Test Taking Tips: How I Got into the 90th Percentile

I have taken a lot of tests. A lot. After going through 19 years of school, I could be a professional test-taker. If that was a real job. While it’s a process I [typically] excel at now, it wasn’t always this way. Unfortunately. I know I wouldn’t have ever become a physical therapist had I not whipped my exam skills into shape with these test taking tips. And even though I am out of school, I still have testing in my future.

I work with a lot of prospective and/or  current undergrad and graduate students. I hear [all.the.time] …“I am so bad at taking tests”.

I hear ya.

You may have the knowledge. You did your studying. You sit down for the exam and your results show less that what you know. If there’s one thing I have learned from going through as much school as I have it’s…No one cares if you are bad at taking tests. No one. Tests are still going to be there. Whether you’re a current student or a professional working towards advanced credentials, there has to be some objective way to measure knowledge or skills.

Something important to realize about test-taking….it’s a skill. Having the necessary knowledge that the test is on may not be enough. More so, saying “I am just a bad test-taker” without working on improving is a cop-out for bad test scores.

Of course there will be that wacky teacher that asks the impossible questions or the teacher that words relatively easy questions in a way that would be “2+2” seem hard. That will happen. Fortunately, in these situations, it’s likely that the class or group as a whole will do poorly. But there may be a curve.

What about standardize testing?

When I hear “I’m a bad test-taker”…most students are usually referring to standardized tests. Standardized tests, as the name implies, are tests used for entrance, admissions, status, or licensure. Typically, the questions have been previously tested on prior exams as “test questions”. These questions go through scrupulous research to make sure that they are “good questions”. So when I’ve done not-so-hot on standardized exams, I never thought it was the test…I figured it had to be me. With admission tests as gate keepers to many professional careers, it’s imperative to be able to take an exam well.

How I improved my test taking ability really came down to 5 steps that shaped the way I studied, prepared and took the exam. By implementing these steps I went from being an “average” test-scorer to being able to achieve 90+ percentile scores on the GRE and the NPTE (National Physical Therapy Exam). And I would also like to qualify…I don’t consider myself a genius. Not even close. Not even on my best days.

***Note: I used a lot of physical therapy examples. This is my experience but try to compare them to your situation!

Test Taking Tips to Dominate Your Next Exam

Test Taking Tips: How I got into the 90th Percentile!

