I know I am not alone when I say I am very nervous about officially starting PT school tomorrow. With 5 classes looming ahead, which is probably two less than full-time programs (even though technically I’m still full-time), I am creating a schedule within my planner that will keep me on track with studying and keeping me on top of assignments.
This trimester I am taking gross anatomy I, applied anatomy I, physical therapy practice I, evidence informed practice I, and soft tissue manipulation I. I think I’ve purchased a total of 14 textbooks for these classes, which is mind-boggling. That in itself is a little intimidating because I can’t even imagine the amount of reading I’ll be doing. My English degree was absolutely nothing compared to this upcoming challenge.
I am most apprehensive about starting gross anatomy, as I’m sure many of my classmates are. With only 3 lecture tests for the whole trimester, there’s much more material to know and much more material that needs to be remembered. Not to mention during virtual orientation, the professors emphasized that gross anatomy would be hard. And all I could think about was, ‘What am I getting myself into?’
And we actually have midterms, which some of you might laugh at me for, but in undergrad and even during my prerequisites, I didn’t really have many midterms. It was just tests and a final. Some of my English classes had a midterm, but it wasn’t really a big deal.
It’s also tough because I have bipolar disorder type I, and I developed this thing in undergrad. It caused me to drop an entire semester, take a break, and then switch to a college that offered an online degree. It also caused me to be hospitalized during post-grad while getting my prerequisites done. And it’s not necessarily easier because I’ve been having issues with cyclical depression thanks to possible thyroid issues. I feel great now, and I’m hoping I’ll be on an even keel for quite some time.
In any case, during the orientation, we talked about a thing called grit, which is basically the amount of determination you have to get something done. What was a little discouraging to hear is that people with a mental illness, such as myself, statistically have lower levels of grit. I know there are outliers, and perhaps I am one. After all, even when I was hospitalized, I was determined to get out and finish chemistry and biology–and I did get A’s in both.
But four years is a long time in the world of mental illness since ANYTHING can happen. Academically, it might go fast. Getting my prerequisites done certainly flew by, but I can’t help but to be apprehensive about having some mental health crisis. After all, I found stability for three beautiful years and didn’t think I’d have an incident ever again. That incident then taught me that I can no longer be complacent. I cannot take stability for granted.
I am terrified. Almost a month ago I came out of a depressive episode that was threatening to take a turn for the worst (it usually does that when I’m rapid cycling, that I’ll get really bad and then come out of it). During that depressive episode, I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t get much done other than what I needed to get done, which I suppose one could argue is a feat in itself. Even so, my author life was almost nonexistent, and I didn’t workout much. I couldn’t even enjoy my husband’s month-long stay until he started his new job at another trucking company. I also didn’t care that I was starting PT school soon and whether I’d start or not based on the ten million things that still needed to be done.
So I suppose I’m primarily nervous because I know my health isn’t steady right now. My psychiatrist took my thyroid levels at the beginning of the year, and they were high, which made a lot of sense and explained many issues I’d be having, from weight gain that I cannot lose to bloat to excessively dry/frizzy hair to the cyclical depression and so on. I don’t want the depression to come back because I am such a naturally energic/driven person who enjoys school and looks forward to learning how to be the best physical therapist possible. I can’t truly enjoy all that depressed.
But I guess all I can do is take it one day at a time, right?
Depending on when you decide to start, the summer or the winter before you officially start PT school is stressful. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are to get everything done. It is just stressful.
I’ll start by saying that I am incredibly privileged. Ever since my husband became a truck driver, I thought the best thing for both of us would be to move back in with my parents so that he wouldn’t be paying rent plus all the other bills associated with living in a townhome. He could concentrate on paying off his debt, and I could concentrate on saving what I could for school. So I pay for what I can, and my parents help me out when I need it.
But going through the process of prepping for grad school has made me realize that it really is for the privileged. People who can’t pay out of pocket are going to have to borrow close to the max amount every trimester for the next four years until they graduate. It’s going to be even worse if they don’t live at home.
So that’s one thing you’ll need to keep in mind–you’ll be spending more money than you think.
You’ll be spending money on the background check. That much is a given. But not only are you spending money on your urine test and to get a piece of paper to give to a company that will take your fingerprints, but oftentimes you’ll have to pay again to get your fingerprints done, incurring another expense on top of what you already paid for the background check.
You’ll have to buy all the equipment needed for your program. This ranges from the stethoscope to goniometers to scrubs and whatever else your programs demand of you. I spent roughly 280 dollars out of pocket–and I haven’t even purchased my scrubs or my APTA membership yet. Because of this, I’m likely going to be renting all of my textbooks since I only want to take out enough loans to pay for tuition and fees. And I’ll likely be using my Kindle for it.
Your school will require health insurance from you. I know some graduate programs offer insurance, but mine doesn’t, so I have my own. Thus, if you have insurance, it should pay for all the shots you have to make sure you’re up-to-date on as well as a physical, TB test, and anything else your school might ask of you. In the US, it’s a privilege to have health insurance, and unfortunately, it’s usually a requirements to start a graduate health science program. Thus far, I’ve spent 100 dollars out-of-pocket for all the medical-based stuff.
The paperwork seems like it’s never-ending. What you filled out just to apply for the program is just the beginning. Once you’re accepted, you’re bombarded with things you have to fill out, like verification forms for your insurance, promissory notes for loans, and so on and so forth. At one point I received an email telling me that after my advisor audited me, it’d been determined that I missed signing six forms. SIX FORMS! Do better than me and thoroughly read everything that comes in your inbox.
I had to do a lot of required modules in preparation for PT school. I don’t know if the modules were a requirement because much of my classes are online or because of COVID, but I feel like it was giving me an idea of what I can expect from a typical day as I go about my academic studies. And let me tell you, those modules took me hours upon hours to do. Now I know some of the modules are likely requirements in general, like elderly abuse and the like, but there are other ones about how to use various online tools necessary for the program.
Let’s go back to the APTA membership. I’m not sure if all schools require it, but mine does, and I think it’s 92 dollars for the state my school is in, which is Florida; thus, it varies by state. And apparently that’s great considering that’s the student discount. If you don’t have a job, I’d probably try to get a small part-time job–and I say small because I know some people will be attending 3-year or even 2-year programs. You’ll only accumulate more debt otherwise.
Now this is a positive, and I imagine more schools than mine do this, but there are so many resources available and so many people reaching out to you prior to starting your first semester. There have been many opportunities to attend virtual sessions, but I only chose one because it’s the only one I was interested in–a session on the day in the life of a grad student. However, there were plenty more, like how to navigate financial aid and learning about virtual simulations. It makes me feel confident that once I start my semester, my program is not going to let me fall behind. It seems like it will be a very different experience from undergrad.
Overall, the takeaway from this is that the process is time-consuming and expensive, so don’t expect to breathe easy before you start.
So from what I understand, physical therapy is entering the realm of preventative health, doing its best to market itself as a profession that can help you out before you injure yourself; however, a conversation I had today with another personal trainer makes me want to discuss personal training as another form of preventative health.
But first, we must understand the differences between personal trainers and physical therapists. Personal trainers do not treat injuries while physical therapists do. They can also help with aesthetics in a way that physical therapists do not. Even so, oftentimes I get the impression the general public thinks personal trainers are only around to help with weight loss and eating better and building muscle.
