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PCE Exam Tips to Pass Every Station

If you are about to challenge the practical PCE, you be starting to establish a standardized plan to approach every station. Each station has an intended task with required steps for successful completion. The examiners will literally be checking off boxes as you go. Certain boxes are mandatory. These are often safety and consent issues, and should be readily achievable by methodically working your way through the station, though this is not easy. The PCE is a high stress, high stakes environment, with time restrictions that can cause you to rush and miss important performance markers. Below we outline 10 PCE exam tips as a step-by-step guide to building your plan so you can logically work through each case and pass every station. 

10 PCE Exam Tips to Build Your Station Plan:

1. Read the question thoroughly

Take time to thoroughly read and understand the scenario before entering the station. If you allow yourself to feel stressed, rushed, or you lose focus, you may misread or skim over important details in the question, resulting in misinterpretation of what the question is actually asking you to do. This is the most common mistake made during the PCE. Take a deep breath, focus your mind on the task at hand (literally forget about the other stations), then read the question slowly and thoroughly.  This may seem obvious, but it is the most important PCE exam tip we can give you. 

2. Make notes before you enter the room

You are provided a clipboard and paper to record notes throughout the exam. Use it to write down important points about the station, such as the affected side, important co-morbidities, contraindications, precautions, the mock-patient’s name, or parameters that aren’t worth memorizing. This helps in two ways: it will reinforce reading the question thoroughly, and it will take some strain off your mental capacity so you can focus your attention on the skills you are being asked to perform. It’s not worth wasting time or mental capacity memorizing small details in those few precious minutes prior to entering the station. Instead, use the time to read the question, jot down a few notes, and outline a station plan.

3. Have your identification sticker ready for the examiner

This is purely to save time. The entire day is chaotic, and having these stickers ready for the examiner will get this formality out of the way quickly, giving you more time to complete the station. 

4. Stick to your script

Develop a sort of consistent ’script’ to get some of the most important boxes checked early at every station. This ‘script’ should include introducing yourself, explaining the purpose of your interaction, and gaining consent for the interaction. Your initial dialogue should take less than a minute, but may mean the difference between passing and failing a station.

5. Scan the room

The rooms for each scenario are carefully staged so as not to be confusing.  Anything set out in plain sight is meant to be used in the station. Pay attention to anything that seems to be obviously placed in the room. It will give you a clue to the intent of the station. 

6. Clear contraindications and precautions

Some stations are designed specifically to contain contraindications, and to evaluate if you can identify and prevent a potential risk.  Do not proceed with any set out tasks before you clear all potential contraindications and precautions. Missing any risk factors is an automatic fail, and could be dangerous to a patient in a real life scenario. If you have even a small feeling something could be a potential risk factor, go with your intuition and clear it before proceeding. Always err on the side of caution.

7. Gain consent to touch

Never touch anybody without first asking for consent.  Neglecting to do so is an automatic station fail. 

8. Check Safety Flags

Before you perform a task, take a moment to decide if there are any safety considerations. Are there any lines or tubes to be aware of? Are you about to walk the person without shoes? Do you have a transfer belt? Are the brakes on?  These are some common examples of potential safety issues that must be addressed before proceeding. Once again, missing just one of these flags is an automatic station fail.

9. Verbalize your inner dialogue

Examiners and mock-patients can’t predict what you are thinking, so literally think out loud. Describe where you are going to put your hands on the mock-patient, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. Verbalizing what you are thinking will help with mock-patient consent and will ensure the examiner knows exactly what you are attempting to accomplish.

10. Summarize the station

It is not uncommon to end up with some time at the end of a station. Rather than sit idle, use the time to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Re-read the question and reflect on what you have done.  Don’t second guess yourself or you will drive yourself crazy, but review the scenario making sure you haven’t missed any important details such as precautions and contraindications. It’s not too late to get them in.

Although the PCE can be an intimidating experience, it is important to have a step-by-step approach to each station. It will help you sort out your thoughts, and make sure you don’t miss any important safety details. Practice this plan while you are studying so you can implement it effortlessly at every station. For more tips on the PCE practical exam, check out our blog on the Top 7 Safety Fails here.

Good Luck!