  1. Determine the purpose of the exam. For the NPTE, the purpose is to license physical therapists in the United States. You might quickly assume that the NPTE’s sole purpose is to determine a candidate’s physical therapy knowledge. And to some extent, that’s true. More importantly, the test is a benchmark for safety, so that the board can assure someone’s ability to SAFELY administer physical therapy services to the public. The board would much rather I be a safe physical therapist and couldn’t care less that I was brilliant PT. Why this is important? The angle at which the question writer is posing the question may determine the answer. EXAMPLE:  In physical therapy, sometimes (more often than not) aggressive treatments can provide better and quicker results. These treatments may also not be as safe as more conservative treatments. So for questions on the NPTE regarding the most appropriate intervention? I might go with the more conservative answer.
  2. Do not make assumptions. Read the question for what it is. Don’t add in details that could change the question. Don’t think of real-life examples that are similar. They likely will skew your thinking. Your real-life example is probably the anomaly, not the norm. The ONLY time I would recommend using a real-life example is if you have no clue. Then your best guest is as good as any.
  3. Practice. This is a skill, after-all. So when it comes to big tests, (like the SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, NPTE…) you have to practice! I was recommended 3-5 practice exams for the NPTE. I thought that number was sufficient for a pass/fail exam. For tests where the score matters (such in admissions tests) practicing more will likely help you more. I took 8-10 practice GREs.  For more rigorous entrance exams, like the MCAT, more 10+ practice exams might be a good idea.
  4. Determine WHY you are missing the questions. Take a practice exam. Go through and score your exam and categorize each wrong answer into THREE categories. This tip has transformed test-taking for me and is what elevated my scores into the 90+ percentiles!
    1. Academic error. You lacked the necessary knowledge to answer the question. EXAMPLE: They asked you what the dermatome level of the lateral thumb was and you had no idea. [Note to self: review dermatomes]. By the end of categorizing your practice exam results, it may become very clear that you are lacking knowledge in a certain area. This will help you clarify where your weaknesses are. Spend the most amount of studying time in these areas. Stop studying “everything” and focus where you need it.
    2. Decision-Making Error. You narrowed the answers down to two and you chose the wrong one. Determine what is the purpose of the question? Did it explain a high risk situation or patient and then ask for what the most appropriate response would be?? Likely a conservative intervention. Did they describe a typical situation or patient and then ask for the most effective intervention? Then the more aggressive answer will likely be your bet. Read the questions carefully and imagine the questions through the eyes of the exam writer providing the test. Practice Practice Practice!
    3. Test-taking error. This is all those questions you totally would have got right had you read them correctly. Whoops. They are the worse questions to miss. You won’t know everything, so academic missed questions are inevitable. Decisions making questions misses are inevitable too. Tests are stressful. You likely will make a wrong judgment. But test-taking errors should be kept to a minimum! If you review your practice exam and have a lot of misses in this category, you need to re-evaluate how you are taking your exam. Perhaps you are going to fast? Should you take notes as you read? Or not take notes? Determine what helps you clearly and succinctly read the questions and answers better. Try out new strategies until you eliminate test-taking errors.
  5. Finally, determine which of the three categories from above that your “misses” are from. Focus on improving in that category (or categories). Retake another practice exam and repeat. Keep taking exams until you are happy with where your scores are at and feel confident to take the exam. You can do this!!

These tips have changed the way I take exams. I used to fear exams and now I embrace them. I go into them confidently knowing I did all that I could. I am currently working toward board certification as an orthopedic specialist (musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders) and will be testing in early 2015. Here’s to another successful test-taking adventure!

Anyone else have an exam in their future!?



A Life With A View

Having a view is real estate gold. What is it about being able to see something that is so valuable? More valuable than the house itself? I can’t say for certain, but I’ve seen enough homes this summer to know that views are pricey.

Just as in real estate, ‘view’ or perspective, is a valuable trait to have in life. Perspective is something that’s unique to an individual.  A varying perspective can cause disagreements among friends or terrible events seem not so bad.


Seattle City View at Night

I for one, love a city view. Being a city girl, it’s not a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I love an ocean or a mountain view as well, and being a Seattle girl means I get them all depending on which way I look. But there is something about city lights.

The bright lights against a dark black sky bring out thoughts of inspiration and success.  I see the bright lights and I feel like anything is possible. I know this sounds cliche, but it’s very true for me.

I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle. And over the course of my younger years, Seattle grew a ton. We are fortunate to have some great companies (Amazon, Nordstrom, Costco…the list could go on and on) that have their headquarters here. Thus, the burbs of Seattle grew from what felt like a small town to a cluster of cookie-cutter homes and people-filled shopping malls. And I hated it.

Since going away to school,  I have lived in the city. I, in fact, can’t stand the Seattle suburbs anymore. I thrive on the energy of the city. Even when the sun goes down, the lights stay on. Life is still happening.

Living in the city has brought me new perspective. I think it’s inevitable from being immersed in diversity. I love being surrounded by differing opinions (even the crazy ones) because it allows for the ability to see something different.

Working with as many different people as I do for my job, I have found how incredibly important my perspective is of someone and likewise, having the understanding of the perspective of my patients. I say this all the time…You don’t know…what you don’t know. And I don’t blame anyone, whether it be a patient or a co-worker, if they only see things from only one perspective. But I have realized that helping people achieve a different perspective is a key to success.

Just like that house on the hill, being a person with perspective is incredibly valuable and a skill for young professionals. And I know why. Having the ability to see things from different views allows for growth and reflection. It allows for understanding before judgement.  As I have become older and now working as a professional, my perspective now is very different than my 20-year old perspective. In a good way. It’s matured and allowed me to learn and be open and accepting to new opportunities.

