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Striving to Be a DPT

SPT Test-Taking Skills

Published July 21, 2014 5:43 PM by Jocelyn Wallace

One of my biggest strengths in PT school thus far has been my test-taking skills. Due to the extremely accelerated summer semester, there is simply no way to study everything to the extent you can in undergraduate studies. This means you can no longer out-study bad test-taking skills. Here are a few lessons I've learned so far:

Eliminate answer choices (creatively). Everyone has heard this strategy before but it gets harder when you're faced with an exam that, while multiple choice, is designed to be challenging. Answer choices that are clearly incorrect, silly or outrageous are now few and far between and, in my weaker subjects (like physiology), every answer choice can seem plausible. Of course, we're learning to be clinicians and need to study hard, but occasionally a question will catch you off guard and good guesswork can be the difference in making the grade.

I suggest analyzing the answer choices by comparing them to each other not for content but for patterns in how they are written. For example, an answer choice may ask you to choose a sequence of events, such as what occurs during electrical conduction in the heart. Look for patterns in the answer choices and eliminate those that don't fit the pattern. Do all but one option begin with "SA node"? If so, eliminate that outlier and continue searching. I've had about 11 exams so far and can think of numerous instances where this strategy has paid off.

Don't change your answers unless you are absolutely certain. Many say that the amount of information coming at you during PT school is like "drinking from a fire hose," and it's true. No matter how hard you study, you will not feel certain of yourself all the time like you may have in undergrad. Not to mention, physical therapy is a field full of gray areas. Already, our professors have told us, "this is how it is in your book and for the boards, but this is what new evidence shows and this is what I expect you to say on a test." Don't let this overwhelm you. If you're studying hard and staying engaged in the material, you will know it, and so far sticking to my instincts has been a huge help.

Adapt. At my school, we have multiple professors for each class, all with different teaching and testing styles, and you must learn how to adapt. To my knowledge, many programs function similarly. My best suggestion for making quick adjustments to new professors is to slow down with note-taking and pay attention to the professor's lecture. Think about what that person is saying, how his voice may change and the things he repeats, versus frantically transcribing the lecture. You can even speak to him about how he tests and where you should place your focus. So far, our professors have seemed very receptive to these types of questions. They understand that we're drowning in information and can't know everything.

In sum, test taking begins well before exam time. It's important to focus on what's going on in class in order to optimize your test preparation. With strong studying, you'll be well prepared and your instincts will likely be spot on. However, if you get caught off guard, I suggest carefully analyzing the question for patterns in order to eliminate answers.

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