Study Smarter, Not Harder

Successful OCS exam candidates don’t just study harder, they study smarter. They also don’t study everything, the study the right things. This is accomplished by employing the 80/20 principle.

So how should you study?

First evidence from cognitive psychology emphasizes the value of the following 2 principles.

  1. Space your OCS studying out over time. If you study something such as the biomechanics of the foot and then study it again right away, it’s fresh in your mind the second time. You’ll probably feel like you’ve learned it well and will move on, but don’t be fooled. Instead of restudying right away, wait a while, such as a day or even a week and then study it again. You’ll retain much more information. Spacing your studying works because when something’s fresh in your mind you don’t learn much from studying it; you learn more when you’ve had time to forget it, which allows you to reinforce the memory. Studies show that some level of forgetting is actually necessary in order to improve the “retrieval strength” of a new memory. As time goes by, each piece of information you can recall becomes more and more bulletproof to forgetting on the exam.
  2. Test and quiz yourself. Candidates test themselves when they study with flashcards, and answer practice questions. When an OCS candidate reads from a textbook, monograph, journal article, or other source, they often neglect to test themselves. This is detrimental. Testing gets us actively involved in the learning process and helps us retrieve information from our own memories. Answering practice questions tests your knowledge, comprehension, and ability to recall key points. Practice questions also clearly identify deficits in your knowledge base, and suggest areas that need further review. Additionally, understanding the rationale behind correct/incorrect answers will reinforce the requisite information of the OCS exam and aid in comprehension. A candidate should expose themselves to as many OCS practice questions as they can find before sitting for the actual exam.

Second, learn to focus your attention towards the right things.

  1. Selectively Read. Reading every word in a text, journal article, or other source may not be the best strategy. Learn to scan headings, introductions, summaries and keywords. Read actively, searching for the main points. You can easily get caught up in the minutia of the OCS material and miss the take home message. This can impair your ability to comprehend and recall what you have read at a later time.
  2. Take Good Notes. There is a wealth of information to review in order to prepare for the OCS exam, and none of this is contained in one place. So taking good notes is crucial in order to prepare and review for the OCS exam. Your review process will be extremely inefficient without an organized collection of notes. Record the main points and concentrate on key principles.

The 80/20 Principle

For those of you not familiar, the 80/20 principle–also known as the Pareto Principle–suggests that for many situations, 80% of the effects are a result of 20% of the causes. This rule has many applications, and a common example comes from the business world: 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. As a result, it only makes sense to focus the most amount of your energy and effort servicing that 20% of clientele that are producing the majority of your revenue, profits, etc.

This principle can be applied to a number of other situations, such as exam preparation. For example, 80% of the exam content comes from 20% of the material. Focus on that 20% and watch your scores rise.

In terms of the OCS give review priority to the body regions and knowledge areas that make up a larger percentage of the exam. (This does not mean neglect the other areas)

High Priority Body Regions 70% of Questions from these Body Regions.

  • Cervical Spine
  • Lumbar Spine
  • Shoulder
  • Knee
  • Ankle/Foot

Of the 8 knowledge areas and procedures covered on the exam, 40% of questions will come from just 2 of the areas.

  • Examination (critical thinking processes related to examination)

    Procedural Interventions

Furthermore, getting even more specific you can narrow down 40 questions or 20% of the OCS exam to examination and procedural interventions for just 3 body regions.

  • Cervical Spine
  • Lumbar Spine
  • Shoulder

Food for thought, study smarter, not harder.

Don’t cram for the OCS exam, take good notes for review, focus on areas that make up the majority of the exam, and routinely quiz and test yourself.

Ryan J. Grella, PT, DPT, OCS

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E, Nathan, M., Willingham, D. Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 2012;14,(1): 4-58.

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