The EPPP: 4 letters that will strike fear in the hearts of clinical psychology graduates everywhere!

Developed and administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPBB), the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology is a 225-item test of endurance spanning 4.5 hours (including the 15-minute tutorial).

For many, the EPPP represents one of the last hurdles that must be tackled before they can hang up a shingle outside of their office doors and proudly proclaim themselves to be a licensed clinical psychologist.

When I first looked over the detailed materials that the ASPBB publishes about the EPPP, my heart skipped a few beats. Not only did I have to review materials that I covered years ago in graduate school, but I had to learn about content areas I only vaguely remembered from my Psych 100 textbook!

However, after multiple conversations with colleagues who had successfully passed the EPPP, as well as those who were embarking on the EPPP journey with me at the same time, I realized that the same skills that had gotten all of us to this point (Ph.D. or Psy.D. in hand, or coming in a few short months after internship has ended) were the same skills that would allow us to pass the EPPP.

Like over 80% of doctoral level candidates, I passed the EPPP the first time I took the test and never looked back.

To help reduce your anxiety about the EPPP, I am delighted to share 6 of the most helpful preparation tips that I received. Good luck!

1. Take EPPP practice exams.

The single most important thing that you can do in your preparation for the EPPP is to practice taking EPPP exams. The EPPP has a distinctive question style that can be difficult to decipher. Familiarizing yourself with the types of questions and the (often) vague response sets will help you to prepare for exam day.

In addition, taking at least a few full practice tests under simulated exam conditions (timed, without interruptions or distractions) is critical to helping you prepare for the experience of feeling under pressure for over 4 hours.

Now many of you might be asking where you can track down practice EPPP exams. First, the ASPBB provides practice exams for candidates who have already been authorized to take the EPPP, including the opportunity to take a full-length practice EPPP at a local testing center (for a fee).

In addition, there are multiple private companies that offer practice exams and other prep materials. These include (in alphabetical order) AATBS, PsychPrep and The Taylor Study Method. I recognize that many graduate students are on a ramen diet, so I would also encourage you to contact fellow students to ask for their old materials. My colleagues were all willing to share their hand-me-downs, likely because they didn’t want to have reminders of the exam lying around!

I want to note that you should not be discouraged by how you perform on practice exams. A commonly expressed sentiment among EPPP test takers has been that they outperformed their practice exam scores on the real EPPP. I will not venture a guess as to why this is the case but rest assured that I (and many before me) did worse on practice exams than on the actual EPPP.

2. Review the material…but not too much.

Some of you might experience what I did when I took my first practice EPPP without having reviewed any material: shock at how little I knew!

However, in speaking with colleagues, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Many of them had also bombed their first practice test. Following this failure, I cracked open a set of test preparation materials and diligently read each and every page. Imagine my surprise when I took my second practice EPPP after having studied for several weeks… and got the same terrible score!

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should not do any test preparation. What I am saying is that the level of detail in your preparation materials (be it a textbook, study guide, or other notes) will often exceed the level of detail that the EPPP will require. This means that cramming tiny detail after detail into your memory banks is likely not to be an efficient use of your time. Once you understand the general gist of a concept, you will likely be able to answer an EPPP question about that topic.

3. There is only so much studying you can handle!

One of the most common questions I get asked by someone who plans to take the EPPP is “How long should I study for?”. Recognizing that there is no “right” answer for this question, I encourage you to consider what you would feel comfortable with. After all, managing your anxiety is half the battle when it comes to the EPPP!

In my conversations, the majority of my colleagues have studied for somewhere between 2-6 months before taking the EPPP. As with anything, there are outliers, and I also know of successful EPPP test takers who have studied for less than 2 weeks (!) as well as for 1 year or more.

As most of us will forget materials that we reviewed several months ago, I encourage you to consider a compact study timeframe that will allow you to dedicate your efforts to studying for the EPPP. Most successful EPPP test takers that I know have ramped up their study efforts as the exam approaches, shifting from studying only on weekends during the first few months, to studying several hours a day, every day, in the weeks leading up to the exam.


4. Make a “cheat sheet”.

I encourage you to take notes of concepts that you find yourself seeing frequently on practice tests, and which you are struggling to remember. I created a “cheat sheet” of facts and figures that I really had difficulty remembering, and which I kept getting wrong on my practice exams.

If you want to take this one step further, I will happily share a tidbit that really helped me manage my test anxiety. The EPPP testing center will provide you with scratch paper during the test. On my EPPP exam day, as soon as I started the exam, I quickly wrote out all of my memorized “cheat sheet” facts on the scratch paper they provided.

Being able to do this gave me great confidence going into the exam that all of the little details I kept messing up would not trip me up on the real test!

5. Find a study buddy.

As you know, the EPPP test preparation process is unpleasant, at best. If you are able to, find someone to study with you and to keep you going on the days in which you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.

For me, it was helpful to know that several colleagues would be writing the EPPP at around the same time and we were able to track our progress together. If you happen to be in a more isolated location, or without any colleagues who happen to be taking the EPPP at the same time, the web can be an excellent resource.

There are a number of online forums (e.g., The Student Doctor Network) where you can seek out a virtual “study buddy” and connect with someone over email or Skype.

6. What happens if you fail?

The most recent data reported by the ASPBB shows that over 80% of test takers will pass the first time they take the exam – so your chances are good, provided you prepare! In fact, if you want to really get a sense of your odds, you can check out pass rates by graduate program, as well as performance by content area on the EPPP.

Relax with the knowledge that you wouldn’t already be at this point in your career if you didn’t know how to study for an exam (think undergraduate/graduate courses, GRE, etc.). In the scenario that you don’t do as well on the EPPP as you would have liked, don’t beat yourself up. It happens and is not a reflection of you and your abilities.

Rather, it is more likely to be a product of your preparation strategies, which can be improved!

Ask yourself if you spent enough time preparing, or perhaps were trying to juggle too many competing responsibilities at the time of the exam, or maybe you are the type of test taker that would benefit from enrolling in an EPPP preparation course. Once you are honest with yourself about what you could have done differently the first time, you will be ready to correct your mistakes on the next go around.

Requirements for re-taking the EPPP vary by state/province as some jurisdictions require waiting periods and/or re-approval. You are advised to contact your local psychology licensing board to learn more about your particular jurisdiction’s regulations.

Regardless of jurisdiction, the ASPBB only allows examinees to take the EPPP 4 times over a 12-month period. Given the amount of time required to prepare and the financial cost of taking the exam, it is encouraged that anyone re-taking the EPPP give themselves adequate preparation time before trying again.


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Eric Zhou, PhD

Eric Zhou, PhD

Eric Zhou, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.He completed his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, and his pre-doctoral internship at Brown University's Alpert Medical School in Providence, RI.

Dr. Zhou actively conducts research examining the challenges associated with cancer survivorship, including the treatment of insomnia, the management of sexual dysfunction, and quality of life.Clinically, he meets with patients in the Perini Family Survivors' Center and the Adult Survivorship Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Eric Zhou, PhD

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