I tried many different study methods, some more effective than others. Some worked well for certain classes and not for others, so I had to adjust for each class and each professor.
Hopefully this isn’t too overwhelming, and I promise that you don’t have to do all of this to do well in PT school. Some classmates just took notes and read their notes later, and did just as well. These are ideas that I tested out, and most worked well for me. They’re also not in any particular order.
1. Take Good Notes During Lecture
Yeah, it’s pretty obvious. Some classes had powerpoints, so you didn’t need to take extra notes. Some powerpoints had a little information so you had to write a lot on the side. Some lectures were hard to stay awake in, so being active and typing or writing can help you focus. Sometimes it was also good to not take too many notes during class and listen to the professor.
2. Take Notes Using Color
I took most of my notes with the Staedtler pens. It kept me organized, and was useful for drawing and labeling information. I used the other pens occasionally.
Here are links to buy the pens/pencils. You can find some of them cheaper elsewhere.
Pilot G2 Colored Pens
Pilot G2 Ultra Fine Black Pens
Paper Mate Mechanical Pencils
Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens (I paid about 20 for mine)
Paper Mate Felt Tip Pens
Crayola Colored Pencils
3. Rewatch lecture videos
Our anatomy professor records her lectures and powerpoints, so I rewatched 100% of them. It took a long time, but that way I could focus more on listening to her during class, because I knew I could write down any specific information later.
I draw as much as I can. I love drawing so it makes studying really interesting. Drawing directly into your notes is helpful so you don’t have to look up a picture when you’re studying. It was beneficial for me because often I wouldn’t get a great grasp on information until I had drawn it out and color-coded everything. Drawing also helps you organize your notes better, especially if there is a lot of information in more than one location. Sometimes it takes 10 powerpoint slides to explain a process, so I tried to put everything on one paper so it made sense to me.
If you’re not that great at drawing, that’s fine! As long as the photo makes sense to you, that’s all that matters.
5. Print and Label Photos
I also printed out lots of photos if I knew that I could not draw them well enough (like vertebrae or nerves), and then wrote extra information next to the diagrams.
6. Cut Out Body Parts
This was really useful for dermatome maps. Textbooks show both sides of the body, but I liked having the ability to flip over the paper and see how each side is connected.
You can also do something similar for muscles and bony landmarks.
We read a handful of articles for our patient care class, so I highlighted as I read through the article and then typed up an outline from the highlighted parts. That way when I was studying for the exam, I just had to read my outline instead of the article.
8. Rewrite notes
I studied by picking a topic, section of notes, or powerpoint slide and quizzed myself. I wrote down as much information as I could remember, and then double checked with my notes and filled in any information that I left out. I really liked drawing on white boards for this purpose. Whiteboards are fun for me, so I enjoyed using mine.
9. Use sheet protectors
I printed out some skeletons and drew muscles on top to quiz myself. This was really helpful with the back muscles because I could never remember them.
I already had a package of sheet protectors that I used for my lab binder, so hopefully you already have some. You can also use the front or back of a binder if you have a clear pocket there.
10. Use clay!
Similarly to the sheet protectors, you can mold muscles from the clay and place them on top of the skeleton photos. They don’t stick very well, but it works well enough. This was really helpful for the back muscles too, because there are so many confusing layers. The clay helped me visualize how muscles were related to each other, because sometimes it’s difficult to understand that from photos.
I bought mine from Walmart.
11. Watch KhanAcademy or Youtube videos
KhanAcademy was so helpful for physiology. Whenever classmates found good videos, they would be posted to the Facebook group. KhanAcademy tends to be more geared for undergraduate-level courses, but it’s still helpful to get a basic understanding before learning the details that you need to know.
12. Make Flashcards
I made a Quizlet for each muscle attachment, innervation, and action. I only really studied them on my phone, because the phone app will let you learn the flashcards in smaller batches. You’ll have 8-10 flashcards per round, and the ones that you missed will be repeated the next round until you learn them. If you learn them on your laptop, you’ll have to go through all of your flashcards each round, and then the next round has all of the cards that you missed. I found that it took me a lot longer to learn that way because I would forget the information more quickly.
There are several games that you can play. You can also make classes on quizlet. Several classmates really liked making quizlets, so they were all added to the same class, so all of the quizlets were in the same spot.
Here’s my blog post on How to Use Flashcards Efficiently.
13. Make muscle charts
I typed up most of the information from the book, and added information from what our professor wanted us to know. I added any other information that was relevant to each muscle, which really helped me remember the information. I made one copy for my regular binder, and another copy for my lab binder.
This is something that everyone struggles with. I would learn the information one day, and then not go back to it for several days or a week, and then I would forget a lot of the information by then. Going over the information every day, or every other day, would have been really helpful for a few classes.
15. Study new information that same day
I started doing this near the end of the semester, when I was more caught up with the material. If possible, try to look over all of your new notes that same day. There have been studies that show that it’s better to go over the information as soon as possible, so that you’ll remember it a lot better. It is difficult to do this though, especially if you feel like you are already behind and need to learn last week’s material before beginning this week’s.
16. Find where you’re most productive
Some days I worked just fine in my room. My L-shaped desk was a life-saver, so I could have a heavy textbook open on one side and have my laptop and notes open on the other. I had a ton of space to do my work, which was really helpful.
When I had trouble focusing, I had to go to the library and be around other people. I feel guilty for watching Netflix in the library, so I don’t waste nearly as much time in the library. I also had some luck studying at a coffeeshop.
17. Study with other people
I studied with other people before every exam for our patient care class, and it was so helpful to speak out loud and quiz each other. Try to stick to smaller groups of 2-4, just so it’s easier to stay on topic and so everyone has a chance to answer a question first.
18. Organize your notes
One class had a lot of different types of notes. We had powerpoints, articles, handouts, textbook outlines, and lecture notes, so it was really easy to feel overwhelmed and disorganized. I typed as much information as I could into one giant study guide and studied that.
19. Listen to music while you study
When it’s hard to focus, sometimes music can make you feel more energized and ready to work. However, sometimes I pick music that I love to sing along to and study even less than I was before I turned the music on. Pandora and Spotify both have great studying stations. Some classmates also like 8tracks.
20. Most importantly, take breaks!
I definitely took tons of breaks. There were some weekends that I didn’t pick up a book, and some weekends that I never put down my books. However, I always did something fun every day. I watched a Netflix episode (or 3) with dinner, took 10 minutes to do some yoga, or checked the facebook group to see how many classmates also weren’t studying.
Here’s some other helpful information:
Read the follow-up post here: “10 Helpful Study Tips“