**I am aware that NCCPA recently made changes to the blueprint starting for the  2019 test dates. I will go back and edit this post after doing some more research and make my suggestions.**

Everything I wish someone would’ve told me before taking the PANCE:
So if you’re reading this, you’re either in your final semester of clinical year or just graduated from PA school and all that’s left on your to-do list is taking the PANCE. Terrifying, right? How this ONE exam will determine your future (or in my case, secure my current job offer. Y’know no pressure or anything). WRONG!

At the end of the day, this is just ANOTHER test that PA school has prepared you for! More than likely your program has allowed you to take 1-2 PACKRATs and you’ve taken at least 7 end of rotations (EORs) exams. If you’ve passed your exams and done well throughout your classes, statically, you will continue to do well on the boards.

Now another question I had was, how true are the PACKRAT scores to actual PANCE scores? I know, I know what you’re thinking (Ngan: tell me your stats)! Again, I’m just your average gal. Test taking has never been my strong suit, (I make it up with other personal, patient-centered skills), but with that said, I’ve managed to pass both of my certifications on my first attempt.

  • First PACKRAT from didactic year: 463, end of clinical year: 513.
  • Final PANCE score 444 (minimum passing score: 350). It may not be all that great of a score (I don’t even know what the average score is) but honestly, all you’re aiming for is the 350!!

Thoughts: Expect a score somewhere between the 2 averages.

So there you have it, folks. I will say PACKRAT is a good indicator and as long as you’re hitting the passing mark range, I would trust yourself and the process that you’ve got this in the bag.

When should I schedule my exam?
That’s more of a personal preference. Some say immediately after your graduation. Knowing that the last 6 weeks of PA school was spent traveling all over the state for interviews and preparing for any final exams, I knew that I was nowhere near ready mentally to take on the challenge.

So as a December graduate, let me first begin by telling you how much it sucks! You have the winter holidays and THEN New Years? And in my case celebrating my anniversary! Ahh! It was a disaster!

My graduation date was December 16th, 2017. According to NCCPA rules, the earliest you can take your test date is a week after graduation. The final  NCCPA test date offered this year was December 19th, then there’s a block out date until January 2nd. What do you do? They say to take it soon after graduation, but what do you do if you can’t? And then the holidays and everything going on, how do you really expect to get any studying in?

I had a few classmates and friends that took the exam the first available date. I don’t know how they did it, but I knew that I was not confident enough to just go and wing it. My exam was scheduled exactly a month our from graduation. My recommendation is to give yourself about 4-6 weeks to take the exam. The longer you wait, the more anxious you will become. Plus, as you’re celebrating your classmates for passing their boards you’ll wish that your exam was done over and celebrate your accomplishment.

Before I began my study schedule, I read numerous PA forums, but couldn’t find the answers I was looking for. Everything I searched was a bit outdated and for someone with extreme Type A Personality who’s a persistent worry wart, I wanted better answers, something more recent for 2018!

So if you’re someone who did well in their PA courses, but consider yourself to be a poor/average (low to high 70s) test taker, I hope you can find some comfort knowing you are not alone and on your way to get that PA-C!

In my opinion, the number one reason why people fail their boards is they let their anxiety and the hype of the exam get to them. A few days prior to my test date, I was going mad. The anxieties got to me and I felt like I was spiraling out of control. I wasn’t scoring as high as I’d like on my mock exams (60-75 avg), I was disappointed and afraid. I honestly didn’t know what to do.

Then my boyfriend told me the best thing ever, “The passing PANCE rate is around 94%. Do you really think you’re THAT special to not pass?” And that was the reality check I needed to hear.   That was Friday morning and the exam was scheduled for Tuesday. It was then that I decided no more practice exams and I was going to take it easy and trust the process.

Now let’s talk review materials and the schedule I used to study for PANCE.

