Saturday, January 31, 2015

Approaching Student Debt

Annnnnnd! A very good day to you today!

I'm glad you're joining me for another discussion on career paths. This time, we're talking about how to approach student debt. For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to talk specifically about the experience of #DPTstudent(s) since that is something I have personal experience in. Nevertheless, there are financial and career path principles here that are ubiquitous to nearly all lines of work and paths of life.

And so, I'm pleased to present to you:

Approaching Student Debt

So, you're about to graduate with a fancy new doctorate degree in physical therapy. You are soon able to call yourself "Doctor" so-and-so. You are probably planning out when you're going to take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and hopefully pass with your license to practice. Then, it's time to join the workforce!

As you know, you must now also map out a plan to tackle on a probable six-figures of United States Dollar (USD) debt. It's not an easy task. Taking on say $20,000 dollars of debt is already quite a challenge. $100,000??? Eeeesh!

Well, if you've been looking around the job boards, asking around on Twitter, or lurking in Facebook support pages, you've probably seen people despair on how little newly graduated DPTs are making. Moreover, you're probably experiencing the sinking feeling of discouragement, that emotional drop of when you think of how it may take the rest of your life to pay off your student loans.

Let me first say, it doesn't have to be so. There IS a better way!

Secondly, the first job will always suck. It will always pay less, the hiring managers will always try to sucker you for less; and searching for the best pay, best location, and best setting always seems to come up with empty results.


The poor pay has to do with the fact many places of employment retain senior staff members who are terribly expensive. They may be offering you $30-$35/hr. That's because they need to balance out the budget for the employee who has worked there for 15 years and is now making $45-50/hr. Unfair? YOU BET! But, that's the game -- for now at least.

So what is the better way? Aggressive balance.

You see, there are lots of jobs in settings and locations that basically for lack of a better word: STINK. Skilled nursing facilities, hospitals in the middle of no where, home health regions which basically feel like you're driving from one end of the state to the other... these segments of the job market pay frighteningly well. They also aren't very fun to work in, hence the awesome pay.

Here is my suggestion: Achieve aggressive balance by using the numbers to guide your path.

One of my favorite tools in dealing with paying back debt is Power Pay. This free online tool gives you the ability to schedule out your payments against your income. It also does so by rank, so you can choose how you wish to pay things off.

Personally, I've always advocated first paying off the debt retaining the highest interest rate. In any case, you can choose for yourself how quickly you'd like to pay off your debt. Once you do so, you'll be able to back track how much money you'd need to make and live off of to meet such a goal. Oh, one really cool thing about this tool: It schedules out your payment scheme to REGULAR budgets. Meaning, you have the same monthly budget in tackling your student debt. Pretty cool, huh?

The other issue I like to remind new grads of is the Time Value of Money and HUMAN CAPITAL. In simplest terms, the money you have now may be worth more now than saved later because you are just joining the workforce. Therefore, don't worry so much about the retirement fund, that will take care of itself if you are financially disciplined in ANY form. This also relates with human capital to which you're life, earning potential over your working years, and the economic value you contribute as a person is ENORMOUS. You JUST graduated. You have LOTS of incredible things to do and to become.

All this to say, when you're looking at places of employment, don't worry so much about the benefits unless you aim to stay at that company for a long time. Typically, I advise new grads to quit their first job in the first or second year so they can get a new job at "regular," non-new-grad rates. This way, you can get a higher cash flow in to pound away at your student loans (more on this in a post, linked below).

So, where are the best places to get cash flow? SNFs, home health, travel assignments, and registry work. These segments pay SIGNIFICANTLY better than outpatient ortho. How much better? Well, when I was a director, I would consistently be authorized by corporate to make new grads an offer of high $30s/hour. We're talking at least $37/hr and even up to $40/hr if the time in the job market was right. This was compared to starting rates at $30-33/hr at outpatient ortho and acute care hospitals. Keep in mind, I had PTAs and COTAs making $30-33/hr per diem!! THAT's the difference.