That’s not true, and that’s not what I specialize in. I specialize in helping out those with orthopedic issues. Keep in mind I do not treat them because I do not diagnose and do not do assessments in an attempt to diagnose. Much of my knowledge comes from continuing education and the myriad of observation hours I had to do in order to understand that these types of orthopedic conditions work best with these exercises. For example, someone with bulging discs will do well with press-ups. However, you wouldn’t want to give someone with compressed discs press-ups.
I like working with these individuals because obviously I want to be a physical therapist, but also because they’re all unique and you can’t get away with doing the same exercises with every one. Not every person with arthritis is going to have trouble with their knees. Not every person with SI pain is going to be limited in the types of exercises they can do. Some clients with arthritis in their knees are getting special treatments and can do squats while others absolutely will not squat, even if you offered them all the money in the world.
Personal trainers are more than just weight-loss experts or aesthetics people. We can prevent people from getting injured so that physical therapists are not tasked with the burden of having to heal a knee messed up because of a poorly educated trainer or poorly educated individual. Personal trainers can help with muscle imbalances so that way you’re not raking your lawn one day and you develop tennis elbow because of weak/tight muscles.
Really, we can just prevent you from getting hurt to begin with and keep you from entirely breaking down in old age.
When you begin the process of filling out your application through PTCAS, you’ll notice that in the supporting information section, it’ll ask for all of your experiences, achievements, and licenses and certifications. Some of the schools themselves will even require a resume.
For some people, especially non-traditional students, this section can make one a little nervous. If you’re working a full-time job, for example, you don’t have time to do any extracurricular activities for school. I certainly didn’t, and it had been too long for me to be able to write down that I was a president for a creative writing club or even that I had my own magazine at one point.
The only thing you might be doing is that job. Or you might be a traditional student working part-time, but you feel your job in, say, fast food, isn’t relevant at all to your application or even to your resume, if the school requires one.
I know I struggled with the experiences and achievements part, because I don’t have much of neither. As it turns out, everything that you’ve done recently matters. For the experiences, I put down that I am a personal trainer at such and such place, and I also did a little bit of volunteering (it really wasn’t much, but it still looks good). For the achievements, the only thing I had were Dean’s List awards. Whatever you have, put it down. When it came to licenses and certifications, I put down every personal training-related one that I had, even the specialty ones that don’t take much effort to earn. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to get certified in CPR/First Aid/AED because that’s one certification you can put down, and you’ll need it anyway once you start clinicals.
If you have not done anything of note and you have time (you should because how else will you fit in PT school?) go out and find ways to volunteer, as any and all volunteering opportunities can be added to the application. All this section shows is that you’re well-rounded and are more than just physical therapy. You don’t want to be only that. You want to show you have a life outside of school, outside of work even, and that you can balance. It’s not a section I would ignore just because you don’t have anything. All it takes is a weekend or two at a soup kitchen.
But let’s get to the difficult part. You’ve been working in retail for five years. For the most part, it’s just another job to earn a little bit of money and maybe pay a few bills. All you’ve been doing is stocking shelves. How can that demonstrate leadership traits when you feel like all you primarily do is what you’re told? Well, don’t entirely disregard this job just because it has nothing to do with physical therapy and you feel like it’s the easiest job on Earth you could teach a 3-year-old in less than five minutes.
Demonstrating leadership isn’t always about telling people what to do or putting yourself so out there that all attention is on you. Being a stocker is in the field of customer service, and what do you have to do? Sometimes you have to serve the customer. You can highlight that in your resume or somewhere in the application. Highlight times where you went above and beyond serving a customer (you better have at least one experience of this in your job).
For example, even though I’m a personal trainer, when times are slow, I sometimes go up to the welcome desk and help them out, especially when they are busy. Sometimes this involves helping them out with tasks they’re having issues juggling because of customers, or dealing with customers themselves. For example, I recently learned how to do a guest pass, and that’s not part of my description as a personal trainer. Do I remember it? Not exactly, as I learned it right before COVID-19 hit. But I learned it in an attempt to help them out more as they are always in need of it.
So if you haven’t yet, find out ways you can go above and beyond at your job. Do not do this only to put this on your application; it is a useful skill to have as a physical therapist. It’s a great habit to have, one that will allow you to deliver excellent care to your patients instead of being just a therapist who treats and kicks the patient out the door when everything is said and done.
If you work a job as a stocker and see someone who looks confused, take the initiative and ask what you can do to help them. Put some out-of-reach items in the basket for that person using a motorized scooter.
Always be looking for opportunities to take the initiative, no matter what job you have.
You’ve done a lot more than you know that you can add to your resume. And last, make sure that when writing down what you did, whether it be for the application itself or a resume, that you write down your experiences in such a way that leadership traits are conveyed. So brainstorm everything that you did, write it down, and spice it up.
Next post will discuss why I applied to only one school and how you should approach this process.
Every school requires a different amount of observation hours. I received a little over 400, even though my school, I think, required just 80. In my opinion, you’d want to get more than the minimum if there’s a part of your application that’s a little weak. For me, I’m an over-achiever and so wanted to be beyond average in every part of my application so that way the only question there’d be is when can I expect the interview. But in reality, you really only need to do the minimum hours unless you only have one setting. I’d recommend getting a minimum of 2 settings, and ideally a minimum of 3.
I did in-patient and out-patient. I actually did do an assisted living facility as well, but I could never get my hours confirmed because the only PT who was there that I observed no longer worked at that clinic; it was rather difficult getting a hold of him.
Observation hours aren’t difficult to land, but the best ones to get are through referral because it ensures you’re being sent to a place you’ll most likely enjoy. I knew people who once considered being physical therapists but changed their minds because of the settings they observed in and the dispassionate physical therapists who occupied them. I could only pity them because if they had had the right experience, they likely would have been in PT school by now.
My outpatient hours came from my being a PT aide. A few years prior, I had actually applied to be an aide since I was in desperate need of a job; however, I never heard back most likely because nothing in my resume indicated my inclination toward the field–I only had a mere fascination with it at the time. This time around, however, I was a personal trainer, which most likely indicated I’d take the job seriously. It also indicated that I could be molded for the field of physical therapy.
I had an interview at Walmart that same day after the PT aide interview. The interviewer told me he wanted to hire me on the spot since he saw how I interacted with members when I worked at the Y. I told him I needed to think about it because I really wanted to work as an aide, even though it paid less. I immediately went home and sent an email saying I needed to know about the job because otherwise I’d have to accept the job at Walmart. I received the offer a few hours later.
This is another way you can get hours and get paid for it. Being an aide doesn’t look any better than doing observation hours, however. The job responsibilities are very different, and as an aide, you don’t have as much time to ask questions to assist with your learning. Yet, I loved that job and credit it for being the reason I’m pursuing this field.
My in-patient hours came from a friend who had extensive physical therapy on his knees at the VA. He got me the information for the head PT and even let the head PT know about me. Then the assisted living facility came from a physical therapist within the VA. So I never needed to do any cold calling or approaching or even emailing. I also had other connections from being a personal trainer, but I didn’t need to use any of them.