I have a way to go with working on my perspective and ability to see things differently, but like I said… It’s an evolution. And I never want to be so focused on one view that I forget to see things differently.  Fortunately, enough crazy things happen in Seattle to keep me engaged.

I don’t know if I’ll always like living in the city. But I definitely think this is where AV and I will stay for quite awhile and raise our family. A little unconventional for some. And perfect fit for others. Whether we stay in the city or settle in a small town, I hope I always strive for a life with a view.

Space Needle At Night



*Photo Credit goes to AV. Like most photos on the blog. 

A Dress That Was Made for Me: With eShakti

I would like to share some groundbreaking information. I am not a fashionista. With a blog name like Beyond the Khaki Pants, I realize that this is likely not the blog of choice for fashion advice.

Today, however, I am talking about clothes. A big part of why I am not a ‘fashionista’ is that I don’t like shopping. I don’t find joy ‘in the hunt’. I don’t like ‘being creative with colors’. I don’t know the latest trends. 

But, I do love great clothes and feeling my best. To achieve this, I need a little help. And fortunately I have some fantastic retailers that help me in the fashion department…pun intended.  I also strongly buy into the mantra… look good, feel good. My solution to my hate of shopping but love of great clothes is of course, online shopping.

Like most women, I have trouble finding clothes that fit me well. If I had to name just one style icon that best fits my taste, it would be Princess Kate. Her clothes are classic, understated, and most importantly tailored to perfection. Fit is so very important when it comes to clothes. Good fit can make a simple dress be remarkable and poor fit can make a great design look horrendous. 

Why do I struggle with the perfect fit? Like many, I don’t fit standard sizing. I’m going to throw this out there, I typically wear a size 2. Now, one might think that I’ve got it made in the shade being a size 2, but I’m here to tell you that I struggle a lot with finding clothes that fit me properly, especially dresses.  The reason? I also happen to be well-endowed, if you know what I mean. So I end up having to buy much larger dresses to fit on top and the remainder of the dress looks like a tent. #notideal

Many of us don’t fit the same on the top and the bottom. And I can confirm that no matter what your size, finding a great fit is hard to find.  So when eShakti reached out to me to work together to create a custom dress, I was on excited and definitely on board. 


Who is eShakti? They are an online retailer that specializes in custom clothing. From their website “eShakti believes that all women have the right to wear affordable fashion that is made for them and makes them look their absolute best”. I agree! An added bonus, clothes that don’t need to be altered!!

The process? Super easy. Head on over to their website HERE to check it out. They regularly update their site with new designs. 

Once you find your dress (or other piece of clothing), simply enter your measurements. It helps to have a friend to measure you. Since I am no stranger to the tailoring business, I knew some of my measurements already.


This is what I ended with. A dress that feels like it was made for me. Because it was. It fits well through the waist and the bust.

eShakti dress

It comes in at the waist = super flattering.

eShakti dress

It hits just above my knee because it was made for my 5’4” frame.

eShakti dress

And because in my fashion world, black blazers are everything. 

eShakti dress

eShakti dress

Ordering the dress was so simple and the product came out with the perfect fit. I will definitely be using eShakti in the future. To make things even better, the site remembers your measurements, so you don’t have to keep entering them in. As we head into the holiday season (i.e. dress and party season) eShakti is great for finding that perfect look without alterations.


What do you think of the dress!?

I was offered a complementary dress from eShakti in exchange for an honest review of the process and product. All opinions are my own, even the terrible fashion advice. 

Linking up with Living in Color, Simple Sequins, Style Elixir.

Prioritizing Payments: Determining Where Your Money Should Go


Prioritizing Payments: Determining Where Your Money Should be Going

You’ve got debt. Or perhaps a savings account that could use some love. And a retirement account that needs serious attention. Determining where your money should be going can be tough when it seems like there isn’t enough to go around. In the face of debt, prioritizing payments to reduce debt while trying to build wealth can be a challenging situation.  Unfortunately, most millennials are in debt from student loans.