  • Live Board Review
    • As an inaugural member of FIU PA’s program, we were provided a 5-day prep course from HELP review. The days were very long and intense (typically starting at 7:30 AM – 5 PM). I highly recommended a live review for those that feel like they need greater accountability/discipline. The review consisted of an overview of high yield (HY) topics, test taking strategies, and review of mock exams to better target why the answers are incorrect (silly mistake of not reading the question, or is it purely a factual question).
      • HELP Review
        • Pros: I LOVE their summary tables and hand wrote all their tables and then some for my 14 page summary (I’m working on typing out my notes in the near future).
          • Their cram cards are a quick way to review HY, key terms.
        • CON: the videos are very monotonous and reads off straight from the slides.
      • The mock exams were challenging and definitely put a dent in your confidence.
      • Overall opinion of HELP Review: Over 23 mocks exams (60q each), thousands of cram cards, synopsis tables are great to the point review if you need that extra “boost” or additional mock exams to practice.
  • Main Review Source:
    • ROSH Review: Loooooove! Shout out to my visual learners. I predominantly used ROSH as my main review material. ROSH has over 2,000 questions. After completing each section (I.e. HTN), I would jump straight to the correlating ROSH questions to apply the knowledge. It’s a lengthy process, but taking the time really helped me retain the info.
    • **Also, if you’re a curious didactic student or early clinical student, ROSH offers ER/FM/IM specific EOR mock exams for an additional fee.
  • Qbanks:
    • Pancemaster: I won a free course at AAPA
      • Pros: affordable, more user friendly compared to PA Easy
      • Cons: can only practice 60 questions at a time, must review questions individually
    • HELP Review:
      • Pros: questions are tailored to focus on high yield topics, easy to review missed questions all at once
      • Cons: difficulty of question is not comparable to actual PANCE
    • Davis Questions: I only had time to work through questions from cardio and pulm. I would say, if I could change my study routine, I would’ve started with a Davis first
      • Pros: the style of question is comparable to PANCE
      • Con: interface makes it difficult to use/review questions
    • NCCPA practice test: $50 per 120qs, only 2 versions available
      • I’ve heard before that it was a waste of time from my classmates, but once again, being a worry wart, I didn’t believe them and had to check it out myself. Verdict: they were correct. The exam was the worst set of questions I have ever seen. These are retired questions from years past.
        • You do not know what questions you’ve missed to review.
        • Exam summary is based on a graph, showing your likelihood of passing PANCE and highlights your weakest system(s), areas of focus (diagnostic, education..etc). Perhaps in the future it will break it down to subtopics within each system, but as of 2018…nope.
      • Pros: take it if you want the closest thing to the NCCPA, if taking, I’d suggest taking it early in your studies to target your weak areas
      • Cons: pricey, extremely challenging questions that may put you in more of a panic mode

Misc Items:

  • Support team/cheerleaders: I interacted with a group of my friends on a regular basis. Whether it’s checking in to make sure we’re all accountable with our schedules/goals, vent about how frustrating the process was, or discuss certain topics, share helpful mnemonics (Shout out to my team: Mildred, Kirrin, Stephen, and Courtney –couldn’t have done it without your encouragement!)
  • Whiteboard: to write motivational quotes, keep track of my schedule, taking notes
    • IMG_3417
  • Study music: I played the violin growing up, so by default, I’ve always listened to classical music when studying. Spotify has a few great study playlists.
  • Writing materials: my favorite pens in the whole wide world are energel x pens. You’re going to want at least a pack as I’ve killed several pens die on me.
  • A notebook. If you’re a stationery addict like me, go ahead and treat yourself to a nice notebook. One that excites you to actually use it. Examples of what my pages looked like: explanations to questions I answered incorrectly on practice questions, common drugs with SEs that you definitely should know about (I.e. Lithium), medications that are safe for pregnancy..etc.
  • Essential Oils/Diffusers. Years ago (back during my orgo days, many moons ago!), I bought a rosemary/ focus blend essential oil from Wholefoods. I used it often and also brought it with me to exam day (more on that in a bit).
  • Tomato timer: Pomodoro method. This app helped me focus. I’d set it up as 50 mins on, 10 mins break (checking in on my team/bathroom/snack break)
  • Confidence Card: This trick was from Brian Wallace (Physician Assistant Exam Review Boards). On a flash card, keep a running list of your study accomplishments to remind yourself that YOU ARE READY for the boards. Examples of what I had on mine, passing scores on both PACKRATs, Passing my EORs, my 14 pages of jammed action-packed HY handwritten notes, completing over 4,000 questions…etc.

Overall PANCE study materials (HIGHLY RECOMMEND):

  • Live review session (optional – if you need an extra boost)
  • Pick 1 review book/source (PANCE Prep Pearls, Green Certified book – would’ve used either option if I didn’t have access to HELP Review)
  • Purchase 1-2 qbanks: I think what worked well for me on test day was being exposed to a variety of question styles (between Rosh, PANCE Master, HELP Review and Davis questions, I completed over 4,000 questions. I’d say aim for at least 3,000 questions by test day).