Now some colleges require an internship, which makes getting hours all the more easy, especially if you live in a big city where it’s competitive to observe. Just don’t waste that internship on something else, because I do know pre-PT students who ended up observing elsewhere and had to scramble hours together at the last minute with no connections to go off. It’s great to see what other professions there are, but if you’re heavily set on PT, choose PT as a setting to observe.
Now when I was researching letters of recommendation, one of the biggest concerns students seemed to have was how to conduct themselves in a manner that allowed them to get said letters. As an observer, there isn’t a whole lot that you can do other than wipe down mats and fetch equipment. If you’re at a hospital, especially the VA, you could be sent to prosthetics to fetch equipment and could even learn how to put some of the equipment together.
In any case, you first and foremost need to be alert to what is going on around you. Sometimes it can be overwhelming being in a clinic, especially if there are a lot of therapists. My advice is to choose two therapists and latch on to them. (If you’re in a small clinic with only two or three therapists, latch on to all of them.) Be willing to do everything they tell you to do, and ask as many questions as you can about what they’re doing, when appropriate. Show a keen interest in the profession.
I always made it a goal to ask at least one question during any session of observation hours. And I say one because I only got my letters of recommendation from the in-patient setting. By the time I began to observe in this setting, I knew a lot more than I did when I was an aide as far as why certain exercises were being used. But, of course, there was still so much more to learn. Yet, some days were very slow and it was hard to find a question to ask. But the question is there, which is why it is important to pay attention. This can be accomplished by knowing what your attention span is for these kinds of things, so if you can only do three hours at a time, only do three hours. Not all days are going to be exciting.
Ultimately, you want to make yourself an asset, and then asking for letters will not be difficult.
I actually wanted to plan out how I was going to ask for the letters because I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Despite knowing they’d say yes, I still didn’t feel ready. I still felt like I had more to offer that way my letters would blow the decision committee out of the water. But one physical therapist, who I had a more casual relationship with because I just started to get to know him and he had a smaller patient load, just told me to do it. In fact, he said he was going to do it if I didn’t. So I turned on my personality, joked with both of the therapists that I was temporarily imprisoning them (no lie), and asked. And of course they said yes. No biggie. Do whatever you have to do to psyche yourself up to ask. Also, don’t be discouraged if they say no. This is why you should do more than one setting, so that way you have a handful of therapists or more that you can ask.
In summary, try to observe in settings that were either recommended to you or you received referrals for. If you have neither, simply start visiting or calling places. Build relationships once you start, and I would ask for the letters once you begin to apply for peace of mind. It’s not that I thought the PT’s would lose them, but it’s much easier to get everything gathered when it’s fresh. You also have a good reason to stay on top of the letters since you will need them soon. Otherwise, you could end up in my situation where the physical therapist in that assisted living facility couldn’t even recall who I was despite the assistant rehab director knowing me personally.
Next post will discuss how to draw on leadership traits that will give your application an extra boost.
This is a day every pre-PT student looks forward to. Yet, it is also a day filled with much trepidation over the unknown. How will the interviewers be? What sorts of questions will be asked? Will you be interviewed one-on-one or in a group? What are the rest of the interviewees going to be like and will they outshine you? This may be one of the most nerve-racking days of your life because it determines such a large chunk of your future. I work as a personal trainer, and I never prepared as much for an interview for that job as I did for PT school.
First off, I would say it’s absolutely essential to download this guide by Gaurav Khanal and Karin Cathers. It’s never too early to start reading it, especially because this book contains a myriad of questions that were asked in PT school interviews along with common answers given. The authors then suggest better answers to make you stand out as a candidate. I used these questions to practice and would often do so in the bathtub, asking them out loud and then crafting my answers over time. I read it more than once too, which I suggest doing.
Now on to the interview itself.
You have gotten the interview, and one of the first things you might be thinking about is what exactly you should wear. Most PT school interviews require business formal. For men, that is a suit and tie. Avoid overly flashy colors and patterns. For women, the is a suit with a blouse underneath.
I was troubled myself because I am a colorful person, quite figuratively and literally, and my dad recommended tan or white or black or navy blue, all dull colors, in my opinion. My psychiatrist, on the other hand, encouraged me to go with pink because she rebelled in her own way. She did wear business formal, but during her day, forgoing tights was like going naked (she simply hated tights!). She also wore a full-blown dress instead of a two piece suit. Is that business formal? I don’t know, but it worked for her.
I met myself in the middle by getting a tan suit with a bright orange blouse. I also wore a gold butterfly clip in my hair to really stand out. I got some fake pearl earrings and a pretty flower necklace, both from Claire’s. I have a bad nail biting habit, so I glued on some French nails. I wore tights and black pumps. However, wearing the pumps was a massive mistake for me because my feet screamed at me in less than thirty minutes of being led around campus. So for women, I recommend wearing dress shoes you are already familiar with. I also had a slight wardrobe malfunction because one of the threads came undone at the back of my skirt. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who noticed, but make sure you inspect your outfit before purchasing it.
I didn’t wear make-up, so ladies, this is not something you have to do. If you choose to, keep it simple. I would forego eyeliner and eyeshadow, keep the blush and foundation light, and use a minimal amount of mascara to avoid flaking or clumping. You want your make-up to be low maintenance so you don’t really have to touch it up during interview day. I kept lip balm on me, and that was it. I would also remove any facial piercings, except for earrings, obviously. Stay conservative for this day. This tip applies to men as well.
Gentlemen, just keep your face clean shaven, keep your facial hair neat and orderly.
When you are being led around campus, be alert. Sometimes the student PT’s leading you will be asked if anyone stood out to them, and you want to be that person. This means it is absolutely vital you ask questions. I had a small notebook with questions already prepared that I wanted to ask about the program itself. I was curious about their imaging class, about the fellowships and residencies they offered, and if there were any research opportunities or community involvement projects. Do not ask questions whose answers you can find online. I can tell you in all honesty that it was mostly me asking questions outside of our scheduled interviews. Did that make a difference? I can’t really be sure, but I’m certain it made me stand out.
Make sure you also interact with the other students. Do not see them as competition but potential classmates. Really, don’t be afraid to talk to them; they are just as nervous as you are. They’ll likely welcome the potential distraction, and getting to know the other interviewees will bring down nerves. We mostly talked about where we came from because we were all interviewing for the flex program.
And speaking of the flex program, our group was incredibly small, only five people. It seems to me that the University of St. Augustine heavily vets ahead of time because they do schedule calls with you prior to actually submitting the application for consideration. Nothing was recommended to me, so my app was sent right away, but some people do receive recommendations to re-take a certain class or re-do the GRE or something like that to improve their chances. They don’t necessarily have to take the advice and can still submit, but there are others who applied to other campuses whose applications were outright rejected for submission based on many factors. Your university may do this. It may not. Regardless, don’t expect your interviewing group to be as small as mine was–and I was grateful for this because that actually eliminated my nerves immediately.
Our group of 5 was broken up to two–3 for spring and 2 for fall. Obviously I am with the fall group. Now a group interview can go one of three ways:
1. A question can be asked, and it's a free-for-all. You'll have to jump in and answer when you can, obviously not cutting someone else off. Thus, if you know your university is going to be doing a group interview, prepare for this possibility by practicing interviewing enough that you are confident you can answer any question thrown at you, even if it's one you've never practiced before.
