PA Exam Study Tips & Tricks

How to Ace Your PA Exam: Tips & Tricks

Even though I acknowledge that grades and tests don’t always correlate appropriately with the quality of health care a student will go on to provide, it’s still the nature of the game that exams are the current way of measuring understanding of healthcare topics.

With that being said, while it is true that “grades aren’t everything,” exams are an inevitable part of a professional program and let’s be real… it feels SO good to get that A! After all of your hard work, the only thing standing between you and your license is one big ol’ test! For these reasons, I’ve listed a few of the most useful PA exam study tips I know to ace your tests in Physician Assistant school (and also help you prepare for the PANCE along the way).

Decrease Distractions

While this seems obvious, one of my biggest PA exam study tips is making sure that all of your mental energy is focused on your studies. For me, this means leaving my apartment (where my dogs and refrigerator are) and going somewhere quiet and spacious. Bring snacks and a water bottle to stay hydrated and keep your growling stomach from leading you away from the library and to Taco Bell instead. Lastly, stay off social media during designated study times! I use apps like Self-Control (for Mac OS) and StayFocusd (for Google Chrome) which allow you to block certain websites (ahem.. Pinterest) for designated amounts of time. Make it easy on yourself!

Make Social Media Work For You

If you can’t bring yourself to totally blacklist your favorite social media sites, be sure to follow pages and resources that will give you good example test questions, study strategies, and cartoons and mnemonics to help you remember classic board and exam question material. I really love Physician Assistant Boards on Facebook and @boardvitals and @pance_prep_pearls on Instagram. 

Utilize Your “Empty Time”

All PA students have heard the expression “PA school is like drinking from a fire hydrant.” I believe most PA students would agree. Sometimes you will have 3-5 exams per week, operating room hours starting at 6 AM and classes in the evening. It’s easy to become burned out and prioritizing downtime for yourself is a must. I like to sneak mini study sessions in my “empty” time (when I’m commuting to school, cooking dinner, showering, etc.) and listen to recorded lectures. This way, when I have true “downtime,” I can enjoy Netflix or a dinner date without that nagging feeling of I should be studying. (I can’t be the only one who feels that way, right!?) If your classes aren’t recorded, record each class yourself and listen to the material again at least once. You will inevitably miss something the first time and listening to the lectures multiple times over will help them stick in your head!

Consider changing up where you study. This has been shown to help increase retention. I find myself thinking, “Oh, I remember hearing that when I was at Dunkin Donuts… for the third iced coffee of the day…”

Best of luck as you tackle your exams! Don’t forget, you’re unstopPAble!

About the Author: Asia Sullivan is a newly graduated physician assistant from Birmingham, Alabama. She recently completed a dual Master’s program in Physician Assistant Studies and Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She plans to work clinically as a surgical physician assistant and also has an interest in health disparity research. Asia also runs an education and lifestyle blog.

Looking for more advice for PA school? Download The Complete Guide to Becoming a Physician Assistant, the new eBook from BoardVitals. Filled with words of wisdom from PAs who have been through it all, this FREE Physician Assistant guide will help you on your journey towards becoming a PA, before, during, and after PA school. 

Try BoardVitals free for 10 days.

Free Trial. No credit card required.