Skip to main content

How to Pass Your Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE) Clinical Component, 5 Real Tips!

If you have not yet completed the written portion of the Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE), check out our blog 3 Tips to Prepare for the Physiotherapy Competency Exam to gain some great insight!

If you have already written it, congratulations! You've made it through the written component of the PCE! Read below for some great advice and insight on how to pass your clinical component.

But before we get into our advice, if you haven't checked out these videos yet, the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR) has a series of 10 informative videos to help you prepare for the PCE. Below is video 3 of their series, which talks about registration and security procedures for clinical exam day. 

PCE Candidate Video 3 - Clinical Exam Day: Registration and Security Procedures:

The Final Hurdle

As many new physio grads and international physios probably know, the final hurdle to full independent practice in Canada is the PCE. Ten years ago I was in these shoes and getting nervous about how these impending exams would impact my future.

Looking back, I can barely remember the specifics of what I studied, but I do remember how I prepared for the Canadian physiotherapy competency exam, and for what its worth, it must have been enough because I well and truly passed the exam and moved on to many exciting (and sometimes frustrating) opportunities in the physiotherapy world (stay tuned for my blog on physio registration in Australia). Although I am unable to give any content specifics, I want to share a few tips on the preparation that helped me before and after my PCE. If you do nothing else before the physiotherapy competency exam, at least follow these guidelines! I hope they will help to alleviate some of the pressure you may be feeling, and ease any pre-exam jitters.

1) Practice, practice, practice! 5 days a week

  • How to practice: 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 a Physiotherapy Resident. This gives you the opportunity to make studying for your physiotherapy competency exam a habit and refine your patient interaction, assessment, and treatment skills daily. It provides a way for you to make clinical decisions in a real-life context, and expose you to peers and mentors to help guide your learning. Whether you have started working under your provisional practice license or not, be sure to form study groups and engage in practice scenarios on a regular basis. 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 focus your book learning from the gaps you identify in practice.
    If you haven't already checked out the Alliance's guide for candidates, go here for physiotherapy competency exam sample questions, physiotherapy competency exam study material, and more information.

2) Know the format, expectations, and rules around the PCE

  • Structure: Knowing the content is one thing; knowing what to expect with the format is another. Know the structure of the physiotherapy competency exam! How many stations are there? How long do you have at each station? What type of stations (practical or written) will there be? Nobody can be totally prepared for all the content on the exam. But at the very least don't get bamboozled by the structure. This way, you can focus on what's important: Reading the question properly and answering/performing what is asked of you accurately!

  • Documentation and equipment: Check what documentation and equipment you need to bring to the physiotherapy competency 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.

The Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators takes cheating VERY seriously. This includes discussing the content after the exam. As soon as you're done with the exam, be DONE and don't discuss or duplicate any exam content with your peers. It won't change the outcome of the exam in a positive way (besides, you already passed right?!). You're done: Go celebrate and talk about anything but the PCE!

3) You've heard it before: Safety first!

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

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 the clinical exam is draining, intense, and 5-6 hours in length. Give yourself the best chance of getting through it by being well-rested.

5) Be confident

  • Believe you are competent and you will pass the clinical exam! You have done everything you can to set yourself up for success. Remember you have been getting prepared for the physiotherapy competency exam over the last two years by attending lectures, tutorials, clinical placements and studying (probably constantly!). Remember all the Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE's) you completed were physiotherapy competency exam preparation! If you cared to get as far as you have, you will do well. And if you don't know it by 11 pm the night before the exam, you'll never know it in time for this exam, so just accept this and go to bed (see tip #4!). Once the PCE is done, you will have a lifetime of opportunity to learn about all the things you didn't know - or better yet - things that you want to know that will help to transform you into a clinician with his or her own unique set of professional skills. (Stay tuned for my next blog post if you're looking for some guidance on the best courses to take once the PCE is behind you).


"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.

Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."

-Helen Keller


Post Scriptum

P.S. Although this may not help you with your exam, this will help you when you are a physiotherapist (which of course, you will be after you kill this exam, yeaaah!). In case you didn't know, Embodia offers a handsome collection of online physiotherapy courses and continuing education physiotherapy courses. Here's a free one to help you in our very interconnected and complex world: Essential Competencies of Physiotherapists in Global Health.

Now go out there and rock that exam with style!

Holly Mitchell BA, MSc(PT)

Holly is a physiotherapist and disruptive healthcare technology advocate with 10 years of clinical experience in both Canada and Australia. She graduated from McMaster University with a Master of Science in Physiotherapy and is on the Embodia Quality Assurance team for continuing education courses. Her area of interest is the connection between planetary and human health and the innovative potential health technology has in mitigating the environmental impacts of the healthcare industry. Holly currently consults with big employers on business opportunities for virtual injury prevention services and industrial sports medicine programs. Her free time is spent figuring out what exactly goes into the recycling bin, chasing her toddler son, figuring out adult ballet, kayaking, and camping in the great Canadian wilds. 

Twitter: @hmitchellTO 
Blog editor: Nataliya Zlotnikov

Subscribe to Our Blog

* indicates required
What kind of emails are you interested in?
© 2021 Embodia