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First Year PA

Preparing for the PANCE

Published January 24, 2013 9:16 AM by Harrison Reed
Every day was Groundhog Day. Well, to be fair it was early January but, like the 1993 Bill Murray comedy, I felt like I was stuck in a time loop. The high of my graduation ceremony had worn off weeks ago, so I made like a retired snowbird and headed south to Florida for the winter. I camped at my mother's house while I waited for the next stage of my life to begin, aware of the massive obstacle that stood between me and the start of my new career: the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE).

I thought the strut across stage in my funny cap and gown marked the end of my study grind, but now I felt like a man wandering the desert who had just come across his own footprints. Each morning I slapped my blaring alarm and prepared for the cycle I left behind in PA school. I stuffed my textbooks into the tattered backpack that had been my extra appendage for the last two years and faced the inevitable hours of review for the single test that would determine the rest of my career.

I picked out a corner of the library at the local community college, a place my academic journey had never before taken me. Now it was my sanctuary. If I ever thought for a moment that I was better than this place, it didn't seem to hold a grudge.

I dusted off the study skills that, I must admit, I never truly honed until I was faced with the avalanche of exams in PA school. Each day I dug into a new medical topic, prioritizing the subjects that saturated the PANCE and the ones that were my greatest weaknesses. The relative footnotes like hematology (3% of the PANCE), I saved for last. Then, after two weeks of seclusion and countless cups of coffee, I was locked in the steel cage of the testing center to face my computer-based adversary.

The morning after test day my alarm didn't ring. My bags weren't packed with books and I didn't order any coffee. I languished. Because the only thing harder than forcing myself to study every morning was the purgatory that followed: waiting for the results.

Tips for PANCE Preparation

Find Your Routine If you are in a different location or living situation than you were in PA school, it can be even harder to get back in the swing of studying. Find a quiet place that suits your style and make a study schedule. Then stick to it.

Practice! If you're like me, it's been a while since you sat down for a marathon multiple-choice test. Practice grinding out one or two-hundred multiple choice questions at a time to get used to the motions. The NCCPA website even has practice tests that most accurately recreate the PANCE experience (for a fee, of course).

Don't Sweat the Normal Stuff Normal lab values are provided on test day, from ABGs to CBCs and even BMIs. Don't stress about any you haven't already memorized.

Arrive Early, Bring Food It took a full 30 minutes for my test site to process the handful of people that had arrived before me. Arrive at least 30 minutes early if you want to get started on time. Also, you will manage your own break time during the exam (45 minutes divided into 4 breaks as you choose), so bring snacks to maintain your blood sugar.


Hey Tyree,

If you are in the 9th grade you have a long time before you have to worry about the PANCE and a lot of experiences (academic and otherwise) that will prepare you along the way. Test the waters through shadowing, volunteering and working to see if it's the right field for you. Keep your grades up along the way and everything else will fall into place. If you are already serious about preparing for a career you are way ahead of your peers. Good job.

Harrison Reed February 4, 2013 1:04 AM

Is the test that hard? I am interested in becoming a PA. I am not sure where should i start first. Should major in biology, then work for a year, and finally apply to PA school. Even though I already work experiences and volunteer hours. My parents send me to medical school every summer, along with volunteer program called A-HEC of a summer. I am a junior fire fighter, hopefully i become a first response. Sorry I forgot to mention im in 9th grade.

Tyreee February 2, 2013 10:38 PM

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