Also, home health can pay new grads up to 6-figures if you're a work horse and the region you cover isn't insanely vast. Also, travel assignments can pay upwards of $50-70/hour depending on how rural the area is. Registry, however, is a bit more humble and typically will pay $45-65/hr depending on the market. It's not sounding so bad, anymore, is it? GOOD!

HOWEVER, if a company offers amazing benefits -- especially stuff like high rated (5-8%), matched defined contributions (or even defined benefits) into a 401k, 403b, etc. DO IT! It's practically free money. Sure, you'll live a little more frugally, but, my inclination is always to max out those benefits. You'll be surprised how much that plan will be worth when you roll it over to something like a Roth IRA. There was a company I worked for which the plan essentially amounted to $10k in retirement funds per year! Think about it. This will give you the best of both worlds, you can save for the long term while you supplement hours with say work at the local SNF who may need you for 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning. Working 3-4 hours there may equate to working for an entire day at your regular place of employment!

Now, other than going to the ends of the earth, picking up travel assignments, and supplementing your income with per diem or registry work, what else can you do?

Being that I'm graduating with an MBA this spring, I've really been opened up to asset diversification. If you know what you're doing with capital or trust someone to do so, feel free to invest what savings you have. Right now, almost ANYTHING is better than letting it sit in the bank. All that said, one of my finance professors was really big in saying that balance in life is more important than the balance in your bank account. This came from the perspective from him working with a lot of clients with unimaginable wealth. Sadly, these people were quite poor in life.

It's important to have balance. When you're young, you have the advantage of having big appetites. That is why I encourage you to achieve balance and do so aggressively. EVERYONE has debt. The world is in a debt based economy since physical commodities no longer giving backing to our bucks.

So what does all this mean?
  • Don't let your debt get your down.
  • Since we all have it, we simply need to become better at managing it.
  • Be a beast about paying back high interest debts first.
  • Don't skip payments.
  • Try not to spend on a whim.
  • Stay disciplined to your payment plan and your budget.
  • Take advantage of employee benefits.
  • Feel free to save a part of your income to invest in short term portfolios.
  • Oh, yes! Housing helps a lot when it is tax time.
  • Live wisely; within your means and prudently.
  • However, also be sure you make yourself rich in life; be happy, be joyful, have fun!
Above all, be balanced. Managing debt is all about managing balance. As a newly graduated student, you will have a thirst and a drive that can make you achieve balance with aggressive success. Following a highly disciplined and driven plan can help you knock out significant chunks of principle in a short amount of time before you move onto the next stage in life. Watching those debt figures go down is rewarding and encouraging.

Quick Thoughts on Loan Forgiveness

Alright! As requested, a quick bit on loan forgiveness. So first, I need to say that while I'm finishing up an MBA this April, my concentration is in marketing which really means my expertise is in business and marketing strategy, such as how market operations/supply chains relate to entry/exit/promotions/positioning. Loan forgiveness is really more in the finance/accounting world, specifically to those who hold the credentials of a CPA, CFP,  CLU, and/or ChFC -- each will mean something different to you depending on where in the planning (or action) process you are.

In any case, I'd like to first link the two most helpful resources regarding loan forgiveness I've come across so far:

  • Office of US Education
    • This website is AMAZING. The Q&A sheet is perhaps most helpful.
    • Read through this slowly, it's a bit of jargon but you'll get through it.
  • APTA
    • Then go ahead and read this link.
    • After reading this one, you'll quickly realize the following (as I have)...

Basically, one of the most important things other than working for the government is that whichever organization you're working for is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization - otherwise, you just don't qualify. There are also other independent inclusions such as working for a public health organization but much of that circulates on a case specific basis.

So how do you want to proceed if you want to pay of 120 payments and be done with it all after 10 years? ASK. MAP. GO.