2. A question is asked, but the interviewer chooses who interviews first. This style of interviewing is most people's preferred because it gives them time to come up with an answer (save for the one who was asked first) without feeling pressured. You don't have to worry about whether or not you're going to have time to answer a question because you might be drowned out. Once the answer is given, the interviewee moves on to the next person.
3. A question is asked, an answer is provided, and a conversation ensues. This is how my interview went. I would answer the question, and the interviewee would provide some insight. The other interviewer would then answer, and some more insight would be provided. In an interview style like this, you can still say something yourself within the same question as long as the other interviewer is done speaking. Of course, you don't want to say something that contradicts the other interviewer or steps on toes, so to speak.
One-on-one interviews aren’t too much different. With both group and one-on-one, you could actually be interviewed by multiple people be it staff or staff and a student or two.
The best way to prepare for interviewing is just to practice it. Whether you practice on your own or practice in front of someone, it’s necessary that you have a working knowledge of the kinds of questions you could be asked. I’d write down the questions and wrote the answers to them. I then typed up everything in a word document and printed it out. As I practiced, sometimes I crossed through and wrote a better way of saying something.
The ultimate question you need to be prepared to answer is why do you want to be a physical therapist. I believe this is answered in the book I linked above, but I can tell you one thing you should never say is that you want to help people. You can help people in any profession, but why physical therapy?
I can’t remember all of the questions I was asked. I do know that all of the questions but one were questions I had already been practicing on my own. If you’re this lucky, do your best to make it not seem rehearsed. As for the question I never practiced, it was my thoughts on group studying. I had done group studying before, so this one wasn’t too hard to answer. However, the interviewer did throw a curve ball when they asked what would I do if a student came to our group with a problem and no matter how many times I tried to help them out, they just couldn’t get it.
For questions that keep you on your toes, there is no right or wrong answer. I said I’d see if I could get someone else to help. The interviewer then pointed out that sometimes as a student you just have to consider yourself. After all, if there’s a student who just can’t get it and said student is thus slowing your entire studying session down, the best thing you can do is to get someone else whose job it is to help to take over.
You also need to have an understanding of the physical therapy profession as a whole because you might be asked about it. I wasn’t, so I arguably got off easy. You need to know what vision 2020 is and what beyond vision 2020 is for sure. Basically, keep up-to-date on the profession through APTA. I’d recommend having discussions about the profession with physical therapists you’ve shadowed. And I can’t say it enough, but the book above also provides a lot of things you should consider when it comes to learning about this profession.
It’s especially crucial to have an understanding because you might have an essay question you have to do during your interview. I didn’t, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. Just treat it like you’re writing an essay for the GRE.
Now I know some of you who are reading this might be the nervous type and are wondering what to do about managing your nerves so that way you don’t start stumbling over your words. Again, it’s all about being prepared. The more you practice interview questions, the better at interviewing you will be in general, even if you’re given a question you are entirely unfamiliar with. In fact, if you can’t answer right away, just be honest and say you would like a moment to formulate your thoughts. This will not count against you since it shows you care to put thought into what you wish to say.
Don’t bite your nails or touch your face or tap your foot or jiggle your leg or play with your hair or engage in any other fidgeting kinds of behaviors. Do speak clearly, maintain eye contact, keep your hands folded in your lap during interview time, sit up straight, smile, relax your shoulders, and take notes, if necessary.
A final piece of advice I have is to understand where you are at as far as your interpersonal skills are concerned. You can look excellent on paper, but if you do not communicate well, the person who is average on paper but excellent in speech sitting next to you is going to get your seat. Interpersonal skills matter a great deal in this profession, as you should know.
This is your day. I was told it numerous times, and now I’m going to pass it on, but be yourself. You may not be able to fully be yourself (my morbid sense of humor had to be kept under lock and key), but don’t mute yourself to the point where people can’t get a grasp of who you might be. When I went to my interview, I assumed I had already been chosen for the school. Such a thought gave me the confidence needed to blow through the interview and come away feeling certain I had landed an offer.
You landed this for a reason. They are interested in you. Don’t be afraid to show them why.
Next post will be all about observation hours and letters of recommendation.
You’re likely reading this post because you have a C or two or, if you’re unlucky, maybe more. Or you might have all B’s in your prerequisites and are thus unhappy with your prerequisite GPA. But there is no easy answer as to whether or not you should re-take a prerequisite. Even listening to the sage advice of your advisor could still leave you feeling unsure because it’s costly re-taking a class and it delays your getting into PT school. Well, I’ll spend time discussing what you should do if you find yourself in one or a few of the scenarios I am about to list.
Now keep in mind the best thing to do if you still can’t come to your own conclusion is to contact the school(s) you are applying to for an opinion. Students have, after all, gotten into schools with a GPA of less than a 3.0 because they stood out in some other way. These are mostly students whose GPA wouldn’t have been much improved by retaking classes or students who have retaken these courses before but still struggle getting that grade.
That niggling C. If you’re like me, a C may be absolutely unacceptable. You want everything in your application to look flawless, and that includes your prerequisite grades. At one point, I had to consider the what-if scenario of getting a C in physics. At the same time, it was a massive stomachache of a thought thinking about having to retake that nightmare. So I decided to ask some pre-PT and PT students. I asked if my cGPA and pGPA were already fine and a C in physics didn’t affect it much, would I need to re-take it? The answer was a resounding no. Now, they told me, if it had been any of my biology classes, especially anatomy, I probably should, but because it was physics I needn’t worry. If you have multiple C’s though and haven’t re-taken yet, you’ll probably have to re-take a few. If you’ve already re-taken and still can’t quite get there, just go on ahead and submit your application. Just make sure you are very strong in all other areas of your application. For example, you’ll absolutely have to have a high GRE, something I only had to worry about receiving the minimum of.
All the B’s. I was doing just fine with my prerequisites, but out of curiosity, I asked what would happen if a student were to get all B’s in their prerequisites. Should they consider re-taking any? The answer was also a resounding no, especially if you had to really fight for those B’s. You don’t want to risk re-taking a prerequisite and doing worse. Some schools take the better grade, but some will average the two. If you need to bring up your GPA, just take some easy classes where the risk of doing poorly in them is low. Another bit of advice is just taking more upper level science courses.
cGPA meets the mark but pGPA doesn’t. You have a 3.4 GPA, but a mix of B’s and C’s in your prerequisites. You meet the minimum for all the schools you want to apply to, but regardless, it’s understood your pGPA needs to be there as well. Everything else in your application looks great, but it’s your dang prerequisite grades. You should re-take classes you didn’t do so well in. You should also be very selective about what schools you’re applying to, applying only to ones who take your best grades.
pGPA meets the mark but cGPA doesn’t. Obviously you don’t need to re-take any prerequisite courses unless doing so will up your cGPA. What you’ll need to do instead is take more classes. I’ve read it’s beneficial to tack on another minor or, as stated above, do more upper level science courses.
Community college. Some wonder if they should re-take their courses at a community college. I would do it only because it’s cheaper. I took most of my prerequisites at two of them for that very reason. However, taking them because you think they might be easier isn’t a good reason because that isn’t necessarily true. Plenty of students where I first went still failed anatomy, after all. It’s true class sizes are smaller so teachers can sometimes devote individualized attention to each student. But for me, that was only true in my physics and chemistry courses. All my other classes were about the size of a high school class, if not larger, and apparently one anatomy class had a single lecture with over 200 students.
