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10 Helpful Study Tips for Physical Therapy School

This is a continuation of the post titled “20 Study Tips for PT School“. That’s one of my most popular posts, so I though it was a good idea to explain what I’ve changed about those study habits. The top 5 are from the same list of 20 from the previous post.

How I Studied Differently

1. Rewatch lecture videos

I only rewatched videos for Anatomy lecture, and I haven’t rewatched anything or relistened to any lecture recordings since then. The videos take a long time to watch, and often times it was just faster to ask a classmate to explain things to me if I missed anything during class.

2. Print and label photos

I only did this a handful of times during Anatomy, but I found it a lot more helpful to draw everything myself. Sure, the photos aren’t as accurate, but I learned a lot more by actually drawing pictures than just rewriting my notes next to a picture.

3. Use sheet protectors

This was a good idea at first. I tried doing this during neuroscience when we learned the ascending and descending tracts. However, it took me a long time to find good photos that are clear and unlabeled. I also didn’t use them very often, and found that my other study ideas were more efficient.

4. Use clay

I haven’t used clay since I took that photo. I’m glad that I have the clay, and I think it is still a useful thing to have especially because it was only a couple dollars, but there are definitely faster ways to learn. Clay is great if you have difficulty imagining where muscles/ligaments attach, but I was able to see them in the cadaver lab anyways.

5. Listen to music while you study

This is definitely hit or miss for me. Music can help keep me focused, but it is usually very distracting. I study better with any music that is only instrumental, and I know that some classmates like listening to white noise. During finals week I only listened to “Roses” by the Chainsmokers playlist on Pandora. It wasn’t good for studying, but I had a lot of fun dancing to the music and it cheered me up.

New Study Habits I Tried

1. Figure out where you are most productive

I know this is probably common sense, but I did not figure out that I study best in the library until this semester. I always studied at home, in undergrad and in the beginning of PT school. That worked well enough, but I am a lot more focused when I am surrounded by other people working. I spend more time actually studying and am less likely to browse Facebook and watch Netflix.

2. Study at the gym

I made a lot of flashcards in every semester so far, but I always struggle with actually learning them. I could only focus on the flashcards when I was doing cardio at the gym. I found the stationary bike to be the best, but I know that classmates will learn Powerpoint slides on the elliptical and treadmill. It’s not going to be a great workout by any means, but it’s an easy way to learn and feel great about yourself at the same time.

3. Study well with other people

I wrote “study with other people” on my last post, but I felt the need to clarify a bit. I mostly studied by myself during the first semester, and I’ve been gradually working more with my classmates. Studying with others is great if everyone has studied a decent amount by themselves already. That way you can ask each other questions, quiz each other, explain difficult concepts, and fill in any blanks that others may have missed.

However, be prepared to leave any study groups that get sidetracked easily. Often I would begin studying with other people, but would be more productive if I had studied by myself. Study with different groups of classmates and see which ones you work best with.

4. Make practice exams

I made a lot of practice exams for Exercise Physiology and Neuroscience this semester. Other classmates made some for Kinesiology. We made them with Microsoft Word and had two separate documents, one with just questions and the other with answers. It was helpful to actually make the questions, because you can’t write a question if you don’t understand the material to begin with. This was especially helpful for the classes that had a lot of Powerpoint slides, because those can be boring to read through.

If you decide to write a practice exam, make sure to actually take the exam yourself. I would write exams and still not know most of the answers. It was also fun to throw in silly questions and photos, just to entertain anyone who also takes your exam. Everyone posted their practice tests on our Facebook group so that everyone could benefit from them.

5. Make a study guide

This was the most helpful for kinesiology and neuroscience lab practicals. Those classes tested us on lecture material that was relevant only to things that we can see in lab, so it was difficult to study for those exams when we had a lot of lecture information to go through. It’s helpful to go through the lecture information and pull out only the things that will be on a lab practical. I shared my study guides with all my classmates, so I found it most helpful to make a Google Doc. That way everyone can add to the study guide and edit any typos that I had made.

When I finished, I printed out two copies of the guide: one to stay in lab, and one for outside of lab. For the copy outside of lab, I read through the guide and highlighted anything that I did not know very well. That way I was able to save time and only read through the highlighted information later.