  • ASK: Ask wherever you are intending to apply and work if their organization actually qualifies for such a loan forgiveness plan. There's almost no point in going forward if loan forgiveness is your primary goal for the first 10 years of your career. Also, ask one of the aforementioned finance professionals about how you can precisely approach this in the best way as to not accidentally disqualify yourself from the loan forgiveness.
  • MAP: Map out precise professional and personal goals within that 10 year time frame including 2 or 3 transfer strategies at the 3 year mark, 5 year mark, and 7 year mark. Why? Because those are times when young professionals joining the workforce tend to get fed up, burnt out, or find themselves in need of new challenges to stave off insanity. By mapping out your possibilities, you gain mental flexibility (not to mention peace of mind) should things require a bit of change in your life when those time frames finally arrive. You'll probably want to write this down on a piece of paper and hide it someplace since it won't be relevant until about 4 years from now.
  • GO: Go on your charted course. Don't look back at the more attractive opportunities you may have left behind... that one residency, that one really high paying job, etc.  Look, you committed to banging out this debt in 10 years, didn't you? Yes, I know, you're having second thoughts. And, yes, I know things probably suck right now. But, you've set yourself on this course. Don't blow the opportunity, this is a long term race not a sprint. So..! Grind down, stick to it, and keep going!

I leave you with this encouragement:

Take advantage of strong employment options, not just the top dollar you're being paid. Look for aggressive supplementation. Plan it out. Dig your heels in. And, go knock it out of the ball park!!

All The Best,

PS. Oh, one more thing, there are ALWAYS entrepreneurial opportunities. But, that's another post for another day ;) 

PSS. Also as promised, here are a couple links you may be interested in:
  • For more of new grad career strategies, please consider this post.
  • And, for my approach in weighing employment options, please follow the link HERE.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Physical Therapist's Brand Promise

Do we have one?

While I may be paraphrasing, here are some of the responses in no particular order:

  • We listen.
  • We start with you.
  • Move. Improve. Achieve.
  • Movement.
  • (Mine was) - Feel awesome!
  • Physical restoration.

About the brand promise: A Brand Promise is VERY different from the brand itself. The brand promise is the resultant of the brand experience. While the brand is more of a construct of the imagination; the brand promise is how a consumer feels about the brand service or product experience. In essence, "Did they do what they said they would do for me?"

As a principle, the more we deliver on the brand promise, the stronger our brand image and thus the stronger our brand positioning in the marketplace. On the theoretical level, our brand promise is the promised action/result of our brand identity. The brand image is the summative reception the consumer has of our brand. Brand promise links the brand identity to the brand image; the closer they are and the stronger they are linked, the stronger the brand equity itself.

So then, my thoughts went to, "What can we ACTUALLY deliver?"
  • We can certainly deliver on "we listen."
  • "Movement." Can we deliver on this? I feel many times we fail. What is perhaps worse, sometimes our consumers doesn't even care about movement. They have other things in mind.
  • My lofty idea of "Feel Awesome!" ... it definitely has its constraints, no doubt.
  • Physical restoration we can definitely deliver on. But, we also can deliver on much more!
  • "We start with you" resonates with "we listen." And, I like them both! VERY savvy in the world of customer service.
  • I like "Move. Improve. Achieve." It's more of a slogan than a brand promise, however.

It's really tough coming up with a solid brand promise. It's even more tough when a profession's brand identity is so scattered. It is paramountly worse when our brand image is more scattered than our identity!

In our current market environment, "We listen." is a very powerful statement. This can sustain and even improve our market position during this time when healthcare exists as an economic wobble-shuffle. It is actually one of the most attractive brand promises to the end-user and direct consumer. The 3rd party payer would love it too if listening meant more "favorable" utilization rates -- to which, I believe there is certainly some evidence in it.

