Studying for the PANCE?
As the countdown to PA school graduation day gets closer (only 7 months left – holy crap time is FLYING), the imminence of it all is becoming more real. The thought of finally turning from PA-S to PA-C is overwhelmingly exciting. While I’m racing to the finish line and dreaming of bigger and better things, one thing has come to my attention lately. I won’t be an official physician assistant unless I pass the PANCE. The PANCE, or the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, is basically “the boards” for PAs. It encompasses basically everything I have learned or am supposed to learn in the 27 months of PA school. Trust me, that is a ton of information on one little (5 hour) test. Check out the NCCPA website for all the details on the exam.
I know how I am when it comes to studying. Basically (and shamefully) my study method has been . . . procrastination. I can’t afford to procrastinate on the most important test I will ever take, so some preparation is in order. I’m the type of person who does well with to-do lists and schedules (hello, type-A), so studying for the PANCE using a study schedule will ensure I am getting the job done.
The nature of PA school is learning a whole lotta information in a short period of time, so naturally some things slip through the cracks of our memory. Especially during clinical rotations when we are focused on a specific topic for a few weeks at a time, then move onto something else. I decided to base my study schedule on a 35 week plan. That would give me about 7 months to go over individual topics, and 1 month for reviewing and taking practice tests. It sounds like a lot of time, but when you factor in rotations that are at least 40 hours a week, and also preparing for end of rotation exams, it really doesn’t leave that much time for studying.
You can wait up to six years after graduation to take the PANCE (but I think taking six extra years to study is overkill, right?). I plan on taking the PANCE as soon as possible after graduation. In my opinion, the sooner the better.
The PANCE blueprint breaks down the test into organ systems. Some systems, like cardiology and pulmonary, make up larger chunks of the test. While infectious disease and hematology make up smaller portions of the questions. I based my schedule off of these percentages, allowing study time for each subject proportional to its percentage of the exam. For example, according to the NCCPA, endocrinology is 6% of the test, so I calculated out 6% of my study time, which equated to about 2 weeks to study for that subject. Click here for the complete breakdown.
Here is the study schedule I plan on keeping.
For the longer topics, I broke them up a bit so it doesn’t get terribly boring. The last month I plan on reviewing main concepts and topics I had trouble with and taking as many practice exams as I can get my hands on.
Now that the schedule is made, what are we actually studying, anyway? Of course, you should go back through your old lecture notes and PowerPoints, but that can get a little daunting. Here are my favorite study resources besides my notes:
- PANCE Prep Pearls – This book is gold. I keep it in my bag all the time so I can do some quick reviewing when I get a free minute. PPP is 500 pages of what you actually need to know without all the fluff. What I love most about this book is that the layout and content are similar to the way I take notes. It has graphs, pictures, charts and lots of bold and underlined terms that make important info pop. It is great for visual learners.
- A Comprehensive Review for the Certification and Recertification Examinations for Physician Assistants – Don’t let the long title fool you, this is a short and sweet condensed version of what you need to know. The layout is in outline form. It’s not as visually appealing as PPP, but contains practice questions, which is a must.
- Medscape – This is my favorite website and app for looking up medical information. It breaks down all aspects of diseases from history and physical exam to workup and treatment. Plus all the details in between. I use this on a daily basis in clinical rotations and its a great resource for PANCE studying.
- Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment – This is a more expanded version of all the diseases and treatments. I use this when I need further clarification on a topic. It is basically all of clinical medicine in a textbook.
- Use multiple resources. No one resource is perfect, and they all have slightly different information. I find presenting topics in different ways helps it to stick.
- Set goals for yourself. Plan to study for an hour or two a day and stick to it.
- Stick to the schedule. Commit to the study schedule with a partner, so you can hold each other accountable.
- Take study breaks. No one can study for hours on end without taking a brain break. You get more effective studying done when you take a short break
- Study with a buddy. I typically like studying solo, but I do find it beneficial to review with a partner after I feel I have grasped the topic at hand. Asking each other questions and talking things out is a great way to solidify information in the brain.
Good luck studying, guys! We are going to make great PAs 🙂