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NAVLE Season: How to Study for the Biggest Exam of your Life

Updated: Apr 19

The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination is required to practice veterinary medicine in Canada and the U.S.A.

Normally the NAVLE season is in November/December for final year students. If you are in the usual school year start of Aug/Sept, then you get a chance to write in the Fall, and if you happen to fail the exam, you get a second chance to write in the spring (April), prior to your graduation in May/June. Those that are writing in the Fall would have registered for the NAVLE in August.

I don't mean to brag but... in my graduating class all of the students that wrote in Fall passed the NAVLE - yup, a 100% pass rate. ;)

Now, not everyone in my class wrote in the Fall. I know of one that had to cancel due to illness.

I'm not writing this to say that the NAVLE was a walk in the park. As this post says "it’s arguably the most important exam of your life up until this point." I have a colleague who failed twice, and now needs to re-write the exam, but with COVID-19 restrictions, she is having a tough time staying motivated to study. This is one of the reasons why I thought it would be nice to give some of these veterinary students a place to focus on because it's four years of curriculum jammed into one exam that changes the course of your life.

The questions on the NAVLE get rotated, and no one is to speak of the questions from the NAVLE - not that you'll remember any from that grueling 6 hours you sat answering multiple guess questions. But the basic concepts are the same.

Preparation for Licensing in Canada

For those who are preparing for licensure having graduated from a veterinary college that is outside of an AVMA accredited facility, there are more steps to obtaining your veterinary license than writing the NAVLE.

1) Everyone, including veterinary students at accredited facilities, needs to register with the NEB. Click here for more information.

All of the links below will pertain to licensing in Canada, so if you're writing in a different country you'll have to check in with your licensing body.

2022 NAVLE exam dates

2) If you graduated from a non-AVMA accredited veterinary school, you will need to complete the BCSE, PSA, CPE and the NAVLE (not necessarily in that order).

  • The Basic and Clinical Sciences Examinations (BCSE)

  • The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE)

  • The Preliminary Surgical Assessment for the CPE (PSA)

  • The Clinical Proficiency Examination (CPE).

I recently created a post for those preparing for the PSA, which you can read here.

If you graduated from an AVMA accredited veterinary school, then your Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) are used in place of the BCSE/PSA/CPE, therefore, for licensure these students will need the NAVLE and the provincial examination.

Studying for the NAVLE

When you are studying for the NAVLE, I recommend that you spend the majority of your time on the Big Four species: Dogs, Cats, Horses, Cattle.

Roughly 77% of the questions that you will get are about those species groups. So if the passing grade is 70%, and you study these four species groups really well, plus the really important select few diseases of the other species, then you will be just fine! Don't over think it! For more information on the break down of the NAVLE, you can find a nice chart here.

Tips on Studying for the other species/topics

For the other species groups (swine/porcine, small ruminants, exotic/pocket pets, poultry, pet birds like parrots, camelids, cervids, public health, other), you should probably know a few things about the Notifiable (Reportable) diseases in your country (or your neighbour's - for us it's the U.S.A.). In general, anything that can be transmitted to humans will fall under your responsibility to educate the general public, so regardless of whether you want to learn about chickens, communicable diseases and public health are part of your job. As an example, if poultry encompasses 2% of the NAVLE, that's roughly 7 questions. But you can expect that of those questions, those really important diseases are likely to come up, so focus there.

Here's a quick list of Reportable diseases for Canada, and below will be some links mostly from the Merck Veterinary Manual for those diseases to help you study. The diseases are either highly infectious which could wipe out a population of that species, which would drastically affect the global food supply, or they are contagious with a high mortality rate for humans if they contract the disease. You may wish to note how the disease is transmitted, how would you make the diagnosis, and something about how you would treat it or control it.

Diseases affecting Multiple Species:

Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis)

Bluetongue (virus spread by midges Culicoides that affects ruminants)

Brucellosis (Brucella abortus, Brucella suis, Brucella melitensis)

Cysticercosis (Taenia saginata, Taenia solium - tapeworms of cattle and swine)

Foot-and-mouth (Aphthovirus, a member of the family Picornaviridae)

Rift Valley Fever (mosquito borne virus affecting mostly ruminant species and humans)

Rinderpest (declared eradicated by the OIE)

Trichinellosis (zoonotic roundworm transmitted by raw or under-cooked meat, historically from consumption of pork, but also found in carnivores like bears)

Vesicular Stomatitis (basically, any vesicular disease of ruminants and horses should be biopsied)

Equine (Horse/Donkey/Zebra):

African Horse Sickness (viral disease transmitted by midges Culicoides)

Contagious Equine Metritis (venereal bacteria Taylorella equigenitalis)

Equine Infectious Anemia (virus passed through blood feeding insects)

Equine Piroplasmosis (tick-borne protozoal disease)

Bovine (Cattle):

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, mad cow disease, a prion infectious disease)

Bovine Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis)

Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (a highly contagious Mycoplasma)

Lumpy Skin Disease (pox virus)

Of the other species, pigs (swine) encompass the next most abundant exam questions (approximately 6%, or 22 questions).


Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera - enveloped RNA virus in the genus Pestivirus of the family Flaviviridae)

Pseudorabies (Aujezky's Disease)

Small Ruminants (Sheep/Goats):

Peste des petits ruminants (viral disease similar to Rinderpest)

Scrapie (similar to BSE and CWD a prion infectious disease)

Poultry (Chickens/Turkeys):

Fowl Typhoid (Salmonella gallinarum)

Newcastle's Disease (Avian Paramyxovirus)

Pullorum (Salmonella pullorum)

Cervids (Deer/Elk/Moose):

Chronic Wasting Disease (prion disease like BSE)

Other thoughts while I was writing this:

  • Don't spend all your time learning about Sensitivity and Specificity. Sure, you'll get one or two questions on epidemiology and R0, but focus your time on the species that will count.

  • On top of the above reportable diseases, think about creating a list of Top 5 or 10 diseases for the other species groups (similar to the VIN prep course). How do you identify or diagnose the disease? How do you treat or control that disease?

  • If a disease or condition affects multiple species, it's probably something to study. Think about Vitamin deficiencies or toxicoses that can occur.

  • To practice a NAVLE for timing of the exam, to ensure you can get through it all within the time allotted, you can head to the NBVME website to take a practice test or purchase a sample test.

I did the VetPrep program for studying for the NAVLE and I took part in VIN's NAVLE prep course.

VIN NAVLE prep course

For the newest course catalog for VIN, head here. It essentially goes through the Top 20 diseases that you should know for each of the species groups. The next course offering will be for Spring 2022.

VIN NAVLE prep course

If you are writing in the Fall and missed the registration for the current course, you can also go to the course archives and find a course. Don't forget that the VIN membership is free for veterinary students.

VIN course archives

VIN courses


A few of my classmates preferred to use the ZukuReview (which will email you a prep question every day if you sign up for their email list).

I really hope that you find this information useful and Good Luck!

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