Preparing for Tests

As much as most of us hate tests, they will be a large part of your grade in physical therapy school. They are one of the best ways professors can assess how well you have learned the material. Just like any professional program, there will be a lot of material to cover in a short amount of time.

Good study habits are going to be the basis in helping you prepare for tests. One thing that is very important is to study the material right after you learn it. It will help you retain the information better, and when it comes time to study for the test, it will be more of a review for you than a “re-learning” of the material.

Preparing for tests will require discipline, effective time management, and determining how you study best for each class. You may learn more efficiently by studying on your own or in a study group where you can talk things out. Maybe creating tables and diagrams works for you. Summarize the information the best you can with a review sheet. This also comes in handy when the tests are cumulative.

You must also understand that ultimately you are responsible for your learning. A professor may lecture on a topic, but you are expected to learn, digest, and apply the information. Classes with laboratory components will help you do that, but it is still up to you to make the most of your education. There will be many times when a professor does not cover the material he or she planned to, but expects you to learn it for the test. If you notice you are struggling with a topic, ask a fellow student or your professor for help right away so you are not in a panic when it is time to take the test.

What you are learning in physical therapy school cannot just be retained until the exam. This is information you are going to need to use in practice, so you want to retain this knowledge. And the two tests that matter the most, the National Physical Therapy Exam and the state exam, will cover everything you have learned in school so you will need to retain what you have been taught.

Practice Tests

Practice tests can be used to help you study for the GRE to get into physical therapy school, exams in physical therapy school, and in preparing for the NPTE and the state licensing exams. They give you an idea of what the real test will be like and hopefully will help you determine if your study habits are helping you learn the material.

For the GRE, you can purchase books that contain questions from previous GREs and come with CDs of questions. This will give you a good idea of what questions to expect on the GRE and the level of difficulty. There are often clues in the back of the book on how to solve certain types of mathematical problems. They also contain the answers to the practice questions along with an explanation that helps you if you don’t understand the answer. The CD allows you to simulate the environment in which you will take the exam at a testing center. You can also take courses that will “teach” you how to do well on the test, but they are often very expensive.

In school, some professors many allow you to get a hold of old exams they have given, and that has many advantages. You can get an idea of the exam’s format and questions. You may even be able to get a few years’ worth of old tests in a class, and if you see the same question on each one, it is likely this professor really likes to ask a question on a particular topic. But do not solely use the old tests to study from because a professor may no longer emphasize a topic they used to, and not seeing a topic on old exams does not mean it won’t be on your upcoming exam. It can get a little overwhelming to have five years’ worth of tests to study from, so it may be best to limit yourself to the last two or three years and do that in addition to studying the new material.

As far as preparing for your licensing exams, keep in mind that the material you are learning in school is going to be what is on the test. All the conditions, diagnostic tests, and treatments that you will be learning will be covered on both the NPTE and state exams to determine if you have the basic skill sets to practice physical therapy. Like the GRE, you can purchase books with CDs that review content and contain practice questions, answers, study tips, and strategies so you can get an idea of what is going to be on the exam.

Study Tips

Physical therapy school will be a lot of work so having good study habits will put you on the path to success, allowing you to master a large amount of material in a very short period.

Organization and time management are very important in developing good study habits. Have separate binders and notebooks for each subject so you can find things quickly when it is time to study. The time you put into each subject will depend on the difficulty of the class and on how well you are grasping the material. You may need to put in more time in one subject than your other classmates and vice versa. Buy a calendar and write down the due dates for assignments and projects. Note them prior to the due date so you give yourself enough time to work on them. You may also want to create a schedule that sets aside a specific amount of study time for each subject.

Instead of just going over your lecture notes, rewrite them and do it as soon as you can after the lecture. You will be reviewing the lecture, and the sooner you do it, the more likely you will remember the abbreviations you made when taking notes. It may be even better to record the lectures. First, ask your professor if it is okay to record their lecture and play it back as you rewrite the notes. This will allow you to catch things they missed, and if you don’t understand it, you can play it over and over again.

Making flash cards for classes that have lots of definitions and concepts to memorize is very helpful. Carry them with you wherever you go and use them on the bus to class, in the waiting room for an appointment, etc. Make them for each section as you are studying a subject so you can build upon what you are learning and use them in study groups. Mix them up and flip them over so you stretch your brain when you study. Tables and diagrams that are color coded can help you learn by visualizing concepts and grouping similar ideas together. Flash cards, tables, and diagrams will also come in handy as study guides for exams.

Form study groups with your classmates to ask each other questions and talk out tough concepts. Not only can you get answers from your peers, you can explain concepts you understand to others, which will reinforce what you know. Even talking things out that you do not understand can help you see why you are confused.

One of the best resources that many students do not use is the professor. They will be able to give you some tips on the best way to study and will appreciate that you are making an effort to do well in their class. Ask to review assignments and tests you did not do well on. This may be painful, but it will give you a chance to figure out what the professors were looking for.

Also remember to take care of yourself so you feel great and can do well in school. Eat healthy, make time for exercise, get a good night’s sleep, and take breaks in between studying. Staying up until 3 a.m. cramming for an exam at 8 a.m. is not going to be to your advantage.

If you are a high school student or even in college and reading this, start these habits now so they will be second nature once in physical therapy school.

Test Anxiety

In physical therapy school, it is perfectly normal to be stressed out about upcoming tests. It probably is part of what motivates you to study, but for some, that anxiety can actually affect your ability to focus and perform well on a test even when you know the material.

Even if you have mastered the material, you may have doubts about how you are going to do on the test. Those questions may overwhelm you to the point you cannot focus on the material that you know. While studying, you may be distracted because you are thinking you are not going to do well no matter what.

There can be physical manifestations, such as “butterflies,” tension headaches, and stomach aches. Your adrenaline levels may go up, and you may experience your heart racing. You may shake or break out in a sweat, while others may feel like they are going to pass out or throw up. In turn, you will start to worry about these physical symptoms, which cause even greater stress, and it become a vicious cycle of worrying and feeling bad.

You may get the test and your mind may go “blank” or wander off topic. Once you are done with the test, the anxiety subsides, and you start to remember stuff you could not while taking the test. And of course, the likely end result of test anxiety is a lower grade on the test, which will only increase your anxiety about the next test.

But there are strategies to help you overcome test anxiety. First and foremost, develop and maintain good study habits and time management. By studying the material after it is presented, you will retain it better and be able to review it later, rather than learning it when it comes time to study for the exam. Make sure the environment you are studying in allows you to focus on the material and change it if it does not. Figure out how to study in a way that is effective for you, which may differ from how your classmates learn. It may even be different for each class you take. For example, flash cards might be helpful in a psychology class where there are a lot of concepts to learn, but a flow chart might be more helpful in learning a chemical pathway in biochemistry.

Having confidence in what you know and getting help on the material you are struggling with can relieve some of your anxiety. Help your classmates with topics you understand and that they are struggling with to boost your confidence and reinforce what you know. Also take care of yourself. Your brain as well as your body needs this good food, exercise, and enough sleep to function well. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation can help you calm down your mind and help with test anxiety. While test anxiety can cause a lot of problems, good habits and healthy lifestyle choices should help you overcome it and achieve your professional goal of becoming a physical therapist.