6. Study as early as possible

It’s so easy to fall into the habit of cramming right before an exam, especially when the exams are scheduled often and close together. Try to keep up with the material in all your classes as much as possible, even if there isn’t an upcoming test. I know that’s easier said than done, and I definitely did a ton of cramming for tests in 1-2 days. However, studying is so much less stressful if you start studying closer to 1 week in advance, so you only have to review information the day before the exam instead of trying to learn new information. This also gets easier with practice, so you might be cramming more in the first semester and studying more in advance in the later semesters.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you start studying for exams earlier, or if you manage to keep up with all your classes at once, it is easier for you to ask for help. To clarify, it gives you more time to ask for help. If you cram for an exam last minute, it can be time consuming to ask for help, and it might not be possible to get an answer from a professor if you wait too long to ask.

When going through the material for a class, I would write down any topics that were confusing, or any specific questions that came to mind. I would then ask my classmates for help, by texting them, asking in person, or posting on the Facebook group. Asking your classmates is better than asking your professor first, because it allows them to explain the information which will help them learn too. If I didn’t get a clear answer, then I asked my professors to explain what I was confused about. Everyone is always glad to help out because PT school is like a giant, supportive family, where everyone wants you to be successful. It’s not a bad thing to ask for help, because everyone has needed help at some point during PT school.

8. “Learn it now”

Our anatomy professor would always tell us to learn it now. I feel like that was always directed at me, because whenever she said “learn it now”, I was usually daydreaming during class. Focusing during class can be a real challenge, especially when you’ve been in class all day and have other worries on your mind. It’s easy to sit passively in class when you don’t feel like learning, and to just tell yourself that you can teach yourself later.

However, my professor is completely right. It is more efficient to learn the material during classtime and review it later. You are also able to ask questions during class if you don’t fully understand what is being taught, and you won’t have to spend the time teaching yourself later.

I am not the best auditory learner so this has always been a challenge for me, and unfortunately I don’t have any tips for paying attention better. I’ve found that taking notes can help, as well as making a study guide or flashcards during class.

9. Try different study methods

Each professor will teach differently, and each class will be taught differently, so it’s important to adjust your studying to what works best for you for each specific situation. Be open to changing your study habits throughout the semester as well.

I tend to study for each class differently and study for each exam differently. I still feel like I waste a lot of time with studying that isn’t as efficient as it could be, so I’m always trying to find different ways to study smarter.

10. Don’t compare yourself to others

I am a total perfectionist, which is great at times. It became overwhelming this past semester because we had several classes that were curved. It’s easy to compare myself to those who scored higher than me, and to feel like I’m not as smart, or that I didn’t study as well as they did. However, those negative thoughts don’t help anyone.

Grades don’t matter in PT school as much as you might think. I know that’s easier said than done. I almost got a B in a class that I worked so hard for, and I was so disappointed in myself. To be honest, a B is still a good grade. It’s also ok to get a C, as long as you don’t make it a habit. It’s very easy to compare yourself to others, and to feel like you could have scored higher, or you should have worked harder. I don’t have much advice for fixing this issue, because I still struggle with being too hard on myself. Just be aware that your GPA isn’t a big deal, and you should only be trying to better yourself so you can be a better physical therapist, not so you can get the highest grades in the class.

You’re not going to learn exactly like anyone else, so be cautious when you ask others for study advice. If you follow exactly how somebody else studies because they tend to learn well, it does not mean that you will learn just as well using their study methods. Don’t get me wrong, it’s helpful to figure out how others are studying for certain classes and to try out their methods, and it’s ok if it doesn’t work out for you.

The same thing goes for my blog posts too. I tried out a lot of study methods last semester, but some of them didn’t work well for me, so I tried new ones. My hope is that you can come to these posts and find new ways of studying that you’ve never tried before. I hope that they work out for you, but just be aware that some of them might totally suck. You will get a lot better at studying throughout your program, so just remain open-minded, keep trying, and everything will work out fine!


What study habits have been successful for you? Share your study tips below!

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  1. Faith

    Hey! I’m a first year just finished my first semester (yay)!! I just came across your blog tonight and I wish I found it sooner!! Thanks for those tips!