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5 Tips to Nail Your PT Practical

by Theron Lee


Having someone watch you closely, as you perform what is asked of you, can seem daunting and intimidating...but it doesn’t have to be. Compiled are my top 5 tips to nailing every PT practical and getting one step closer to becoming a physical therapist.

1. Maximize your time

It’s incredibly tempting to mentally check out during PT school, especially when you’ve had back-to-back 2-hour classes since 7 am, plus you're running on an empty stomach. Fight the urge, because the majority of learning occurs during classes and labs. Additionally, if mock practicals are offered, take them! This is the most important piece of advice I can give from this article. A mock PT practical provides you the chance to see exactly what is expected of you and how grading works. More importantly, the feedback the professors give you is invaluable. Therefore, when it comes time for the actual practice, you’ll have refined your skills to get good marks.

2. Visualize success

Visualization is one aspect of preparation that will increase your chances of nailing your PT practical, yet doesn't require finding a study/practice partner. Professional sports athletes have used the power of visualization to increase their performance. It may seem a bit new age for some of you, but visualizing every aspect of the practice helps me reduce stress and better prepares me to perform well.

Truly visualize everything you expect to see.

  • How do you see yourself performing?
  • Who else is in the room with you?
  • What can you smell?
  • What steps do you plan on doing in a successful sequence?
  • What are you saying?
  • What can you hear your grader instructing you to do?

All of these thoughts are in my mind as I do busywork, such as washing the dishes or taking a shower. This kind of practice can occur outside of the test setting and will help you prepare for almost any situation you can create in your mind. (Editor's note: Visualization is definitely helpful. I used this technique throughout PT school, and it truly saved my hide on several occasions when I procrastinated prepping for a practical!)

3. Collaborate

I had a professor once tell me, “you don’t know what you don’t know." Aside from the profound deep philosophical wisdom bomb being dropped, the truth is, you only know as much as you think you know. Working with other people who have different ways of doing things or have questions you haven't even considered, will expose you to what you don’t know. This new knowledge and insight into different paths of problem-solving are where a lot of learning can occur.

Even if you're a solo studier, carve out some time before each practice to discuss things with your classmates. You may find that they gleaned some crucial info in class that you missed while you were taking notes.

4. Picture perfect

All the hours of practice should equate to being able to create a quick mental image to any of the techniques you are expected to know. If something doesn’t come to mind within 5 seconds, you need more practice.

Consider how you'll be tested. Does your professor verbally read a test? Do you pick a card from a table? Practice every possible method with all the techniques you learned in class. Simply practice selecting the card or hearing the test stated out loud. You'll be more prepared for the moment of truth if you've practiced that stress-inducing moment ahead of time.

The worst thing you could do during practice is to be underprepared pick the wrong test, use the wrong direction of force, or make any other mistake where it's an automatic fail. Take a step back, see it in your mind, then go perform it.

5. Stress management

How do you manage your stress? This questions is commonly asked in job interviews, and may even have been asked of you while applying to PT school. This is a great question to get insight into how you plan to keep stress at bay. It is easy to catch up in what feels like chaos while you are in the moment. Stress can be your friend or your enemy depending on how you manage it. Not to fear! I’ve adopted a technique used by Navy SEALs (Can you imagine a more stressful job? It's literally a life or death situation every day they are out on the field!)

The technique is simply called 4x4. All you have to do when you’re feeling stressed out is inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 1, and exhale for 4 seconds. Do that 4 times and you’ll notice your heart rate going down. Now, this may not calm you down fully, but it does give you enough stress relief to perform without stress impeding your performance.

So for your next big MSK or neuro practical, try these 5 techniques. See what works for you and what doesn't, but 1 thing is for sure, if you find a routine that works for you, I'm sure you will nail your next PT practical.

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