12 Common PCE Practical Exam Errors

Everyone can make errors - even the best of us do. So it's best to know what to avoid ahead of the big day. Especially in the PCE Practical Exam. Nerves are usually running high during the exam and this can lead to more errors. Here are 12 common exam errors that you can avoid to guarantee a pass.

1. Inappropriate or skipped introductions

Your first interaction with the mock patient should always be introducing yourself by name and identifying your position/role (physiotherapy candidate/student).  It is also important to address the mock-patient by their name/title and ask how they prefer to be addressed

2. Performing tasks that are not asked.

Read the instructions at each station carefully. Seriously, we cannot stress this enough. If a station states ‘do X’, then do X. Don't attempt to add more tasks to a station than what is requested

3. Confuse assessment and treatment.

Don’t try to link the two together. Perform an assessment when the station calls for an assessment and a treatment when the station calls for treatment. End of story.  

4. Speaking to the examiner rather than the patient. 

Pretend the examiner is not there and only acknowledge them if they speak to you or if the scenario states “explain to the examiner..."  Otherwise, address the mock-patient the same way you would a real patient.

5. Using complicated language

In the same way you would address a real patient, do not use medical terminology that the average person would not understand. Always use plain language when speaking to or describing concepts to the mock-patient.

6. Speaking too fast or disjointed

Speak slowly, calmly and clearly so you can express your thoughts properly, allowing the examiner to fully understand what you are trying to say. If English is not your first language, then speaking clearly is especially important. 

7. Not adjusting the mock patient before proceeding

Do not assume the mock-patient will automatically position themselves in the proper position. Mock-patients have been instructed to act like real patients and will only do exactly what you tell them to do.  If you are unclear or disorganized in your instructions, the mock-patient will move inappropriately making the station more difficult. This may catch you off guard if you have only prepared with classmates as mock patients, who will often inadvertently always be in the correct position because they know what you are trying to do. You can easily practice this by using unassuming friends or family members as mock patients. 

8. Failure to gain full informed consent

If a station specifically asks you to gain consent, then be sure to cover the following:
  • The assessment or treatment you will be doing and your intended goals
  • The anticipated benefits and risks associated to the intended task  
  • Any alternative treatments, if available  
  • Letting the mock-patient know they have the option to stop or decline   
  • Asking whether the mock-patient has any questions  
  • Asking if the mock-patient has understood and would like to proceed  
  • Ensuring that the mock-patient says "yes" when gaining consent and doesn't just nod their head

9. Never assume consent is implied at the station.

If the station does not specifically say "gain consent" in the instructions, you must still introduce yourself, determine the mock-patient’s name, tell them the task you intend to perform, and ensure they consent (are ok / say yes) to the procedure. 

10. Neglecting to “check in" with the patient.

Ask the mock-patient if they are ok, how they are feeling, if they would like to continue, etc.  If their response includes any concerns (e.g. dizziness, weakness, unsteady) be sure to ask specifically about those symptoms several times while performing your task to ensure they are stable and able to proceed. 

11. Neglecting to perform a task. 

Often candidates will opt to describe what they would do instead of doing it. This is a mistake. You must actually demonstrate the technique. Likewise, the examiner may ask you to describe what you are doing while performing the task, at which point you can describe your actions out loud while you are physically performing the task. 

12. Offering too much (or too little) assistance.

Sometimes the trick for a station is to evaluate your ability to encourage or talk a mock-patient through a task, not performing the task for them. Therefore, if you ask a mock-patient to perform a task and they appear to be struggling to complete it, as long as they are safe, don’t automatically jump in and offer full assistance. You need to understand the difference between minimal assist and one-assist, and how to begin with the least possible level of assistance. Then, if required, add assistance based on the mock-patient’s comments and behaviours.
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