Trish and I are no exception, like many Americans we also have debt. For us, we have debt such as student loan debt and an auto loan. When I wrote a previous post on budgeting, I received questions and feedback regarding the tactic to paying off debt. “What debt should you pay first and why?” “Should you try to save money or forgo the savings account until the debt is paid off?” “What about retirement accounts when you have debt?

These are great questions. And with working with many young professionals, I can say that many don’t know how to financially tackle them in the most effective manner. If there is one thing I learned from getting our family through graduate school, it’s that I know how to manage debt. And good news, you can too.

The simple answer is this:

You always want to be saving for retirement and paying down your debts.

The concept of ‘time value of money’ applies here. That is—>with compounding interest you want to save now, so that your money will grow, and that the growing money will grow too. The same principal applies to your debt. If you don’t pay it off, you get more debt in the same manner.  But I think it’s a good time to mention…I don’t believe there to be one ‘golden rule’ to money management. The uniqueness of the person behind the financials outweighs any “rules” of money.

Many financial professionals recommend saving 15-20% of your salary. These savings can be broken down into multiple accounts: retirement, individual accounts, shared accounts, etc. Where to send your money specifically is another topic entirely. I’m going to focus on the big picture to help guide debt-payment in the most efficient way while making your retirement goals.

Let’s use my fictitious friend Jill to explain the situation. Let’s say Jill takes home $50k a year. Jill should set aside $10k for savings.  Within the $40k that Jill has before savings, she needs to be paying down her debts. Below is an example of what Jill’s budget looks like

Screenshot 2014-09-07 17.50.00

Let’s assume Jill is one of the lucky ones and doesn’t have student loan debt. However, Jill racked up $20k worth of credit card debt. With spending now under control, Jill needs to pay down her debts. Below is a table illustrating how much Jill owes on her two cards.

Credit Card Debt

On a VERY basic level, prioritizing payments to the debt with the highest interest rate is an effective way to go. But, this is not always the most financially savvy way to eliminate debt the fastest or keep your monthly costs the lowest. In this case, Jill would allocate her available “extra” money to pay the Visa off. However, this view fails to capture the total ‘debt service cost’, or the amount you have to pay each month based on debt outstanding. ie: Maybe you have 80k at 5% (student loans) and 7k at 25% (credit card). You better be working on that 80k debt, it costs you more at 5% than the 7k debt at 25%…even though it has a much lower interest rate.

In order to determine your debt cost, take each of your payments and determine it’s percentage relative to you total debt. Then total this amount for each debt.  See example below, numbers are based on paying off the debt in 5 years.

Debt Service Cost

As you can see by the example above, even though the Visa’s interest rate is 10% higher, your monthly minimums on the MasterCard (MC) are higher. In order to minimize the total interest you will pay, you should allocate 42% of debt reduction payments to the Visa and 58% to the MC. This isn’t a fool proof system but it does help provide guidance on the total burden your budget will face when dealing with debt of any kind.

Since Jill read my budgeting post, she setup a budget that worked for her long-term success. In doing so, she has $13,660 per year, or $1,138 / month she can put toward debt reduction. Her monthly debt payments (on the 5 year plan) total $517. But, she has an additional $621 she can put toward her debt payments. To do so, Jill would apply the same 42% and 58% to the total $1,138 to begin to pay down the principal balance on the credit cards. As you can imagine, it will take time to pay off the $20k, so the more you can squeeze out of your budget the better. Here is how the breakdown of the $1,138 monthly debt payment looks:

Debt Repayment

The added payment made it so Jill would be out of debt in under two years!!

Things to keep in mind

I’ve heard [non-financial] people say to always keep some balance on your credit cards to show payment history. But thankfully this view isn’t commonly shared. It is true that your payment history is part of your credit profile, but just paying your credit cards off in full each month positively affects your score…no need to pay 20% interest to build up your score. Don’t be an idiot - pay off your credit cards! I like Suze Orman’s view that paying for something on credit cards and not paying them off is somewhat like stealing. No need to focus on that, but it’s an interesting view.