PANCE Study Schedule
All right! And the moment we’ve all been waiting for…my study schedule! mapped out my schedule and pretty much gave myself the first 2 weeks to review all of the materials and leaving a week left to practice mock exams.

My suggestion is to take some time and map out every single calendar day. Write out your proposed subjects, goals for the day. I tried to incorporate a full-length practice day every 5 days.

As much as I wanted to sleep in, I kicked myself out of bed by 7:30 every morning and my butt was at my desk by 8:30 every morning to simulate my actual exam time of 8 AM.

  • (8-8:30) Warm up, 1 mock exam, 60 questions
  • (9:30-10:30) Reviewed answers
  • (10:30-12:00) Read over sections, write out summary tables, Rosh Qs
  • (12:00-1:00) Lunch, checked in with my team, occasionally Mildred and I will spend this hour going over materials we’re struggling with
  • (1:00-5:00) Continue reading over sections, write out summary tables, Rosh Qs
  • (5:00-7:00) Prepped dinner/break/dinner
  • (7:00-9:00) Finished any remaining sections/goals for the day
  • (9:00-10:00) Gym*** (THIS! I’ll admit it. I didn’t go to the gym enough during this time period. If I could redo my study habits, I would’ve made more of an effort to go to the gym to de-stress and clear my minds!)

As far as determining my order of study, I rearranged the PANCE blueprint accordingly from highest yield to lowest yield. With each percentage of questions asked, I also factored in how long I should spend on each system. Unfortunately, some systems had a longer topic list, making it difficult to complete with the given schedule and adjustments were made.

Your schedule will not be concrete and that’s okay! Learn to be flexible and understand that you will have good days and days where you’re not motivated to even crack a book open.

Here’s a rough draft of my schedule:

  • Cardiology: 3 days
  • Pulm: although HY, the material was easy enough to just go through in 1 day
  • GI: 2 days (Practice Exam #1)
  • MSK: 2 days
  • EENT: 2 days
  • OBGYN: 1 day (Practice Exam #2)
  • ENDO: 1
  • GU: 1 days
  • NEURO 0.5
  • PSYCH 0.5
  • DERM 1
  • HEME 0.5
  • ID – 0.5

Practice exams #3-5: strategize and have a plan on how to use your breaks wisely so that it can be incorporated into your mock exams. You have a total of 45 minutes for a break that can be split up in any way up to 3 times. For me, I took a 10 min beak after the first block to use the restroom and refocus my thoughts, came back to finish 2 blocks of 60qs, took a 20 minute lunch break, and finished the final 2 blocks.

The day before exam: Rest Day! Enjoy the day off! Visiting the Tampa Lowry Park Zoo has been on my bucket list for years, but I never got to go when I lived there. So I decided it was a great idea to get some steps in while laughing/playing with the cute animals. Win-win, yes? Whatever you do, don’t STUDY!!! If you can, swing by the testing center to get a feel and envision how that morning/afternoon commute will be for you.

Total study days: 17
Total practice exams: 7

Exam Day:
I’ve taken several exams for MCAT! GREs and my certification for public health but none were ever as strict as the PANCE.

  • Avoid wearing pants/sweaters with pockets
  • No jewelry allowed (earrings, rings okay. No bracelets or necklace)
  • No watches
  • If you wear glasses, realize you will be asked to remove your glasses for inspection every time you leave the exam room

What to bring with you to keep in your locker:

  • High protein snacks, I brought a PB sandwich and protein shake
  • A drink – something slightly sweet/caffeinated to keep you going, I opted for an energy vitamin water
  • Your 2 forms of ID (CC with your signature is acceptable)
  • Your confidence and smile …’cause you got this!
  • What to keep in your car:
  • Your confidence card to read once more before you get out of the car
  • Phone
  • Watch (highly encouraged to bring with you to check on your timing on your breaks), not the end of the world if you just use your car clock

If you’ve made it this far on my lengthy post, I congratulate you on putting in the effort to your success! The hardest part on my PANCE journey was planning and starting. By the third day, you’ll get into the swing of things.

Let me know if you used any of these tips or if you would like some feedback on your study schedule!

You can do this! To quote my boyfriend again, “PANCE pass rate is 94% Do you really think you’re THAT special to not pass?”

Best of luck,

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