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11 Tips to Pass the Canadian Physiotherapy Competency Exam
By: Nataliya Zlotnikov HBSc, MSc; Maggie Bergeron PT; Holly Mitchell BA, MSc(PT)

Hi. Welcome. 

Are you feeling stressed, confused or overwhelmed?
Looking for some clarity about physiotherapy licensing?

You’ve come to the right place!

To say that the past few years have been quite messy in the world of physiotherapy licensing would be an understatement.

Let’s try to clear things up for you, keep you in the loop, and get you licensed!

In this blog, we:

  1. Give you an update on what is happening in the world of PT licensing 
  2. Give you 6 high-performance study tips that will help you prepare for the written component of the PCE exam and succeed in life! 
  3. Provide 4 links to credible PCE exam prep companies to help you with your PCE physiotherapy exam preparation ​​
  4. Give you 5 tips on how to prepare for clinical exams

Today’s blog is not just for PT residents and IEPTs trying to get licensed in Canada! 

Our 6 high-performance study tips that will help prepare for the PCE Written exam and succeed in life, from Embodia Co-Founder & CEO, PT Maggie Bergeron, will improve anyone’s study habits! They’re fantastic so be sure to give them a glance.

CAPR discontinues PCE Clinical Component, licensure pathways vary provincially 

On January 12, 2022, CAPR announced that they have discontinued the PCE Clinical Component; CAPR continues to administer the PCE Written exam. CAPR’s website still mentions both PCE components but asks us to disregard any reference to the Clinical Component as they update this information on their site.

CAPR discontinues PCE Clinical Component January 2022 annoucement


If you haven't already checked out the CAPR’s guide for candidates, go here for Physiotherapy Competency Exam sample questions, PCE Exam study material, and more information.

What will licensing look like? For now, it will be a distinct story in each province. The Physiotherapy Advocates of Canada run a comprehensive, up-to-date site that summarizes the state of affairs in each province.


It’s a provincial thing

For now, licensing will continue to be a different story in each province. 

The Physiotherapy Advocates of Canada run a comprehensive, up-to-date site that summarizes the state of affairs in each province and includes provincially relevant links. Take a look at the Physiotherapy Advocates of Canada Licensing Information here

Internationally educated physiotherapists can also take a look at this page from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association which discusses the steps for becoming a registered physiotherapist in Canada and provides links to bridging programs for IEPTs, should you require one. 

And now, without further ado, let’s get you studying!


6 High-performance study tips that will help prepare for the Canadian physiotherapy exam and succeed in life

Here are some excellent tips on how to prepare for the PCE exam written component (and anything else you need to study for) from our very own Embodia Co-Founder and CEO, PT Maggie Bergeron.

These tips are so good I’ve bookmarked them!

Quote from Embodia CEO & Co-Founder, PT Maggie Bergeron about studying

1. Declutter

For creative pursuits, a cluttered environment can stimulate new thoughts. But when it comes to your work/study environment, excess things in your surroundings can negatively impact your focus and ability to process information.

Like multitasking, physical clutter overloads your senses, increases stress, and impairs your peace of mind.

A Princeton University study found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, which results in decreased performance and increased anxiety and stress levels.

A Harvard Business Review study found that workers who were able to control their environment had better focus and performed better. Put a sign outside of your study space that tells people you’re busy to avoid distractions.

2. Turn off all digital distractions

According to a UC Irvine study, it can take up to 20 minutes to recover from a single distraction.

Unplug your TV. Put your phone in a drawer or put it on airplane mode. If you live with someone, let them know what your study schedule is so they don’t disturb you during those hours.


3. Music for the mind

Music is the medicine of mind and soul and neuroscience has proved it.

Studies show that music can reduce anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure and even help ease pain in some cases.
Music also improves sleep, mood, and memory, and enhances many brain functions such as learning and concentration.

For studying and focusing, Baroque music, such as Bach, Handal, or Vivaldi, has been found to be particularly beneficial. It creates an atmosphere of focus that puts you in the Alpha brain wave state. Interestingly, Baroque music is between 60-80 BPM (beats per minute) and this is the beat of a normal resting heart rate.


4. Employ active recall and spaced repetition

Active recall is a process in which you review material and immediately check to see how much you remember. There are 3 steps to do this:

  1. Review, read, or watch the material you are reviewing
  2. Close your book or turn off the lecture and write down everything you remember
  3. Go back to the material and compare your notes to see how much you remembered

Then repeat this process using spaced repetition. This is basically the opposite of cramming. Spaced repetition requires some planning, but is well worth it if you really want to learn and retain the information.

Spaced repetition is exactly what it sounds like - plan your study schedule so that you review the same material at intervals.

Here is some extra information about Spaced Repetition from Kwantlen Polytechnic University that includes apps you can use to help you employ spaced repetition in a methodical fashion.