There was another offering I was saving until now, "We get to the root of the problem." This is another power statement since many healthcare consumers are seriously fed up with duct tape approaches. They want providers to address the source issues behind their health concerns. 

As for my pipe dream idea of "Feel awesome!" This requires we have a generally standard approach as PTs in customer service, professional branding, and our commitment to best outcomes -- making our consumers feel better by doing it faster and making it last longer than any other competing options out there.

And, to be clear, it's not other PT options -- I'm referring to any other option outside of PT because our unified position and focused range of approach procures a strong confidence interval in customer experience at the emotional, intellectual, and physical levels -- on the outcome measure THEY (the consumers) care about. That's why I like the idea of "feeling" as a base for a brand promise; so very many consumer choices are based on feeling, not reasoning.

The problem is every clinic does business differently; we are losing the power of differentiation this way. Not differentiating amongst ourselves, differentiating ourselves from others. The truth is, we are TOO scattered within ourselves. It's like saying one mechanic could be way different from another mechanic the same way PTs are different.

I ask you, do you look forward to seeing your mechanic? NO! And, we don't want people to reluctantly and latently come to us in their times of need. We want them to look forward to seeing their PT -- that they can't wait because its the best choice for their health they could ever make!

So I ask, am I wrong to say that we, as Physical Therapists, want to be the 1st choice provider for musculoskeletal health? For the outpatient segment, I think this rings very true. Part of the reason I posed the original question was to delineate the hard fact that inpatient vs. outpatient PTs offer very different brand promises. Without segmentation here, we will never present a strong brand... not per setting and not as a whole. Therefore, it makes sense taking charge of the segment we have the most control over: Outpatient Private Practice.

In strategic marketing, the task is all about surveying the market environment for opportunities and threats. Our opportunities as outpatient/private practice PTs is through the roof! In healthcare's state of wobble, the threats really are more internal than external; our infighting hurts more than other people encroaching on our "turf."

I keep asking myself:
  • What can we unify with?
  • What is the single most common service experience we deliver on CONSISTENTLY?

I don't have all the answers. I certainly have some ideas. The thing is, it requires some strong direction to pursue. They revolve around a united, signature experience in our outpatient private practice segment. It finds a linchpin in a commitment to getting people better, faster, and keeping them healthy for life. The strategy holds on the minimization of cost burdens and the elevation of economic welfare for all of our stakeholders in concert. Sure, it may hurt in the short term. But, I can promise you if history and business research holds any water, it will absolutely pay off in the long run.

Not not all will agree on the ideas. In fact, I'm certain that what I share us offensive to some. I sense this is the case because most of the legitimate business solutions to stamping a collective brand promise centralizes on something that we as PTs apparently avoid with all our might...


We hate unity. We may say we like it, but look at our actions! We trump our diversity, our specializations, and our uniqueness as our individual core competencies. While that certainly is valuable at a clinical level, it is NOT at an industry level. It doesn't help our profession at large when consumers can't have a common image in mind when they hear the words "Physical Therapist." 

A few weeks back there was talk about establishing brand pillars - and - I LOVE this idea!

While it's all brainstorming at this point, I encourage you to focus your thoughts on the following:
  • What can ALL outpatient PTs promise and deliver on consistently?
  • What can we make a signature moment for private practice PTs as an industry?
  • What brand promise is most valuable to the consumer?
  • And, what promises are most valuable to the consumer of tomorrow?
I feel strongly that the intersection of those four questions will summit a brand promise that will shine powerfully in the healthcare market of the future. It starts here. And, there will be many revisions in the future -- that's the business of marketing! And so, I'll be doing lots of mental grinding on this one for a while. I hope you'll join me in the task.

Talk soon! Safe travels to CSM! I wish I could be there with you, so tweet a bunch!

Warm Regards,

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Five Tactics for Reputation Management

Since I've been on a roll talking about some of the less known things about me, I found it hard to depart from this (kind of) lifestyle take on marketing.

