Thinking of exams as more than just a grade

I used to believe that being able to answer questions on an exam gave no insight into my ability to be a competent physical therapist. I think this stemmed from the fact that no matter how hard I studied, I rarely scored the marks I wanted. Which was extremely frustrating. After talking to current PTs I realized that grades weren’t something my future employer was going to look into, so I decided that it didn’t really matter how I performed.

However, there was a huge flaw in me thinking that. Although it is true, written exams do not necessarily correlate to being a good physical therapist, I now realize there are huge benefits to carrying about my academic performance.

After listening to some solid podcasts (shoutout to TwoKnowbodies, PTonICE, TherapyInsiders, PTPintcast and HealthyWealthyandSmart) I realized that a lot of the PTs and SPTs that I admired had passion, tenacity, but most importantly humility. They demonstrated a remarkable capability for recognizing their limitations and actively seeking ways to improve themselves and expand their knowledge, and I wanted to do the same.

So, I started with reframing how I viewed my education. No longer was it something that I felt obligated to show up to. I now realize that my DPT program is a great resource where I can learn valuable information on conditions and processes that I will need to know to help my future patients. Before, I viewed my coursework as tedious, tiresome and sometimes dull. Now I view it as a giant investment into my future.

I’ve started studying every week, but it is no longer a chore because it has become something that I view as valuable. I’m not studying to get an A, I’m studying to gain the knowledge that I will need for when I am out in the clinic. 

Therefore it’s not the grades that hold value to me, but the knowledge.

During exam reviews I don’t get as upset over points loss over careless mistakes. Instead, I search for concepts that I didn’t have a strong understanding of and try to learn from my mistakes. The experience of trying hard for something and not succeeding is something that I hope every student experiences at least once in their program. I firmly believe as students we need to have the resilience to put in a lot of effort into something, not succeed, and instead of becoming discouraged look for opportunities where we can improve. We will most likely fail at some point in our PT career. And if we don’t learn how to deal with failure and disappointment as a student, how are we going to be able to deal with a patient that we aren’t connecting with and who isn’t progressing?

So yes, it’s true, my future employer probably doesn’t care about what grade I received on an exam or even in a class. But I believe my future employer cares about my work ethic, about my willingness to set time away every week to continue my education and better myself as a clinician for my patients. I believe that my future employer cares about my coping mechanisms and my ability to handle negative feedback, failures and stressors in a productive manner.

I’m glad I no longer put emphasis on the grade I receive, but instead focus on how I prepare for the exam and how I respond to those results. I believe developing these skills now will help me be the physical therapist my employer wants and my patients need.