomy coloring book. Whatever you do, just don’t get discouraged. There are so many resources available to help you feel confident and pass the VTNE.
There is more to preparing for the VTNE than studying
There is more to preparing for the VTNE than just “studying”. It’s easy to let stress take-over and to de-prioritize self-care while preparing for what can feel like the biggest exam of your adult life. But remember, stress and burnout are real, and they can significantly impact your performance. Incorporate breaks into your study schedule to clear your mind and set aside time to take care of your daily needs. And be gentle with yourself — you may feel frustrated or anxious or experience other uncomfortable feelings while preparing for the VTNE — but you can do this, you’re worthy, and this test doesn’t define your worth as a human being OR a veterinary technician.
What to Expect in the VTNE
You’ll have three hours to complete the 170 multiple choice questions on the VTNE and each test includes a different set of questions. You can expect to see 20 Pharmacy and Pharmacology questions (13%), 20 Surgical Nursing questions (13%), 10 Dentistry questions (7%), 14 Laboratory Procedure questions (9%), 30 Animal Care and Nursing questions (20%), 9 Diagnostic Imaging questions (6%), 20 Anesthesia questions (13%), 10 Emergency Medicine / Critical Care questions (7%), 10 Pain Management / Analgesia questions (7%), and 7 Communication and Veterinary Professional Support Services questions (5%).
*source AAVSB 2023 Outline
There is a rumor that once you answer a question incorrectly, the test will start to give you more questions in that domain. But since the amount of questions for each domain is predetermined, we think this may be more of a confirmation bias (aka you feel insecure about large animal and suddenly it seems like every question is about large animal). If you start to feel worried during the test, remember to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you've got this!
Although there are 170 questions on the VTNE, only 150 questions will actually count toward your score. There are 20 questions on the test that are used for constructing future examinations and do not count toward your score. You won’t be told which questions do not count toward your score so plan to answer every question on the VTNE, but it’s something to keep in mind if you get any questions that seem oddly specific or difficult to answer.
The questions on the VTNE are worded in a very specific way, and you can become more familiar with this formatting by using the AAVSB or Vet Tech Prep practice tests. We’ve even seen some identical questions from these practice tests on actual VTNE tests, so you just never know!
Although you have three hours to finish the VTNE, some people finish the test in as quickly as 30 minutes. Be sure you are reading questions thoroughly before answering. And if you’re someone who struggles with test-taking (you’re not alone, by the way), it’s important to stay aware of how you’re managing your time.
If you come across a challenging question it can be helpful to move on and return to it later. Some people have even suggested going through the entire test to answer all of the questions that you feel confident answering first and then going back to complete the rest. This can serve as a good refresh of your knowledge and a little confidence boost, too.
For the VTNE, you will have access to an online calculator and a form of scratch paper (some have shared being given a blank piece of paper and pencil where others reported being given an erasable board). If you have little sayings or reminders that will help you throughout the test, you could jot down a few notes on your scrap paper before you start answering questions as a way to refresh your mind or to keep yourself from forgetting.
You will find out shortly after taking the VTNE whether you passed or not, although your official scores may not be available for a few weeks.
How to Prepare on the Day of the VTNE
You’ve spent all of this time studying and preparing for the VTNE, make sure you can bring your best self to the test by taking care of your basic needs the day of and prior. Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep the night before the test and then start your day with a balanced breakfast. Give yourself peace of mind by preparing all the necessary identification you’ll need the night prior and double check that you have it all on the morning of the test (and as you leave).
When you check in for your test you will need a form of photo ID like your driver's license or another form of official identification, and the name on your ID must be identical to the name that you used to register for the VTNE. You should plan to arrive at the testing center early, just in case there are any unexpected delays on your way.
You may or may not feel like you need a last-minute review so do what feels best for you. If you’re feeling prepared, consider taking a few minutes for some quiet reflection to calm your nerves or give yourself a pep talk. And hey — if NOTHING goes as planned the morning of the VTNE, that’s okay! Try to not let it get inside of your head and affect you during the test.
Words of Wisdom
Confidence can be a game-changer when you’re taking the VTNE. Trust in your preparation and the hard work you've put in. Take a deep breath before starting the test and remind yourself that you're well-prepared and capable.
We asked credentialed vet techs in our community what they wish they did differently before going into the VTNE and so many responded that they wished they would have had more confidence or allowed themselves to trust their skills and knowledge more. So put all thoughts of failing or not being good enough to do well on the VTNE aside. You’ve got this!
You Passed the VTNE… Now What?
Congratulations on passing the VTNE! Your official scores will be sent to the jurisdiction you selected during the application process. Now, you'll need to contact your state or provincial agency to complete the credentialing process. And don’t forget to celebrate this HUGE milestone in your career as a credentialed veterinary technician.
You Didn’t Pass… Now What?
If you didn't pass, please remember that this setback does not define your worth or ability. Take some time to disconnect and reset emotionally. Then, assess what went wrong and how you can improve for your next attempt. Preparing for the VTNE is a lot of work and takes a lot of time and focus so don’t feel pressured to get back into the cycle of studying and preparing right away. It’s okay to give yourself some time to take care of other aspects of your life. The VTNE will be there when you’re ready!
And there you have it, future credentialed vet tech! We've walked you through the ins and outs of the VTNE, from the moment you sign up to the second you get that "pass" notification. Remember, the journey to becoming a vet tech is a marathon, not a sprint. Equip yourself with the right resources, study techniques, and a sprinkle of self-belief. You've got this, and we're cheering you on every step of the way!
To see more from Love Huvet — check out https://lovehuvet.com/
To see more from Hound — check out https://www.hound.vet/
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