Reputation Management is a small segment, a subspecialty really, that I've gotten to know better over the years as a consultant. Just like preventing fires, it's easier to clean up the brush before the fire starts than to put it out once it's ablaze. I never thought I'd be one who would be interested in helping people dig their way out of trouble. However, I've found out that I'm pretty good at it - and - it's actually quite fun! It's a challenge, and, it's a worthwhile pursuit to help those who have made some truly honest mistakes.

Here are Five Tactics for Reputation Management.

1. Dig down deep.
Prevention is a big word. Sadly, most people don't know how to truly approach it. Simply managing risk factors and identifying clusters of interest will not actually prevent fires. However, identifying old tinder which could easily conflagrate with the tiniest and most insignificant spark? Now you're being proactive about prevention.

When I say "Dig down deep," I mean you need to dig down deep into your own past and reputation. This is typically a humbling and rather uncomfortable exercise. As your platform expands, whatever is in your past, you need to begin acknowledging it (especially while your platform is small) or at the very least, have a series of responses prepared should the pieces fall into play against you. Remember, it is YOUR past. You might as well own it.

2. Always have an exit.
Other than not screwing up in the first place, it is a good habit to lay down exit plans and embed them into your daily interactions. While it may sound like a politician's speech work, it is important that you leave yourself some wiggle room to walk your mistakes backwards as you elaborate on what your intent was while addressing how poorly you expressed it. This gives you a way of graciously bowing out of an unfavorable positions while acknowledging the fact you were called out.

3. Double check your double check.
Check what you're about to do/say yourself, then have someone else check you, and do that yet once more. Having sounding boards is a very important thing in reputation management. This tactic saves you from making easy and simple mistakes; it's a low hanging fruit to pick to prevent something terribly rotten to be inadvertently presented. Oh! It's actually quite helpful if the sounding board and the sounding board's sounding board tend to hold opposing views. This will help screen out a broader spectrum of potential hazards. 

4. Own it, and quick!
Feigning innocence or even worse, ignorance can be terrible. If called out, at the very least own the fact you were called out. You don't have to own the implied or alleged guilt or responsibility, but, you can't just sit there pretending no one saw the other guy point the finger at you.

Express strong intentions of delving into the matter and give a time frame for expected response. By the way, deleting posts on social media, only make you look worse -- completely guilty in fact. The truth is that we're in a social framework where nothing should be hidden, good or bad. If you have anything to hide, then you are guilty. So, if your reputation is in question, go ahead and own the fact someone is questioning you. Be empathetic and understanding to their feelings, promise an action plan and response time, and be sure you carry it out!

5. Apologize with your actions.
So the ugliest aspect of reputation management is when you, the "royal" you, are busted. If caught, when caught... don't just issue some canned statement like, "We regret that so-and-so and our organization blah blah blah."

It is beyond critical to be truly intentional, genuine, and severely humble in making up for your wrong doing in manners which are meaningful to the party you've wronged. Be sure your actions can be clearly seen. Social responsibility is seen as a most favorable activity for even the most small-hearted-grinches out there. Making your apology public, highly visible, and perceptively sincere is a very smart, long term investment... not to mention, the right thing to do!

Some Closing Thoughts
Reputations can be sullied for many reasons. Sometimes they are attacked. Othertimes, they are self destructed. Mistakes are frequently made -- sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of passion, sometimes out of misinformation, sometimes out of pride, and sometimes by accident. An important theme throughout Reputation Management is public perception; no matter what happened behind closed doors, the fact that the cat is out of the bag means you must now treat it like royalty. Once it's appeased, you can put the issue behind you while preparing a response for the inevitable flare up.