Now I want to end this post with more hope for those who still feel a little hopeless. I ended last fall 2019 with an A in physics. When I told my psychiatrist this during one of my appointments, she admitted to me she received a B in the first one and a C in the second. Like me, she said, she hated physics and only put in enough effort to get the grades she needed.
When she went to her interview for medical school she told the interviewer that if she needed to re-take physics, they better let her know so she can turn right around and leave because she wasn’t going to do it. The interviewer told her she had nothing to worry about.
You might have to explain any C’s you didn’t fix, but my psychiatrist clearly conveyed that the reason she even got that C is because she didn’t feel anything for that class and recognized it was unnecessary to be a doctor. If you’re not afraid to be bold, go for it. Otherwise, you’ll need to weave a convincing story.
Next post will detail the interview for PT school.
Grades are probably the number one thing that pre-PT students stress about. They determine your cumulative GPA and your pre-requisite GPA, and oftentimes determine whether you’ve made the cut to even be considered for an interview. So it’s no wonder it’s stressful, particularly if you’re not too satisfied with the GPA you currently have.
When I graduated, I had a 3.44 GPA and had only taken one class that could count as a prerequisite for PT school. Originally I wanted to do a PTA program because I did not yet know of a flex program. Then the PTA program fell through and I switched to an OTA program. Happily I learned soon thereafter of the University of St. Augustine and switched back. Prior to this knowledge, I was going to do the smart thing and take only one class a semester because I do work part-time as a personal trainer and have continuing education that I must stay on top of. But because I knew my prerequisite load was going to increase, I stepped it up to two classes a semester.
Now I did not know what I wanted to do during the time I was working on my Bachelor’s. There were various things I wanted to do with my English degree that I no longer cared for; thus, if you are doing your prerequisites while earning your Bachelor’s, you absolutely need to be smart about how you schedule your classes. Do not pile hard class on top of hard class on top of hard class. Try to do a hard class or two among easy ones. And try to get your prerequisites out of the way before starting the main meat of your major.
I had a friend make the mistake of giving herself a heavy load one semester, and she was at a point where she had to choose which mid-term to study for. Needless to say, she ended up flunking the class whose mid-term she neglected.
Now if you were like me and graduated with a different degree and so are doing prerequisites post-bacc, I suggest grouping the prerequisites this way:
Because I work, I didn't feel confident enough to do a full course load of sciences, and it's not something I recommend. But if you can do it, go on ahead, especially if you've already been doing it while earning your Bachelor's. If not, I wouldn't risk it.
First, I would not take chemistry and physics in the same semester. Both are a little math heavy, although physics is only math.
Some universities require biology as a prerequisite for anatomy, so get that out of the way. If yours doesn't, it would not hurt to take your bios in the same semester because they will feed off one another and actually help you out. I took anatomy first because the PTA program did not require general biology, so this actually made taking general biology a lot easier and I had no issues with taking it online. Microbiology was also easier too as a result of having taken anatomy and general biology first.
Try to save your easier classes for the summer. Human growth and development, psychology, and precalculus come to mind. Of course, last summer I had no choice but to take human growth and development and microbiology at the same time, but that summer taught me to prioritize studying in a way I never would have learned if I had only taken one class. I also went through a personal crisis that summer, but I still wound up with A's.
I got A's in all of my prerequisites, except the one class I took during my Bachelor's. If I had known at the time that I wanted to be a physical therapist, I would have taken the class more seriously. I got a B, but it was anthropology, a class that should have been fairly easy to get an A in.
Now all of this sounds nice, but how do you go about studying to get these A’s? How do you overcome your weaknesses with, say, rote memorization or even math?
I empathize 100%. When I was a physical therapy aide, I merely toyed with the idea of returning to school because the prerequisites to apply terrified me. Chemistry? I got a B in that in high school and struggled doing so. All I could remember was trying to learn stoichiometry and eventually giving up. I skated by on labs and homework and failed most of the tests. In fact, I got B’s in all of my science courses in high school. Even the one science class, physics, that I put effort in, I still came away with a B. But at some point passion took over. With that passion came confidence. I had no choice, right? Either be confident about what I was about to do, or feel as I did in high school: no confidence and no hope.
So I chose confidence and hope. That’s what you need to do. If you want this thing, there is zero reason to lack confidence in yourself.
When I was taking anatomy 2, my lab partner was someone who lacked confidence, who had test anxiety. I told her how I studied but soon learned it had nothing to do with how she was studying. She was doing everything right. She just sometimes had issues recalling information she knew.
I had to give her a pep talk. I pretty much told her that if she knew the information, there was no reason for her to be caught up in her feelings. A little bit of anxiety is normal, healthy even. Our lab was also before her lecture, so sometimes I would go over information with her prior to the test. This helped her get over it, so to speak. She simply needed someone to tell her she already knew what she was doing. And you know what? She got into the program she applied for and will graduate very soon. You can get that kind of pep talk through classmates and even group studying–but make sure your study groups are kept small so that you do not veer off course.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a fully developed brain, so things you once had difficulty learning magically become easier to learn. Sadly that happens at 25. Stoichiometry is, as I came to learn, ridiculously easy.
Because my anatomy class was the only class I was taking at the time, I was able to devote intense amounts of studying to it. (I would actually recommend taking medical terminology before taking anatomy.) We had notes we printed out, and our professor read off those notes, so the tests only came from the notes. I would make flashcards of every single sentence. I memorized every single card. It was all tedious and reading the notes and making the cards was extraordinarily time consuming. I would not suggest it, even though this method carried me through anatomy 1 and 2.
Even so, rote memorization for the biology classes is unavoidable. However, I did not use the note card method for the first test. I simply changed my method because I was not satisfied with a 90. However, there could have been a variety of reasons I received a 90 and not something higher that have nothing to do with not fully studying the material.
If your textbook has an access code that comes with it, use it unless your professor otherwise spoils you. My microbiology professor spoiled us because she would go through the powerpoint slides and the notes and tell us what we needed to know for the test. That took out a large chunk of stuff so it wasn’t as laborious to study for. Now whether or not you’re lucky to have a professor like this, one thing you can’t get away with is simply reading your notes and expecting to remember them–unless you have a photogenic memory, that is.
You have to engage in active learning. Hopefully by now you know what kind of learner you are. For microbiology, I didn’t have to do note cards thanks to my previous biology classes. Instead I’d take my notes and do a question/answer format since a lot of the notes were definitions-based. I’d draw a single line going down my paper and put the question on one side, then the answer on the other. I then would cover up the answer column and study that way. This method of studying earned me 100s on every test. You can also use Quizlet.
For chemistry and physics, my professors did not do multiple choice tests, so I did not do flashcards for concept/definitions-based questions. Luckily these classes were more math heavy, so it wasn’t so bad simply re-writing the information until I either had memorized it (definitions) or understood it (concepts). I also used the Internet and tutoring when I needed to for things I did not immediately understand in class.
As for the math involved in chemistry and physics, it wasn’t so bad in chemistry, in my opinion, because once you understood it, you could apply it to every problem. Sometimes it was just getting there to understand it, like Hess’s Law, that could be the challenge. Physics, on the other hand, required me constantly doing my homework over and over again up until test day. Every problem required something different, and just when you thought you understood one thing, you’d come across a problem that would rip out of the rug of understanding right out from beneath you.
