Although I’ve been taking multiple-choice tests since elementary school, nothing I’d done before PT school came close to resembling a practical. Although these tests strike fear into the hearts of many a DPT student, I’ve grown to appreciate these examinations that try to imitate real-life scenarios.
It’s easy to jump into action the second it’s your turn, but you’re better off waiting to gather your thoughts. Take a minute to read through the case and plan ahead for what you’re about to do. If you’re allowed, jot down a few notes or reminders. You don’t want to begin too hastily and realize you’ve missed something important.
2. Correct yourself
Even in the clinic, if you make a minor mistake, you’re usually able to correct it, so why not do the same during the practical? If you realize you mixed up flexors and extensors, just as you’re finishing, say so. If you’ve started working on your patient’s right side, and realize the case mentions her left, switch and start again. Not everyone is perfect all the time, and realizing when you’ve made a mistake without prompting is a sign you’re learning.
3. Practice what you’ll say
It’s easy to practice the therapeutic exercises or joint mobilization tasks you’ll have to perform, but don’t forget to practice what you want to say as you’re doing them. On our practicals, we get points off for using medical terminology, and it helps to practice speaking in laymen’s terms beforehand.
4. Get a friend to observe
Greeting cards tell you to “Dance like nobody’s watching,” but you don’t want to get into that mindset before a practical. In addition to the friend you’re working on, find another classmate to simply watch you practice. She may be able to offer feedback, but more importantly, she will help get you accustomed to performing with the added pressure of being observed.
5. Don’t memorize everything
If you’ll be asked normal joint ranges of motion, or common substitutions for therapeutic exercises, don’t overburden yourself by over-memorizing these details. You can easily figure out the elbow’s range of motion by moving your arm, or a substitution by trying it yourself during the test. Save your brain power for performing the techniques accurately.
That said, if you’re worried that under pressure you’re going to forget which way is varus and which is valgus, devise a mnemonic you’ll be able to recall easily. I also advise you not to listen to anyone who says, “Don’t be nervous!” After over a year of practicals, I have yet to encounter a classmate doesn’t get the pre-practical jitters. So embrace your nervousness, and figure out how you can maximize your success by letting it be.