Good luck out there! Remember, preparation will always trump repair!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What's In A Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet"
-  Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

There's a lot of value that goes into a name. The principles at work behind the value of a name are very much the same as that in branding. (For more on this, take a look at this post: Building Your Personal Brand)

As such, in preparation for this last term and my current MBA candidacy, I'm shifting how I present my name in certain venues to more accurately reflect the direction I'm taking through the completion of this MBA in Marketing. More specifically, I've changed only my email "send as" as well as my Twitter name display (which is my primary social media outlet) to say this:

Ben Fung  DPT/MBA(c)

Why the funny format? That's all Twitter would let me fit! Why no more "Dr."??? Simple. Most of what I currently do now has more to do with business consulting than front-line clinical applications. Does this mean I'm turning my back on the clinical world of physical therapy and healthcare at large? NO WAY!

During a luncheon conversation with a long time colleague, we were talking about the process of becoming a physical therapist. Primarily, we were talking about how the mindset and training creates an outlook that never leaves you. I'll never stop being a physical therapist. I can still remember the near heart attack I had one day in a checkout line when an elderly man took a bad step backwards. I lunged forwards to guard him! 

See, it's not that I'm abandoning anything. It is simply that the way I'm choosing to embody the physical therapist identity is as one who empowers others through business solutions. Through this direction, I hope that my expertise in marketing, operations, reputation management, and optimizing the clinical lense through consumer perspectives will supercharge a new generation toward success.

So what's coming down the line?
  1. I'm preparing a webinar via the Private Practice Section of the APTA.
  2. I've been gathering together content to wrap up into a monster of a marketing course.
  3. As many of you know, I've finished writing my book and am progressing through the various steps of publication.
  4. I will be enviously following your Tweets during CSM 2015.
  5. I hope to resume my involvement in speaking engagements later this year.
  6. I aim to increase my outreach and platform diversity (more coming soon).
  7. I am planning on finally introducing collaboratives posts on this blog. Interested in sharing your voice? Let me know!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Rules For Surviving Standardized Tests

A not so well known thing about me is that I also serve as a mentor and life coach. I've been privileged to play a part in the lives of some up and coming youngsters and serve as guidance in their pathways toward success in the high school journey, through college, and even into graduate school as well. It's been quite interesting for me, personally, as it allows me to keep tabs on the evolution of academic circles and allows me informational access to where the market is going, both in terms of education and entry level job markets.

In any case, several of the people I've been coaching have been expressing their grief in regards to standardized tests. I can offer some more or less qualified help in this regard as I served as a preparatory instructor for SATs and high school APs in a prior time in life. Having watched the SAT morph into several forms, taken the GRE twice, and of course having passed the national physical therapy exam (NPTE), I've intimately come to know the core elements -- the basic nature of standardized tests. 

In a sentence: It's not about what you know, its about how you find the answers.

For those who have standardized tests in your future and to those who are cringing at the memories, I'm sure we'll all agree the standardized tests do not truly evaluate the whole potential for any individual's academic performance. More importantly, such tests do not measure the likelihood of success in a vocation, profession, or other career path. It does not measure a person's fit to an organization or industry; neither does it test for integrity, character, grit, will-power, determination, compassion, ability to innovate, think outside the box, emotional IQ, inter-personal skills, etc. -- you know, the things that matter most in a working environment.

And, with that out of the way, I think we've gotten enough off our chest to deal with the situation at hand. Standardized tests exist. They are part of the academic matrix. Much like in Zombieland, we need to learn how to survive it.

Rules For Surviving Standardized Tests

Learn about the NATURE of your test. Is it testing math? Vocabulary? Basic sciences? Perhaps it seeks to examine your fluency of language. Alternatively, it may be attempting to measure your competence for licensure in a specific array of skill sets. Knowing about the nature of the exam guides your focus on pre-exam study material; the stuff you need to have before you start preparing to sit for said exam.

Furthermore, you must know what the questions are actually asking for. Are they questions with information you must already know going into the test? Or, are these questions testing how you analyze any given piece or pieces of information?

How are the questions being asked? Is it multiple choice, true or false, matching, or column based comparisons? Maybe its an opened ended response, essay questions like seen commonly in legal exams.