I could not approach physics the way I approached other classes. For one, I absolutely had to have somewhere quiet to study. I needed every single second, every single minute I had in that countdown until test day. I also realized after test three that memorizing simply would not do. I really did have to understand what I was doing–which is where I also realized I needed peace and quiet to study. This one class also gave me an immense amount of anxiety, so I was re-introduced to coping methods that wouldn’t lead to self-destruction–namely, a lot of positive self-talk. Getting A’s in my prerequisites wasn’t such a challenge until physics came, after all. My dad was my biggest coping mechanism because he reframed my anxiety and helped to bring me down.
Also, for any class you study for, you cannot simply study the day before or even two days before and expect to do well. You might be able to get away with this in your easier classes, but for your science pre-requisites, it’s simply not possible. For your biology classes, you need to try to be ahead. This doesn’t mean studying chapters that aren’t on the next test. This means that by the time you come to lecture, it’s not new material to you and so lecture can serve as a refresher. With chemistry and physics, it’s not as easy to study ahead so follow along and study what you learned that day when you get home. Start any homework you’re given ASAP.
You ultimately have to also be willing to make sacrifices to make the grades you want to make. I aimed for all A’s and got them. I sacrificed time with my husband, leisure time–I haven’t even done much creative writing since starting back at school. When I was earning my Bachelor’s, I didn’t sacrifice much and refused to do so. But this time around I sacrificed what I needed to. I brought my cGPA from a 3.44 to a 3.63. My pGPA is higher than that! That is how you make good grades. Just because you struggle with something does not mean you are dumb or less intelligent than someone who got it immediately. All it means is you learn at a different pace AND that you have a different way of learning. Unfortunately, teachers can’t cater to all styles of learning during class, which is why it’s important to determine your style of learning early on. This will save you enormous amounts of frustration. Believe me when I say most professors aren’t trying to fail you. After all, they get nothing from that. Their style of teaching just may not sync up with you.
Last, most PT schools, as far as I’m aware, really don’t care how many prerequisites you take in a semester, whether it is one or all of them. This is why I urge you to be skilled at scheduling them and getting them out of the way when you can. If you’d feel better taking only one or two, stick with that plan and don’t try to rush getting into PT school. It will come.
My next post will be about whether or not you should re-take certain prerequisites. It’ll be on the shorter side.
The essay is commonly brushed over for people who are scrambling to apply to PT school. I’m in a few groups and have even spent enough time on Student Doctor Network forums to know that not enough people ask about it despite it being a trump card for landing an interview. You can most certainly get in with an average essay, but if you want to stand out or you want to improve your application because something else is lacking, the essay can help your passion shine.
The University of St. Augustine did not require a PTCAS essay (PTCAS is the system they use to handle all applications, for those that are barely just scraping the waters of application submissions). I wrote one anyway not knowing this, but it didn’t hurt. They actually required only a statement of purpose, which asked why I wanted to pursue physical therapy and why I was drawn specifically to their university. I’ll discuss mostly the PTCAS one because once you understand how to write that one, a statement of purpose is no problem; however, I’ll end the post with my statement of purpose so you’ll have a decent example of what one should look like.
When writing either of these essays, you don’t want to treat it like the essay you wrote for the GRE with a formulaic set-up. You want to treat it more like the essays you wrote for your English classes. Now PTCAS might change the topic. Mine was “reflect on a meaningful experience in your life and share how that experience influenced your personal growth, such as your attitudes or perceptions.” However, from what I have gleaned of PTCAS, a lot of their topics demand narratives (as does a statement of purpose usually), so there’s no thesis statement you need to defend.
Let’s start with the PTCAS essay. I’m going to post the one I submitted. I’ll break it down, including what I needed to fix before this became the finished product:
In 2015 I suffered from a mental illness that statistically has the highest mortality rate, especially among young women: anorexia nervosa. Calories dominated my waking mind, and it was easy to hide this illness from everyone thanks to a diagnosed b12 deficiency due to my starvation. Yet, the emergence of uncontrollable binges coupled with purging and a profound self-awareness that there was only one outcome of anorexia, that being death, made me yearn for recovery. If it had not been for a friend who somehow discovered me on a pro-anorexia website, I might not have found it.
So my journey began, beginning with a four-day hospital stay followed by months of meeting with an eating disorder therapist until I regained the weight I lost. The threat of being hospitalized again sat on the table if I lost even a pound. Many of those with anorexia relapse. I did not, likely because I craved recovery. I did not wish to return to the constant hunger, the self-hatred, being cold all the time, and the guilt of why I was even doing this to myself to begin with.
To keep me on the recovery track and to avoid relapse, I joined a recovery forum where we spoke of nothing but recovery and posted recovery meals that ranged from nutritious salads all the way to ice cream. It was not just about putting on weight, but on developing a healthy relationship with food, regardless of its calorie content.
Recovery was not always easy. Some moments I hated it and wished I had not been caught. I also hated always being watched while I ate and never being able to eat in my room. In fact, even though I did not relapse, I almost did by taking advantage of my parents’ treadmill and walking on an incline for an entire hour every day. Needless to say, my parents removed the key from the treadmill and hid it.
Anorexia is a voice, one different for every sufferer. It might tell one person to stop gaining weight because she is fat. It might tell another, like me, to stop eating because you are losing control. Yet, I always remained honest with my eating disorder therapist because he was the only one who understood that even if the eating disorder was something I chose, I could no longer control it without help. Those once a week visits kept me true and kept the voice from controlling me again.
The more I stayed involved in my recovery forum, the more recovery began to influence my life as I searched out recovery blogs. I found one where the blogger became a personal trainer, which is not uncommon among recovering anorectics. As I researched this career more, I began to realize that perhaps this is what I was meant to do. I wanted to promote self-love and a positive body image. I wanted to ensure future clients would seek to lose weight the healthy way so that way they would never hate themselves the way I did.
I threw myself into my studies, earning my certification within six months. I have since gone on to earn a myriad of others, including NSCA’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialty. My first year of personal training showed me what I truly loved, and that was learning about and working with special populations. There is something truly gratifying about restoring the confidence of an injured individual who was afraid to exercise before thanks to said injury. Yet, it was working with these individuals that made me want to do much more: I want the knowledge to actually treat the condition and not just merely teach people how to work around it.
One could argue anorexia is the reason for discovering personal training and thus physical therapy, but I would argue my recovery is the primary influence for making me discover my ultimate purpose in life—to be a practitioner who improves mobility and relieves pain. It is a very different career because self-image is not a factor like it is for those who seek personal trainers. Nonetheless, pain can prevent people from being able to live their lives, and pain can harm someone’s self-esteem. I have seen this in the observation hours I have done. Yet, what I have also seen is the beauty of healing and what it does for a person’s life. I want to take part in that, and every day I thank my recovery for making me discover such a wonderful field. Recovery has made me a much more empathetic person, a trait I know is crucial as a physical therapist.
