How to Study for the Physician Assistant Certification Exam

From Anne: When I studied for the Canadian National PA Certification Exam, I used American PANCE study material. Our class had 100% pass rate! Here Christian Galloway, an American PA-C breaks down how to study for the PA certification exam.

How to study for the PA Certification Exam

From the moment you begin your journey in PA School, you are studying for your Certification Exam. Every exam you take, every topic you study is to prepare you for the “big boss exam” you’re pretty much required to take after graduation in order to practice.

American PANCE Exam

Here in the US, it’s the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (more often referred to as the PANCE).  The PANCE is a 5 hour, 300 question exam that covers everything you studied during your time in PA school.

Let’s talk about the National Certification Exams for a minute. Here is the breakdown for the US PANCE:

PANCE content outline

(Image Credit: NCCPA)

In order to be eligible to take the PANCE, you have to be a graduate of an accredited Physician Assistant program in the US that has been accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the PA (ARC-PA). Even if you have a medical degree, you still must be a graduate from an accredited PA program in order to take the PANCE.

To save some time, you can find more information on becoming certified in the US here:

Physician Assistants who graduate from a Canadian PA program CANNOT challenge the PANCE exam.

Canadian PA Certification Exam

What about y’all in Canada?  You must take the Physician Assistant Entry to Practice Certification Exam (also known as PA Cert Exam).  In order to be eligible for your PA Cert Exam, you must complete and sign a PACCC PA Cert Exam online registration, be a member of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) and meet the eligibility requirements.

These eligibility requirements include:

  • be a graduate of a Canadian PA program that has been accredited by the CMA OR
  • be a graduate of a ARC-PA accredited PA Program in the US AND be certified by the National Commission of Certification for Physician Assistants (NCCPA) – the people who make the US PANCE.

Here is the Canadian PA Cert Exam Blueprint:

Canadian Physician Assistant Exam Blueprint

(Image Credit: CAPA – PACC)

You can find more information regarding the Canadian PA Cert Exam here:

Remember the blueprints are only as intended as a guide for your studying and the real exam may actually vary some!

How I studied for the PA Certification Exam

I registered for my exam in November. Since I graduated in December of 2017, I was unable to take the PANCE immediately after graduation since they have very specific rules. In addition, me and my family went on vacation for a week and I didn’t want to study during the Holidays! So with all that in mind, I decided to register for a late January date (the 22nd to be exact), allowing me enough time to review everything that I felt necessary. Remember to consider factors like this when scheduling your exam.

Also, remember that if you’re taking your exam soon after graduation, you really shouldn’t need to study in depth for several months. You know a lot more than you think you do and I recommend – from personal preference – taking the exam soon after graduation while information is still fresh in your mind.

Review Course

I primarily used HIPPO Education’s Review Course:

HIPPO PA Education

(Image Credit: HIPPO Education)

I did pay money, but I found it to be incredibly useful. The physicians and PAs that do the videos are humorous and keep the information interesting! I do much better with someone providing a schedule versus self study. In addition, everything you do on this website counts towards Continued Medical Education (CME) credits!

They base their review videos on the NCCPA PANCE Blueprint, which was very nice – I didn’t have to worry about missing something to cover.

I did 1 body system a day for about 2 ½ weeks  – leaving the weekends open to review/finish sections I couldn’t finish during the week. This was enough time to go through every video and every body system.

PANCE Prep Pearls Book

While I watched the HIPPO videos, I went through my PANCE Prep Pearls (PPP) book:

PANCE Prep Pearls PPP Book

While the PANCE Prep Pearls Book is very useful, it’s very easy to get lost/bogged down in the details. Going along with the HIPPO Education videos allowed me to hit the high-yield and most important pieces of information in the book.

Practice Questions

After I did each body system, I completed their CME Credit Quiz for that specific system and then quizzed myself using the HIPPO Education Q-Bank on the topics I just reviewed. This allowed me to figure out what topics I still didn’t have a strong grasp on and what I needed to review more in depth! For example, I found that OB/GYN topics come very naturally to me, but Infectious Disease and Cardio are very hard for me to study because I don’t find it interesting. I spent more time on ID and Cardio vs OB/GYN.

I basically repeated this process every day from early January until my exam date. I also increased the amount of questions I would do as my exam date approached. I did around 100-200 questions a day. This is the only way to really figure out what you know and what you don’t know, as well as get familiar with how differently questions may be asked on your exam.

I used this Practice Question Book:

PANCE PANRE question book

I also used PA Easy, which I was able to obtain for free through my program. After completing so many questions, you finally figure out there’s only so many ways to ask questions about certain pathologies, medications, ethics, etc!

My friends also followed a similar pattern to mine. Some only read PANCE Prep Pearls and didn’t use practice questions, but passed. Some used other resources like Rosh Review, CME4Life, and Physician Assistant Boards. You’ll just have to explore each option and choose the one that you feel like is a better fit – that was HIPPO Education for me.

In Summary

Studying for PANCEFigure out a date that is going to work best for you, taking into consideration all life factors.  Set up a schedule and a routine that will allow you to cover necessary topics. It’s much easier to study when you have a set schedule that you’ve made yourself.

Do questions every day and nail down topics that are not your greatest strength! Give yourself breaks – whether it’s the evening off every day or 2 days off on the weekend, whatever works best for you.

And finally, relax and don’t fret (much easier said than done, right?)! Take off the day before your exam and rest your brain. You want to arrive fresh and prepared. Get enough sleep and eat a healthy, energizing breakfast. Don’t forget snacks either to fuel your brain power!

You’ll do great! It is a very terrifying experience…knowing that you’re taking an exam that essentially determines the future of your career. But if you’ve made it through PA School, with enough preparation there is no doubt that you’ll pass your Cert Exam with ease!

Good Luck 🙂

One Comment

  1. D.Divya October 12, 2022 at 4:04 am - Reply

    B.scphysician assistant

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