What is the purpose of the exam? Is it to pass or fail you across a standard for licensure? Or is it to statistically stratify your candidacy for admission into an academic institution?

Realistically, it is ALL pass-fail. Why? Because LIFE is pass, no pass. No one gets 80% of a surgery correct and claims a B-minus. No one gets to staff 75% of a restaurant properly and call it a "pass" -- you either did it, or you didn't.

In the same vein, when testing for licensure, you either pass or failed the boards. When taking a stratification test like the SAT or GRE, you either pass or failed a margin you are aiming for. Say you wanted to be at the top 90th percentile; then this is your pass line. Anything under would be a fail.

Life is a pass, no pass experience. YOU need to set your own standards in life and this is a great place to take charge and allow the pressure to form your mind from the rough into the diamond.

Learn about the ARCHITECTURE of your test. Knowing how your particular exam is constructed, designed, graded, and ranked is crucial to developing your test taking game and overall strategy. You must answer questions such as: What is a good score? How much time is allotted? How many sections are there? How is it graded? Does guessing or answering incorrectly count against my total score? Are the essays graded word by word or via key phrases? Does writing too much help or hurt my score?

Just as knowing the nature of the test guides you in developing your pre-exam studies, the architecture of your exam must shape your test-taking studies up until you actually take the test.

In the "old days," SAT questions which were answered incorrectly punished you by subtracting a quarter of a point. Leaving it blank didn't count against you. While this statement may date me, it should jump out at you that the best strategy in those days would be leaving your answer blank if you didn't have a strong guess between two options for selection. Anything less would not only guarantee you miss the question, it would rob your raw score as well.

Lessons so far: Know your test; know its nature and know how its built.

Learn about the STRATEGIES to your test. Every standardized test has a generally accepted best grouping of test taking strategies and tactics. Questions should formulate such as: Is guessing a good thing? Is writing "BS" going to work? Is skipping ahead a good idea? Should I read the question or the answers first?

Such questions should be tempered with foreknowledge of the architectural aspects of the test. Knowing who grades your essays and what they are looking for will guide your strategy. Knowing that the test asks a certain ratio of question types will also guide your strategy.

How much time you're allotted per section will prescribe how much average time you have per question in said section. If there are 25 questions and 30 minutes, you have a little over a minute per question. Of course, there will be tough questions sporadically and toward the end of the section. Therefore, you must blaze through and ace the early and easy ones to give yourself enough time at the end -- in such cases, there is no sense going back and double checking your answers. Just get it right the first time and move on.

Mental and physical stamina is also something you must consider. Some tests last for mere hours. Others for days. You must consider such things BEFORE you sit for your exam.

Rule #1. Cardio. (Sorry, I don't know HOW that got on there.)

Standardized tests are a GAME. That's right! You read that correctly. A game is a set of circumstances with winning objectives and confining rules. The standardized test you must take is most certainly a game.

This is where I basically slam most test prep material to date. It is NOT about that terribly thick, convoluted, and overwhelming section leading up to the practice exams.

It is ALL about the practice exams.

Think about any sporting activity, any game you may hold with interest. The physical and mental conditioning definitely helps to prepare for a victory. However, what may be more helpful is drilling, scrimmaging, and getting in some game time so that you can have enough experience, grit, and ability to win that championship game when it comes!

Game time is all about knowing yourself. How do YOU approach exams? Do you freak out because there's a time limit? Does multiple choice scare you? Does your mind go blank when the essay question appears? Is the testing room too quiet? Or, too loud?

How's your clock management? Do you stay stuck on a question and never move on until you come with an adequate answer? How do you handle strategic opportunities? Will you move on quickly or stick around to confirm your instinctive answer? Are you willing to cut your losses and move on for the greater good of the section?