The struggle with the PTCAS essay is that you are limited with the amount of characters you have. So originally I summarized my whole journey with anorexia, from the development of it to the recovery from it. This didn’t allow me much room to talk about anything else, save for a small paragraph tying it into physical therapy. As you can also see, even though the topic doesn’t outright ask you about physical therapy, you must find a way to tie your experiences into it. As you can also see in the paragraph before the last one, you have to gloat a little bit. That’s not something I did in the first draft. I barely talked about my accomplishments because I spent a lot of time detailing my story of anorexia and how it led to physical therapy. I’m also a modest person by nature.
When I sent the draft off to a friend of mine who was waiting to be accepted into PT school herself and whose mother was an English teacher, she read it and told me the biggest thing I needed to do was focus only on the recovery because it was the recovery that made me discover physical therapy. She also told me I needed to emphasize why I wanted to be a physical therapist. So I had to scrap the entire first draft and start all over using elements from the first draft to influence the second one.
Originally I had a slightly more detailed section on my hospital experience, but that just took up room, so I scrapped it and just said I spent four days in the hospital. I also originally did not have anything mentioned about joining a recovery forum (more sub-forum, but semantics). However, it was important to mention it because it did keep me on track and added a little bit more dimension to my recovery since I had to start treating this as a story. After all, recovery is largely boring, especially if you’re not fighting it.
Instead of briefly alluding to why I developed an eating disorder, I jumped right in as you can see in the first paragraph. It wasn’t important to know why I developed one. It wasn’t even important to know what it was like suffering with one. It’s important to get to the point of this essay immediately because you are so limited with characters. The essay above didn’t have much room left despite my constant proofreading, so I felt like I still wasn’t giving enough attention to my recovery story. But that’s something you have to accept when writing the PTCAS essay–and your readers know this.
Even so, it still needs to be impactful, so hopefully you can use my essay as an example to guide yours. And remember, you’re always free to email me yours and I’ll do my best to make time for it.
But as you can see, I spent about 50% of this essay detailing my recovery journey and the rest of the 50% detailing how it influenced my desire to become a physical therapist.
Now here is my statement of purpose answering why I chose PT and the University of St. Augustine. Some schools may list the word count, but mine didn’t. It turned out to be about 1,000 though.
Statement of Purpose
I am going to be honest and say I never saw myself becoming a physical therapist or getting involved in the field of medicine period. In fact, I never saw myself studying any sort of science beyond the requisite science courses all non-science majors must endure. I chose an English degree because at the time I wanted to be in publishing. I have a few books published through a small press, have some poetry out there, and am seeking an agent, so this seemed the natural route. Science scared me since we were not friends in high school; the language it spoke terrified me beyond comprehension with all its rote memorization and math. Why did I need to know the Krebs Cycle? What was so important about stoichiometry? Plus, when I had to drop an entire semester thanks to a mental health crisis no doubt exacerbated by that semester’s course load, I did not think I was intelligent enough. When I looked at the prerequisites for physical therapy, I was also almost deterred. Now I think it is humorous to imagine going back in time and telling my high school and early college self that one day you are going to enjoy science and math, and you are going to do well in them because you are older, more mature, and more self- assured. Once you find what you are meant to do, your fears become insignificant. You tell yourself every time you feel challenged that nothing will stop you. You will make your future happen.
I did not immediately have physical therapy school in mind when I finished my Bachelor’s. I figured I would do freelance editing; however, I did not like editing novel-length works--it could take an hour to edit fifteen pages--and preferred being primarily a writer. A brush with an eating disorder brought me to personal training. In fact, I wanted to try and make a career out of being one; it was being a trainer, of course, and working primarily with special populations that made me wonder if there was not more out there. I could work around client’s problems, but a large part of me wanted to treat them, as they were limited in what they could do. At the time I was still new to personal training, so I had to have a second job to support me, which was where being a physical therapy aide came in. Even though recovery from an eating disorder influenced my discovery of physical therapy, being an aide solidified this decision because I was able to see high-energy, passionate physical therapists who were unwavering in using their advanced skills to help patients’ varying conditions. I saw these patients being relieved of pain--I saw it in their smiles, the desserts they’d bring in thanks, and the occasional visits to let the therapists know how they were doing. I was also endlessly impressed during every shift by the boundless amounts of knowledge the therapists possessed and how they were not shy in educating their patients on their own conditions. So I started researching physical therapy, what it would take, and then looking into schools. I did not immediately apply to a college to do prerequisites right away. That took several more months before I finally realized I had to because I could not get physical therapy off my mind.
I am choosing the University of St. Augustine because a current student recommended the program to me (I also live about five hours from there). She knows I cannot afford to go without an income for several years, so I was thrilled to learn of a hybrid program with online learning and labs. I also earned my Bachelor’s through an online program, so I am neither intimidated nor unfamiliar with online learning. Perhaps what I like the most, however, is that the University of St. Augustine offers a great degree of assistance both inside and outside the classroom. I saw the video of the anatomage table and am excited to know it can be uploaded and taken home for further study; thus, it is great that St. Augustine remains innovative. The current student also said there is a lot of help available, and there are scheduled times to meet foronline learning activities. Last, I like that the University of St. Augustine offers the orthopaedic manual therapy fellowship, as I was in physical therapy once for my hip and manual therapy was the only modality that helped it; it is the first specialty I’d like to pursue upon graduating and earning my license.
I look forward to a career in physical therapy because I know what my interests are--and those interests will likely expand during my journey through physical therapy school and clinicals. One of the therapists I observed was a scoliosis and Mckenzie specialist. Both methods were fascinating to witness, and since I am a follower of Dr. Stuart McGill and understand back pain is a large cause of disability, I want to help rehabilitate backs and relieve back pain for many people. I would also eventually love to become a teacher and contribute to back pain research. Therefore, I hope to have the privilege of attending the University of St. Augustine to be given this foundation. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Next post will discuss getting the grade in your prerequisites.
I must admit that when I was studying for the GRE, I at some point decided to throw the quantitive section. I have bipolar disorder type I, and I was going through a rapid cycling episode where I was switching between some form of mania and mixed episodes/depression. I was able to easily concentrate on verbal because I graduated with a degree in English, I’m a small press author, and I read all the time so it was easy to hyper-focus, but I could not at the time get my mind to focus on quantitative when it was always moving so fast. But I threw that section with the knowledge that the school I got into, which is the University of St. Augustine, only cares about having a combined score. So some PT schools only care about combined while others do care about individual scores in each section. You just need to be sure of which one your school is.
When I was studying for it I asked a friend of mine who got into an English graduate program how she handled the quantitative section, and she, too, threw it. Even so, she came away with a good score thanks to her verbal, so I took her advice and decided to put all of my energy into studying verbal, because it just came easily to me; thus, I’m mostly going to talk about the verbal. I’ll try to offer some advice for the quantitative, but keep in mind I am writing this post largely assuming at least one of your schools cares only for combined scores. So this is Tip One: if you’re weak in one section but strong in another, put your energy into the strong section if your school doesn’t care about individual scores.
Tip Two:Don’t even bother with flashcards. I bought an entire stack of Manhattan’s 1,000 flashcards, but as I went through them, I began to realize how laborious studying and memorizing all of that was going to be. I thought to myself, ‘There has to be a better way to study than this,’ and it turns out it is highly recommended that you don’t utilize rote memorization. The GRE isn’t about that–and it won’t let you get away with that and will in fact find ways to punish you for doing so. You can’t simply know what a word means, after all. You have to fully understand how to use it, which flashcards don’t teach. You have three sets of questions you can be asked in the verbal:
1. Reading Comprehension: exactly what it sounds like.
2. Text Completion: you have one to three blanks you have to fill in with the correct word(s).
3. Sentence Equivalence: consists of only one sentence with one blank and a myriad of answer choices that involve what words fit into this blank.