What about that retirement account?

I said that retirement savings is just as important as debt savings. And if your company offers a retirement match program, be sure to take full advantage of that. For example, my company will match 50% of my contributions up to 6% of my salary, aka…free money. Do not worry about paying off more debt at a 5% interest if that money could be making a 100% return.  I’m taking it every day and you should too.

Questions? Comments? Please send an email to khakipantsblog@gmail.com or leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Financial Freedom Series

Let’s talk about Fall: Weekly Happenings

Let’s talk about Fall. September comes, the PSLs are on the bar, and football has started. I’ve mentioned it before, I love fall. The sports, food, and the weather. I am pretty dang excited about things to come this fall on the blog. I have a few posts in the works that just a need a little more TLC. One is about prioritizing payments when it comes to managing debt (from AV) and another is about test taking tips. Tricks that helped me score in the 90+ percentile on major standardized tests!! Stay tuned for these! Here in Seattle, people are pretty excited about Fall too. It has a lot to do with one of our sports teams…

Last night, football started. And I happen to love football. You might think living in the city where the super bowl champions are would be awesome, but it’s not. At least not in my book…because I am a Vikings fan. #loner

You probably think that there is some great reason as to why I’m a Vikings fan and not a Seahawks fan, and there is. But it’s not because I’m from Minnesota. I’m from the great white north, remember? The reason why I follow the Vikings is a story for another time. And I am fiercely loyal to my sports teams. So despite going ‘all the way’, I was not about to jump on the Seahawks train. My Vikings train went straight to loserville last year.

So here I am, surrounded by more band-wagon fans than I can count and my football team sucks. Yes, the Vikings are terrible. Yes, they have the best running back in the league. But when you hand off to him 2 out of every 3 plays it gets a bit easy to defend. No need to worry about the other 1/3 of the plays where we don’t use AP, because we can’t do anything without him. #jaded

Sometimes I think that it would be so much easier to be a Seahawks fans. I wouldn’t have to order my football gear online, I could get it at one of the many local retailers who sell Seahawks gear. I could fit in easier, I am always the odd-man out. And plus, I love green and blue…they look awesome on me. They work with my coloring. #priorities

Speaking of green and blue, hockey season is about to start with the preseason beginning at the end of the month. There are not enough words to describe my love of hockey. It’s entwined in my Canadian DNA. The ‘I love hockey’ gene. It’s a thing. My Canucks (who also wear blue and green) will be hitting the ice in just a few weeks!

Lastly, Fall being here means that buying a house has officially started in the G family. While AV and I won’t be financially ready to pull the proverbially trigger until early next year, we did meet with our real estate agent this past weekend. Within seconds of meeting up with her at a local coffee house, it was very evident that we made a good choice. She knew everyone in the coffee house. Everyone. And they all came up to say ‘hi’ and give her a hug. A very good sign…she knows the whole neighborhood.

Starting the house search process with a real estate agent was definitely a highlight of the week. I left the appointment feeling excited and determined! But as the same time…already broke. Like we already wrote the [huge] downpayment check. Buying a house may be the scariest thing I have ever done, the money aspect can be a bit overwhelming…especially in this city!

Speaking of broke…I took my boys to the vet this week. Sam (the one that wrote the post on Monday) needs to get his teeth cleaned. Which, if you have had to have your pet have this, you know how expensive this process is. I know people keep telling me that pets don’t really need to have this done, and especially a cat, but I know what can happen with poor dental hygiene. And it can be far more serious than one would think. Soo, awesome. #easycomeeasygo

My fall so far is football, house buying and Vet bills. #itcouldbeworse

What does Fall mean to you?

Let's talk About Fall

PS: Through the end of the week I am keeping my 50% off sale for ad space! Check it out HERE!


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