How to Study in PT School

Midterms are over with (at least until next semester and finals, of course), and I did fairly well, so I feel confident enough to provide advice on how to study for grad school. I’m sure this is a worry many, many pre-PT students have, as your usual study habits in undergrad don’t necessarily translate well to a grad program. Take it seriously when PT students and even faculty tell you that if you were a straight-A student in undergrad, you’re most likely not going to be one in grad school. From what I’ve gathered talking to non-health science grad students, three classes is considered full-time. This is not the case in a health science program.

I’ve made my fair share of A’s and B’s, and as a perfectionist, it’s just something I’ve had to accept. Students during my observation hours warned me to not chase A’s. After all, on average, you’ll be taking anywhere from 5-7 classes a semester (depending on flex or residential), and I have accepted that it’s just not possible to get ahead like I could in undergrad. There are always assignments due. Once you finish one test, you have to study for another. And after that, there’s midterms. And then another test you have to study for. More assignments due. Let’s not forget readings. Maybe a project here and there. And lab practicals. And if you’re a flex student like me, you’ll have a job.

So here are some starter tips:

  1. When Monday rolls around, prioritize less-intense classes first. Someone in my cohort said his advisor recommended this. In your first semester, gross anatomy I is an inevitably and it is THE heaviest class you’ll take. At my school, the residential students also take pathophysiology along with it, so that’s a double whammy. That’ll be me next semester. You’ll want to get the less intense classes out of the way so that you have plenty of time to devote to the more-intense ones.
  2. There are various ways to stay organized. My cohort uses the GroupMe app to stay in touch, and we all use Google Docs. The more organized among us have created documents listening assignments due for the entire semester (I am not that organized, so thank goodness). I also use a whiteboard to list out my assignments for that week and check them off as they’re completed. If we’re given a study guide, we all work on it together through Google Docs. So I absolutely recommend gathering your entire cohort together and taking advantage of Google Docs and GroupMe. It’s wonderful because you don’t have to run to a professor for everything if you have a question. Someone in your cohort will likely have the answer. It’s also a great way to plan study groups.
  3. If you have quizzes in any of your classes, take those seriously. Sometimes questions from the quizzes will be on your tests.
  4. If your professors hold review sessions, attend them. Take notes. Gather these notes on a Google Doc and treat them like a study guide.
  5. Study AT LEAST one week before any exam. You will not get away with studying the night before or even two days before. Every class is a lot of material, even your “easier” ones. And keep in mind, you will most likely be studying full-time for your more difficult exams. You’ll definitely be studying full-time around midterms and finals. So realize this is a lifestyle you have chosen and take it very seriously.
  6. Attend tutoring. Make it mandatory to attend at least one session (particularly gross anatomy), even if you feel like you don’t need it. Your tutor might be an upper term and can provide you with tips and tricks. I went at the advice of my success advisor, and we went over ligaments and their attachments to bones. My tutor simplified it enormously when I was complicating it…enormously.
  7. Meet with your advisor to obtain all the advice you can on proper study habits.
  8. Do not pull an all-nighter. I am religious about my sleep habits. The only reason I’d ever pull one is if an assignment were due and I just procrastinated. Maybe you got away with it in undergrad, but you are going to need all your brain power in grad school, and it’s just not possible to pull that off with a sleepless mind. You’ll be too distracted by how tired you are, and recalling information is a slower process when sleep-deprived.

Now how do you study? For gross anatomy, I studied my quizzes (since I’m flex, the questions are available through Blackboard). My professor also told us exactly what would be on the exam (you may or may not get this lucky), so there was my study guide. I read through the study guide, read it out loud, and wrote down processes and things I couldn’t get right away. No magic to it. My professor likes to say that time in equals time out. For my GA lab practical, I studied how I pretty much did in undergrad. We were given a lot of resources, and I looked through all of those. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. There is no magic formula. We also do muscle card tests instead of listing origin/insertion and innervation, ect. on the practical. Note cards weren’t cutting it for me, and writing it out over and over wasn’t cutting it for me either. I purchased a textbook with pictures of individual muscles and would look at the muscle and try to guess everything before looking at the sheet. Then I would type it up. I know writing is better, but it takes too long, and your time is minimal. I typed it and read it out loud. And I’d just keep typing it. I got a perfect score on that test, so it worked. I might have had an easier time had I been forced to learn this information in undergrad, but we were only required to know the actions of the muscles.

In my soft tissues intervention class, I practiced on my mom for 1.5 weeks leading up to the practical. I will be doing the same for applied anatomy, except it will be 2.5 weeks.

All my other classes only have midterms/finals, and they all had review sessions and study guides. My cohort worked on those guides together. I then went through and would do an initial read through, then read out loud material I couldn’t get right away, and then would write things and come up with mnemonics. I also used Quizlets. I studied the week before for three of my midterms and the week before for my physical therapy practice midterm (because my success advisor said students seem to have difficulties with this class, so I took that to heart).

If you are not lucky enough to be provided with study guides and your professors believe you must know everything, you absolutely need to form a study group. What one person may not know, another will. Your cohort is your lifeline; you absolutely will not make it alone. I can promise you it is impossible.

I knew coming into this program that I would have to change things. I couldn’t study for gross anatomy the way I studied for A&P in undergrad because the way I studied then was just too time-consuming. At least for me, note cards weren’t going to work, which is the method I used in A&P. So while I have tried to provide an exhaustive list of how I went about studying, you might need other methods or might even discover your own methods that worked.

If you have any questions or need further advice, don’t hesitate to email me!