Ready – Set – Test: Prepare to Rock Your Radiography Exam

Congratulations! You got terrific grades in high school and devoted 2 to 4 more years of your life completing an Associate's or Bachelor's degree program. Now it is time to cement your commitment to a career as a radiologic technologist with ARRT (the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) certification.1 These tips can de-stress the preparation process and boost your confidence for the radiography exam.

Healthy anxiety management

For most people, it is natural to feel somewhat nervous before an important test – even with thorough preparation. However, according to the American Test Anxieties Association, an estimated 16 to 20% of students have high test anxiety, with another 18% moderately troubled by an impending exam.2

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. It can be based on fear of failure, uncertainty about what will happen in the future as a result of a poor exam score, or dread of repeating unsatisfactory test performance in the past.

A little dose of stress can activate your natural fight or flight response, producing adrenaline and energy that gets you through the 200+ question exam. However, an article in Psycom3 indicates that severe test anxiety can produce symptoms which could impair your ability to do well:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Blanking out
  • Negative thoughts about the outcome
  • Emotional responses such as feelings of fear, anger, helplessness, guilt, or shame
  • Physical symptoms including elevated heart rate, headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, dry mouth, tense muscles, or sweating3

Since test anxiety is often triggered by procrastination, a conscientious study plan implemented with a prudent timeframe is essential in managing anxiety. More on this in the next section.

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Meanwhile, University at Albany4 recommends these lifestyle adjustments to feel your best on test day:

  • You might experience the emotional temptation to binge on high fat/low nutrition comfort foods. Instead, snack on nutritious options like fresh produce, pretzels, and whole-grain crackers while studying to keep your brain and body from feeling sluggish.
  • Sleep is more effective than caffeine. Too much caffeine triggers energy spikes and dips that disrupt concentration. Sufficient rest renews and stabilizes energy levels more effectively.
  • Take time for exercise. It may feel like every second counts when preparing for your exam – especially if you are taking other classes, have a job, or are a parent. Yet a workout class or brisk walk can clear your head for productive studying.4

Plan, don’t cram

If you are obtaining your initial ARRT credentials, you likely chose the primary eligibility pathway. After completing ARRT educational and ethics requirements, you can schedule the examination, even if you have not yet graduated from your degree program. The exam is booked through a Pearson VUE5 test center and must be taken within a year of application.

Eager as you may be to achieve certified status, allow a reasonable amount of time for preparation.

The 4-hour (total including tutorial and survey) exam contains 220 questions (only 200 of which are scored). The category breakdown is as follows:

  • Patient care – 33 questions
  • Image production – 50 questions
  • Safety – 53 questions
  • Procedures – 64 questions6

Plot study time proportionately, allotting the most time for procedure-related review.

Your exam prep book and course materials cover a great deal of information. All of it cannot possibly be on the test, but of course, there is no way to know what will show up. Do not try to memorize everything. Instead, Clover Learning recommends identifying areas where you are the least comfortable. Then spend the bulk of your time learning those topics. With a firm grasp of underlying concepts, you are more likely to identify correct answers.7 With this focused learning, you will also become a better rad tech.

A 2017 article published by BoardVitals emphasizes the value of mixing up your study methodology with sample problems. “Some people find that answering practice questions breaks up the monotony of reading and reviewing text, while others use them as their only means of preparation. Question banks also help users get used to the question formats and can help users figure out a pace to complete the exam.”8

With practice questions, you can refine the skill of not getting flustered when you do not readily know the answer. You learn to think through a question rationally, perhaps approaching it from another perspective, mentally eliminating wrong answers. 

Additionally, you develop a sense of what questions to skip, rather than spending too much time on them. (Remember, in the real exam, you have less than a minute for each question.)

On the day of your exam

Get up early enough that you do not feel rushed. Eat a good breakfast, and drink some water to stay hydrated. Review driving directions to the test center before you leave home. As you travel, remind yourself that the objective of the exam is not to trip you up or cause you to fail. It is to confirm that you have the knowledge necessary to provide competent patient care – a trait already vitally important to you, or you would not be pursuing this career.

Plan to arrive at the test site at least 30 minutes before your exam time. Bring two forms of identification and an extra layer to stay comfortable in case the temperature in the exam room fluctuates. However, other personal belongings must be placed in a locker – they cannot accompany you to the testing room.

The brief tutorial at the beginning of the exam includes a few practice questions to help you get familiar with the testing format. The tutorial does not reduce official exam time (3.5 hours), so use it. You might pick up a functional tip or two that helps you avoid a needless error.

Now, take a deep breath and feel confident that your diligent preparation will help you achieve a high score.


  1. Radiography. American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. October 14, 2019.
  2. Text [sic] Anxiety. American Test Anxieties Association. October 14, 2019.
  3. Managing Test Anxiety. Psycom. October 14, 2019.
  4. Expert tips to prepare for exams. University at Albany. October 14, 2019.
  5. ARRT Certification Testing. Pearson VUE. October 14, 2019.
  6. Overview of the Radiography Exam (AART). Mometrix Test Preparation. October 14, 2019.
  7. 4 Steps for Crushing the ARRT Radiography Exam. Clover Learning. October 14, 2019.
  8. FAQs About the Radiography Exam. BoardVitals. October 14, 2019.