Tip Three: As a continuation of tip two, some people do have a hard time trying to understand why you simply can’t memorize a bunch of words and do fine. After all, the words you’re memorizing are likely to pop up on the GRE, right? Perhaps, but the English language also has what seems like an infinite number of words, and any one of those words can and will pop up on the GRE. When are you going to have time to actually study anything else if you’re spending all of that time memorizing?
But here’s a little known secret for you (at least, in my experience, it’s been little known to people I have told who are studying the GRE): The better you do on a section, the harder it gets. This is why you can’t merely memorize. I believe you start out medium and can get flung to either easy or hard or even very hard depending on how you’re doing. If you’re doing well, you will get flung to hard and you will most likely see words you have never seen in your life, which is why context is crucial, plus process of elimination. If you’re doing the paper test, which I think is hard to get, count your lucky stars.
So how do you study then if the odds seem already stacked against you?
Tip Four: Begin by already practicing the verbal sections. I used the 5lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems when I didn’t have computer availability. When I had computer availability, I used Magoosh. The latter does cost a subscription fee, but for me it was the BEST study aid I had. I had ETS’s book, but I wasn’t impressed with it at all and thought it did a rather horrible job explaining answers for both quantitative and verbal, which is why I’m not recommending it here.
Magoosh is amazing because you have what seems an infinite number of practice problems and even a couple of practice tests you can do. It does a constant score calculation that gives you a general idea of how you’ll do test day, and mine was pretty darn close. It will also automatically change the difficulty for you depending on how you do if you have the questions set up that way during any one study session.
You have a 7 day free trial, so go on ahead and give it a try now. I honestly wish I would have done better on the GRE because I put Magoosh to shame, but my rapid cycling episode really made it difficult to study for the GRE and I already had it scheduled so I just had to do the best I could.
In any case, choose your favorite study aid and practice, practice, practice whenever you can. The only way to get good with the verbal section is to understand how each of the three works.
Tip Five: Instead of using flashcards, read books. I would list books, but all you simply need to do is type ‘books to read for the GRE’ in Google, and you’ll be presented with plenty of choices. Now while I couldn’t recognize some words on the GRE itself, I was actually surprised by how many words from Magoosh were in the novels I read. ‘Verdant’ comes to mind. However, reading instead of memorizing flashcards serves to do two things:
1. Because you're reading, you already don't feel like you're studying. Hopefully you love reading (you're applying to graduate school, so you probably should by this point in your life). But it will be much easier to retain new words you learn, especially if you're using a dictionary for all the words you don't know.
2. It'll be easier to recall the words. While you're taking the test, if you come across a word you know you read, you can simply recall it by reaching deep within your mind for the book you read it from. It's much easier to recall memorable moments than it is dull moments--and let's be honest, who wouldn't prefer to be on the porch, sipping lemonade, reading a book, versus being locked up in your room in silence doing some dry studying?
But books don’t have to be the only thing. Any form of entertainment with colorful words that keeps your attention can work.
Tip Six: Do the easiest first and save the hardest for last. This is especially true for the reading comprehension, which will take up most of your time in the verbal section. And as for the reading comprehension, all you can do is practice this, and again I highly recommend Magoosh because it will explain to you why your answer was wrong, which makes you better at doing the reading comprehension section. This section is not trying to trick you.
The GRE, at the end of the day, is all about knowing how to do the GRE. It’s not really about testing if you know 10,000 words or remember geometry from 9th or 10th grade. It’s testing your adaptability, which grad school demands of you.
Tip Seven: When studying for the GRE AW, it actually does help to practice. You’ll have two essays to write: an issue and an argument–and yes, any of those topics linked can be on the exam. I got one that I practiced the day prior, which was great luck for me.
You’ll have thirty minutes for each one. Here is the basic structure that will help you get the score you need, which goes from 1-6. I averaged out a 4.5. Some schools will list the AW score (mine didn’t), but aim for a 3.5-4.0 at the minimum.
First off, you should do a quick outline that has your thesis and three main points that you want to talk about. Having it in front of you will keep you from developing writer’s block.
Your first paragraph should be your introductory paragraph that includes your thesis statement, which is basically a summarized answer to whatever topic question you’re given. Your next 2-3 paragraphs should then be your main points that expand upon the thesis statement. Generally it’s best to have at least five sentences in each paragraph, but it’s the quality of your essay, not the quantity, that matters, although essays that are longer typically do have more quality to them than those that are shorter. And you’ll learn this if you decide to read actual scored essays that have been written. (I recommend doing so.)
Your last paragraph, your conclusion, should simply summarize everything you’ve said in the essay. You don’t want it to be a repeat of your first paragraph, but you also do not want it introducing any new points.
Don’t panic that you only have thirty minutes. Absolutely no one can produce a masterpiece in thirty minutes. But also try not to use up the whole thirty minutes because you do want to leave enough time to go back and seek out any errors. From what I understand, scorers aren’t super picky about typos because of that time limit, but write the essay and proofread as though you don’t want any.
Please do a thorough reading of the difference between an issue and argumentative essay. In my opinion, one is more difficult than the other. I believe I struggled more with the argumentative one than the issue one because you have to write based on a lot of assumptions of information that isn’t given to you. I think the topic had something to do with a hospital switching to a new hand sanitizer because other hospitals were using the same hand sanitizer and noticed a reduction in bacteria. But I had to explain there could be other factors behind the reduction in bacteria, a whole correlation does not imply causation thing. It was difficult because it felt like it required a base of knowledge that I simply did not have at the time, but you can make stuff up so long as it is not so outlandish that it is an obvious falsehood. After all, the scorers are not going to be fact checking.
Tip Eight: This is my last one, which is quantitative. All I can tell you for this one is that going back and re-learning algebra and geometry and even statistics won’t help you. Like the flashcards, it’s simply too much information to cram into your head. Granted, I’m the last person who should be telling you anything considering my score was pitiful for quant, but, at some point, I stopped studying because I. Just. Could. Not. Concentrate. Hypomania/mania consists of bullet train thoughts, and because GRE math did not come easily to me, it was impossible to practice. I can do math. I was taking precalculus the summer I was studying for the GRE and getting 100s on all my tests. GRE math is just different.
You’ll read recommendations not to use the calculator, but I did, and I am being honest when I say I did my best not to do any guessing during the actual exam but to actually try based on the limited practice that I had. I still had some time left over using that calculator. I think Magoosh has tricks you can use for calculating decimals and the like, because I can tell you I had a heck of a time trying to re-learn dividing decimals. Ultimately, however, I didn’t use any of them, though they are clever; I suggest learning them.
But when I was actually studying, Magoosh did a very good job at explaining why my answers were wrong because they include videos that detail how to go about getting the right answers. So just practicing this section is the best thing you can do for yourself. Again, don’t try to relearn math you haven’t done in some time. Dive in headfirst, and you will be ahead of those who sit around trying to learn math they haven’t taken in a few years.
Next post will look into writing your essay for PTCAS or any essay in general, as some schools require their own essays.