Notice, I made no mention whatsoever to the CONTENT of the test. It is all about the ACTION of taking the test. If you feel so strongly that you must study; compelled by some force of nature, then sure, go for it. In cases such as the SAT, knowing the vocabulary is truly essential. In many others, you've prepared all you could coming up to the time of the test. However, there is a better way of learning the vocab, content, or otherwise, while also learning how to handle game time.


The best advice I can give to game time is playing it often throughout the long run. Taking a practice test section once every couple days for 6 months or a year will make you light years ahead of the curve come time to actually preparing for the test, not to mention exam day itself.

In doing so, you will build mental and physical stamina. Also, the nature and architecture of the exam will become YOUR second nature. By taking so many tests, over and over again, you will unveil the common grounds, obscure vocabulary words, recurrent concepts, and trick questions to which others will stumble but you will recognizes and conquer.

It's game time. Make sure you practice as such.

Taking 5, 10, even 15 practice exams will unveil where you are consistently strong and where you are weak. There are many methods in tracking your performance. However, most of these methods are all AFTER the fact. The inherent problem with this is that a student is analyzing where the chips fell and not how they got there.

If you having anxiety during the testing process, how is knowing your results helpful to the fact that it is the testing itself you struggle with? Exactly! IT ISN'T!

Therefore, by taking so very many practice exams, track not only the mistakes you made but HOW you made those mistakes. Personally, I encourage my students to place question marks by their practice sheets the very moment the answer or answer process doesn't come to them instinctually. Most students will end up writing a question mark on 75% of the exam during the first time they try out this test taking tactic. Don't worry, it will get better!

Another helpful tip for anything other than essay based sections: Underline your second choice and even place a small dot under your third choice answer. Why? You want to know HOW you're testing. Many times, students second guess themselves and end up selecting the wrong answer. In those cases, use a double underline as your instinctual answer, the bubble as your formal answer (which may actually become the same), and then underline a second choice, and dot a third.

Will this steal from your clock management during practice exams? ABSOLUTELY! Is it bad? Not even close.

Such test taking tactics will only sharpen your ability to move through questions swiftly and accurately. The long term value is immeasurable as it will reveal some of the sticking points that basic software and manual tracking will never highlight.

Some Closing Thoughts
I could literally go on and on about what other strategies to employ and specific tactics in surviving Zombieland... Oh wait, I mean surviving standardized tests... "zombie" is how we all feel AFTER the test.  You are not alone :)

But, in all seriousness, standardized tests exist. They set standards. Good or bad, they are used as such and therefore anyone who wishes for any opportunity within the pathways intersecting with such tests MUST go through these exams.

We can certainly cry out for change, picket, protest, and even start a hashtag. But, until that change is in effect, we'll be on the losing side of the battle. And so, instead of whining about the tests, isn't it better to learn how to conquer them since you have to go through with them anyway?

Another thought: There are many other types of standardized tests outside of the realm of academics. And, I'll be the first to say that standardized tests certainly have their place. Some are severely stringent. Being from San Diego, we're a Navy and Marine town -- the US Navy SEALs use BUD/S as one of their pass-fail to join the teams. Such standards are good and SHOULD be in place. 

However, just like in the clinical realm, we must be careful to examine what we are actually testing and WHY. and, while education system could use some tuning up in that regard, we are remained to the means we have right now.

We can't complain about the fact Zombieland exists, we need to find our twinkies and go build a better world.

As this concludes this fun and unique blog post, I want to say that it has and continues to be my honor to play a small part in the lives of young hopefuls. Serving as guidance in high school, college, and even into medical school, DPT programs, toward their PharmD's, etc. is a thrilling, rewarding, and wonderful experience for me.

To be honest, I think I've learned more through these experiences than have my students and feel it's my continuing privilege to be part of it.

I want to close by encouraging you to develop the test taking skills, the test taking mindset, and the test taking endurance required to meet success when game time arrives. By doing so, I have full confidence you WILL. Rock. That. Test!

All The Best,