Cheat Sheet for New Occupational Therapists

The Must-Have Cheat Sheet for New Occupational Therapists

Every occupational therapist’s career starts as a new graduate with some trepidation about their first job. We thought it would be helpful to create a cheat sheet for all the new occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants working with adults to be able to reference on the job and feel more confident.

You can keep this handy guide and the recommended handouts on your phone or tablet, or print them out and have them readily available on your clipboard.

Quick tip: Consider laminating the sheets we’ve included so that you can score on them, erase them and re-use them without the inconvenience of having to continuously reprint paper.

This occupational therapy cheat sheet is appropriate for OTs/COTAs working in adult rehab settings (SNF, acute rehab, home health and acute care settings).

Here is a list of what’s included in our OT Cheat Sheet:

  • Manual Muscle Testing (MMT)
  • Functional Independence Measure (FIM)
  • Range of Motion (ROM) norms
  • Sitting and standing balance
  • Orthopedic precautions
  • Cardiac precautions
  • Pain scale
  • Vision screen
  • Grading spasticity: Modified Ashworth Scale
  • Modified Barthel index

Manual Muscle Testing (MMT)

Manual muscle testing is a very common test used by occupational therapists to assess patients’ upper extremity muscle strength. 

Tools needed: You do not need any tools with you to assess; just a pen and the sheet to score it on. 

You can find the scores and print out the MMT scale via this website.

This occupational therapy website has also created a printable table to assist occupational therapists in assessing MMT.

occupational therapy cheat sheet MMT

Functional Independence Measures (FIM) scores

The FIM is a test commonly used by occupational therapists to assess their patients’ functional level and score the level of assistance that they require. You can consult our article, The Levels of Assistance in Occupational Therapy: What to Know to find out more comprehensive information about the OT levels of assist.

You can also access the FIM scores here.

Tools needed: No tools are needed; just a pen and the sheet to score.

Range of Motion (ROM) Norms

Every part of the body can move or stretch a certain amount at a joint. Every joint has a normal range through which it can move. It is helpful for occupational therapists to measure this in order to determine the degree of the movement and to record improvement or deterioration in a joint’s range.

You can assess passive and active range of motion in each joint with the use of a goniometer or tape measure.

Physiopedia’s website conveniently shows you how to correctly measure each movement with a goniometer here:

Category: Goniometry

You can access a free PDF to print a ROM evaluation chart here.

Tools needed: Goniometer and/or measuring tape, pen and paper sheet to score. 

upper body ROM

Sitting and Standing Balance

Most occupational therapists use the Berg Balance Scale, or the Tinetti Performance Oriented Mobility Assessment to assess balance.

You can download and print both of them here:

Berg Balance Scale

Tools needed: Chair with arm rests, chair without arm rests, step, stopwatch, 15 foot walkway, yardstick.

Tinetti Performance Oriented Mobility Assessment

Tools needed: Chair without armrests, stopwatch, 15 foot walkway. 

Orthopedic Precautions 

It can be quite daunting working in an orthopedic unit, and not feeling totally confident with the precautions to abide by for each patient. Luckily we have several articles detailing the different orthopedic precautions and intervention strategies below:

Orthopedic Precautions 101 for New Occupational Therapists

Educating Patients on Home Safety Following Orthopedic Surgery

Tips for OTs Working with Patients Post-Total Shoulder Replacement

Cardiac Precautions

Patients with cardiac conditions can also be intimidating at first. I remember feeling fearful about whether the activity I wanted to do with my patient might be more than his heart could handle.

Learning about cardiac precautions (as well as MET levels) is the golden key to pitching your activities and exercises to the right level of your patient’s phase of rehabilitation.

You can read our articles on cardiac precautions and MET levels here and also download the MET levels PDFs within to have while completing ADLs and leisure tasks. 

Sternal Precautions in Occupational Therapy: Learn the Basics

How to Master MET Levels in Cardiac Rehab

Pain Scale

Unfortunately, many of our patients do experience pain from acute and chronic injuries. It is necessary to get them to rate their level of pain in order to ascertain how they’re feeling, as well as to track the intensity of their pain over time.

I always like to keep a picture of the ‘pain scale’ readily available on my phone to show my patients, or you can print it from here:

Printable Pain Scale Chart

ot cheat sheet pain scale

Vision Screen

Screening for vision does require you to have some additional knowledge of what you’re screening. Take a look at our article on vision assessment here: 

Vision Assessment and Treatment: Your One-Stop Shop

I would also recommend you have the following screened for a vision impairment:

  • A Snellen Eye Chart can be printed to assess visual acuity. You can print it here
  • An article to assess their reading 
  • A pen to assess visual pursuits, range of eye movements, convergence, and divergence
  • 2 different colored pencils/pens, such as green and red to assess saccades
  • A letter cancellation page to assess inattention or neglect. You can find one here

Grading Spasticity

The Modified Ashworth Scale is the most commonly used scale to grade spasticity in people with strokes, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or traumatic brain injuries. This website has created a table you can download and print here:

Modified Ashworth Scale

Modified Barthel Index

The Barthel Index is an outcome measure used to score performance in activities of daily living and mobility.

The 10 items to score are: feeding, bathing, grooming, dressing, bowel and bladder control, toileting, chair transfer, ambulation, and stair climbing.

We have a detailed article on it here for you to find out more about using the Barthel Index:

Using the Barthel Index or Modified Barthel Index in Occupational Therapy

Paid Cheat Sheet Resources

If you prefer to purchase an already printed guide, Amazon has this very handy OT reference pocket guide with laminated cards for quick reference. You can find it here:

Occupational Therapy Reference Pocket Guide

We also love this OT quick reference clipboard that includes MMT, Rancho levels, assist levels, developmental milestones, pain scales, documentation tips, and more:

WhiteCoat Clipboard® – Occupational Therapy Edition

Lastly, OTManda has created a low cost “Acute Care Occupational Therapy Quick Reference Guide” (as a digital download) that you can purchase on Etsy here.

Affiliate disclosure: Several of the above links are affiliate links, where we may receive a small commission of purchases made at no cost to you.


And that wraps up our cheat sheet for new occupational therapists and OT students working with adults!

If you think we’ve missed any important topics to include in this OT cheat sheet, please let us know in the comments below. We wish you the best of luck in your beginning years as an adult-based OT practitioner!

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  • Nishi Brahmbhatt January 16, 2024   Reply →

    Can you provide this in a PDF format? I would love to provide it to our graduating OTA students.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L January 17, 2024   Reply →

      I will try to get that done shortly and add it into the article. In the meantime you are certainly welcome to share the article’s link to your students any time 🙂

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