Student-to-Student Study Tips: Physical Therapy
Note: If you would like to submit your own study tip for nursing students, please send it to Patrick Koerner: firstname.lastname@example.org
(from PT students Erin & Kelly)
Erin: Time management can be challenging because you’re spending more time in class and you also have a lot more homework. I had to cut way back on work to just 4 hours per week. Also, as an undergrad you might have been able to cram for exams, but in this program there is simply too much to learn – hundreds of pages of readings and notes – so you have to keep up on a daily basis.
Have a System
Erin: I carried my planner everywhere. Also, every day or two I would write a “to do” list on a post-it and later I would add to it as things came to mind. I wrote down everything! I found that I was less stressed that way because I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting something.
Live on Campus if Possible
Erin: Having an apartment near campus freed up lots of study time because I wasn’t using my time to commute. Also, it can be great to have a roommate (or someone living nearby) who is in the program. That way if you have questions, you have someone to ask.
Where to Study
Kelly: I liked to get out of my room and go to a place where others were studying so I didn’t feel like I was the only one. Also, phone calls tend to get me off track, so if I person called I would tell the person that I’d call back later (during my study break).
Erin: Realize your limits! When I was feeling guilty and was tempted to stay up late to study, I would tell myself that if was sleepy I wouldn’t retain anything anyway and so I might as well go to bed. After a good night’s sleep I was able to study more effectively.
Kelly: On weekends I tend to focus on studying for an exam. But it’s also important to have something fun to do each weekend (it helps with stress).
Kelly: I would usually get home from class at about 4:00 and then eat and watch a little TV. Then I would study from about 5:30 to 8:00 – in my room or the union cafeteria or a study room in the union. I took a break from about 8:00 to 9:00 and then I would study from 9:00 to 10:30. If I had a test coming up I would study for that for most of the evening and then as a break I would study another subject for a while.
Erin: Every few days I would decide what my top priority course was right then – usually a course in which I had an exam or assignment coming up or lots of reading to do. I tried to keep up with all of my courses, but each day I usually focused primarily on one.
Breaks & Motivation
Erin: I would often set goals for myself, maybe trying to get through a chapter in the next hour before stopping for a snack.
Kelly: I found that I wasn’t taking enough notes at first. I had to learn to elaborate a little more about each heading. Also, I found it helped to include a “translation” of each acronym so I wouldn’t be confused later on. During the lecture I tried to listen for what was new to me and also important – something that might be tested or I would need for practice. If the professor said something was important, I put a star next to it.
Reviewing Lecture Notes
Kelly: I tried to always go home and read over the lecture notes I took that day. I might add a few notes I missed and I always tried to identify what was confusing to me so I could look it up in a book or ask the professor. I didn’t want to suddenly realize I was confused on the day before an exam. Reviewing my notes might take about an hour for a typical 2–hour lecture.
Erin: Ask students who are more advanced about which books you should buy, which you should use as a reference, and which you will read all the way through. Also, you should keep some of your books to use later on. Before buying a book online, verify which edition of the book you will be using in class.
Studying for Exams
Kelly: I often reviewed by looking at a heading from my lecture notes and quizzing myself while covering the details/answers. Sometimes as I was reviewing my notes I would make up some study cards for memorization. I used this mainly for lists (for example, when to use heat). I made up the cards about a week before an exam and I liked that they were portable so I could use them while riding the train.
Kelly: I used study groups most heavily for physiology. The groups helped me understand tough concepts and also sort out what was important to know. We met for 2 to 3 hours every weekend to go over the lectures from that week and we met for a longer period before exams. Besides helping me understand the material, the groups helped me keep up because I didn’t want to be embarrassed about showing up for the group unprepared. We would begin each session by discussing any questions we had. Then we would review the 3 lectures from the week.
Erin: Most classes give you practice tests. Do these, as they’re very helpful.
Erin: Obviously, focus on the visuals! Lots of students buy the Netter flashcards and/or the Chung anatomy review book. Normally, I just read the section of my test that corresponded with the lecture and then I would integrate those notes with my lecture notes.
Kelly: There’s way too much to learn in this class, so you need to find a way to prioritize the information. Ask the professor what you should focus on and request a review session if the prof has time (ours was very helpful). Try to think about what’s important for a physical therapist to know. For example, with a given disease you might focus on the symptoms and mechanism, etc. but not as much on the statistics associated with it (you might just recall whether it’s pretty common or very rare).
Kelly: For practicals, read the text before class and then practice with a partner. If you don’t have a partner, just show up early for class and practice with whoever is there. I also liked to go home and practice with someone other than a student. This really helps because you need to be able to use non-medical language and not have the “patient” helping you (as a fellow student would do). You learn how to communicate best, and the extra practice is important so that you don’t have to stop and think at each step. You want things to flow smoothly.
Kelly: Read the questions carefully. Remember that all parts of an answer need to be correct and one word can totally determine the answer. My approach was to first cover the options and read the question stem and try to think of the answer in my own mind. Then I would look to see which option matched best with what I had in mind. This kept me from being led off track by the various options. I always used the process of elimination. Any question I didn’t know I would mark and return to at the end.
Kelly: Go ahead and gripe to your fellow students; it helps because that way you won’t feel alone. Also, take breaks during your study time and remind yourself that your hard week will be over soon and then you can relax a little on the weekend. I made sure I had a little time to spend with friends each weekend.
Competition & Support
Erin: Talk to the professors; they’re very friendly and supportive. They know this program is hard but they will help you. Also, focus less on your grades and more on really understanding the material. Remember that your competition isn’t with your fellow UIC students but with the students from other schools.
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