5. The nose knows 

Yes, we can use smell to trigger memory and recall. Think about smelling warm apple pie - does it bring up a memory of your grandmother’s baking? 

Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has a direct connection with two brain regions that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus.
Other senses (such as tactile, visual, and auditory) do not pass through these brain areas.

So - smell is an important and underused memory tool!

If a particular scent can be used to bring up memories of childhood, then a different scent can be used to improve our recall.
Rosemary has been shown to improve memory, whereas peppermint and lemon seem to promote concentration.

One practical way to use the sense of smell is to use essential oils while studying - pick one smell and stick with it. Then put a small amount of that essential oil on your skin or clothes before taking the PCE. 

I’ve also used a particular lip chap that has a scent while prepping for a presentation and then worn that same lip chap while doing my presentation.

This leads to my final tip…


6. State of mind and your pre-game routine

Getting in the right state of mind is crucial whether it’s before your big game or a big test. 

Studies, including this one, have shown that mental preparation can actually improve physical performance, and there’s reason to believe that mental preparation can also improve performance on tests.

Mental preparation includes visualization and having a pre-game routine.

Final important reminder: Your focus is like a muscle. It grows stronger and sharper with the right training!


4 Exam Prep Companies   

Exam prep companies are an excellent tool that can help you feel more confident to take the PCE. But it can often take time to know which companies are credible and effective. Below, in no particular order are 4 that we believe can help you get the job done, and get it done well. 

  1. PT Exam Prep
  2. Physical Therapy Development Institute
  3. Physio Exam
  4. Future Physio


5 Tips to prepare for a Canadian clinical physiotherapy competency exam

If your province requires a clinical exam(s) for full PT licensure, here are some excellent tips from Physiotherapist, Holly Mitchell BA, MSc(PT), to help you prepare.

Holly has over 10 years of clinical experience in Canada and Australia and completed her PT studies at McMaster University. 


Quote from PT Holly Mitchell about studying for the PCE


1. Safety first

This seems so simple but is easily forgotten in a panic situation on a clinical exam. Make safety your number one priority at all stations. Know your precautions and contraindications. Be professional in all your mock patient interactions; it's an easy way to save marks.


2. Know the format, expectations and rules

Knowing the content is one thing, but knowing what to expect with the format is another. Know the structure of your clinical physiotherapy competency exam; it can make all the difference between passing and failing! How many stations are there? How long do you have at each station? What type of stations will there be?

Although nobody can be fully prepared for all the exam content, you can prepare yourself for the exam structure. When you prepare for the exam structure you can focus on what's important: answering/performing what is asked of you accurately.

Also, make sure to check what documentation and equipment you need to bring to your clinical exam in advance and have it organized ahead of time so you're not fumbling for it the night before. 

Finally, be aware of the rules regarding cheating and confidentiality. As soon as you're done with the exam, be done and don't duplicate or discuss any exam content with your peers. It won't change the outcome of the exam (besides, you already passed right?!)

You're done! Go celebrate and talk about anything else except your clinical exam!

3. Practice with a group of peers

This advice seems obvious, but the easiest way to do this is to have already started working in a clinical position. Hopefully, by this point, many of you will have continued working from your placements or secured other work as physiotherapy residents. This gives you the opportunity to make studying for your clinical physiotherapy competency exam a habit and lets you refine your patient interactions, assessments, and treatment skills daily. It provides a way for you to make clinical decisions in a real-life context and exposes you to peers and mentors to help guide your learning.

If you haven't started working, form a study group to meet with regularly. The majority of the PCE Written exam can be studied solo, practical exams should be studied through hands-on scenarios. It will feel impossible at times to know it all and to even know where to begin studying, so figure out what you 'don't know' by completing sample practice scenarios and focusing your book learning from the gaps you identify in practice.

4. Know when to pull the plug on preparing - especially the night before

Balance is key! In the upcoming weeks, balance practice with exercise, hobbies, socializing and rest. I recommend practicing 5 days a week, not 7. The night before the exam is not a good time to be cramming and getting anxious and stressed about what you may not know. You'll lose sleep over it and it will affect your performance during the exam the next day. Remember a clinical exam is draining, intense, and long. Give yourself the best chance of getting through it by being well-rested.


5. More motivation - be confident!

Believe you are competent and that you will pass your clinical physiotherapy competency exam! In the end, be confident that you have done everything in your power to set yourself up for success. Remember - you have been getting prepared for this over the last two years by attending lectures, tutorials, clinical placements and studying (probably constantly!). If you cared to get as far as you have, you will do well.

Once the Physiotherapy Competency Exam and provincial clinical exam(s) are done, you will have a lifetime of opportunities to continue to learn and grow in this profession.


"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.

Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."


Good luck!

The Embodia Team and community believe that you can do it!


Last update: 10 May 2023, 12:12 pm EST.

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