PA School Study Tips – Part 1

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to PA school and now unsure of where to begin studying.

First off –  Take a moment to breathe!  The biggest advice I can give you is to be patient with yourself. When you hear comments like PA school is like drinking out of a water hydrant, well, sadly it’s true. Studying for PA school is nothing like studying in undergrad or graduate courses. But, you will get through it and die-dactic will be over before you know it!

In PA school, we jokingly call it death by PowerPoints. Classes typically start from 8/9 AM and end around 5 PM. Each lecture, you cover on average 100 slides. Multiply that by  4 lectures a day, 5 days a week and you’re easily at 2000 PowerPoint slides by the time you’re ready to sit down and study for the weekend.

Given our current COVID situation and programs transitioning over to online education, I’ve received a lot of questions about how online education may affect one’s education. Are you ready for my answer? … It won’t! And I hate to burst your bubble now, but the reality is PA school is really an independent study!  Yes, you may have great professors who can add to your class discussions, but more than likely you’re going to go home and have to fill in the gaps yourself.

Online training will be hard for some that learn best in a traditional class setting, but it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome these struggles. Stay tuned for a second post on how to use your time efficiently!

Side note, I’ve decided not to include my favorite resources as a student as medical education/resources have changed so much in recent years.

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty!

Prior to PA School: Like many have probably warned you, don’t study and enjoy your free time (or what’s left of it) to be with friends and family. However, if you’re super antsy and feel like you want to get ahead of the game, I recommend reaching out to the class before you to find out what the early modules look like. If you’re in a new program and aren’t privilege to this information, then I would say work on your toughest subjects first. In hindsight, one subject I wished I would’ve known to study early on is EKG! One great resource is Rapid Interpretation of EKG by Dubin.

Fast forward to your first week in PA school. You’re feeling incredibly overwhelmed and start panicking and thinking to yourself, “Ngan was right (death by PowerPoints). There’s so much info and I don’t even know where to begin!” Again, breathe. Relax. You’ve got this!

Just as one of our professors always asked, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Focus on one subject, one lecture at a time.

As you might have seen me reposting Tram’s (@thedangpa) recent TikTok video on how to convert your notes into PDF, I did something very similar. Reality is, it’s not feasible to review all 100 slides on a daily basis. BUT if you convert it to a word/PDF document, print it 2-sides (try to save those trees!!!), it becomes more manageable.

You’ll find that you will have to adjust your learning to every class. What might have worked for you in undergrad or even graduate courses does not necessarily work for PA school. You may find yourself studying with groups initially, but if it’s not the right fit or you find yourself more anxious, IT’S OKAY to break away and do your own thing!

Unfortunately, anatomy is anatomy. It’s tough because there’s just so much to learn. I don’t have a lot of great tips here, other than breaking down each region.

There are great programs such as Picmonic that may help aid you in visualization/memory.

The following tips may be more helpful in your clinical medicine courses/the bulk of your studying. So, I’m a bit OCD when it comes to my notes. I like to condense my notes down as much as possible and have them at 8pt font. I guess it’s a mental trick (Oh hey! It’s only 4 pages of notes vs. holding a stack of 12 pages)? I also like tables because I’m a visual learner.

Here’s an example of how to break down a PowerPoint lecture and convert it into a word document and what a final product looks like!




As you can see, the lecture alone is 95 slides! These slides are typically uploaded a few days before the class, or often the day before our next lecture. I generally try to copy and paste the entire PowerPoint lecture and dump them into a word document  to have ready to “edit.” I spend the 2 hours during the lecture, listening and fine-tuning a final version of notes into a separate word document with the appropriate categories. Unfortunately, this process is extremely time-consuming and I don’t generally get to finish my notes in the lecture and spend at least another hour or two after class to complete my tables.

PPT slides: 95 pages
Word Doc: 14 pages
Personal Notes: 4 pages (MUCH MORE MANAGEABLE!)

Now I have a final product that will be helpful to study on the weekends! I’ll print out the final table version, go back to reread the book and see if I’m missing any additional helpful bits. Then when it comes time for the exam, I’ll handwrite my own version of condensed notes (generally 2-4 pages) of the most pertinent info. So really, I’m heavy with my electronic notes, but I always like to print out the notes, add additional bits/drawings before condensing down to a handwritten version.

Here are a few examples:



In addition to my handwritten notes, I also created flashcards to play on the commute. I found replaying lectures to be too long. More on this later.

You’ll soon realize that PA school differs from any previous courses because straight-up memorization is not effective here. PA school is about understanding and applying concepts you’ve learned.

Eek! I didn’t realize how long this post will be. I guess I’ll share with you my study set up/tools/additional resources I used when actually studying in a second post.

To wrap up, TLDR;

  1. Be patient with yourself. This is going to be a new learning curve and you’ll have to find what type of studying works best for you WITH EVERY single class.
  2. It’s okay to study on your own! Don’t feel pressured to group study if it’s not right for you.
  3. Be patient with yourself.
  4. Find a way to condense down the notes to something more manageable for you.
  5. Take it one day, one lecture at a time.
  6. Oh, and did I forget to mention? Be patient with yourself. !

Stay tuned for part 2 on how I studied during PA school and the type of resources that I used to get me through it!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s