Developing A PANCE Study Plan

PANCE is not just another test. It is comprehensive, assessing the basic science and clinical science knowledge acquired from many different courses and clinical experiences. PANCE questions are designed to require critical thinking in order to apply knowledge in a wide variety of contexts and patient-care situations. PANCE questions are likely to be quite different from the questions you saw on examinations in your physician assistant program. PANCE assesses everything you are supposed to have learned, which is analogous to compressing all of the final exams you took into one.

Study Tip

Studying everything equally wastes limited review time by investing the same amount in every subject, whether you need it or not.

In order to be able to walk into the testing center on test day with confidence, you need a plan. Your PANCE study plan will enable you to manage your review time, sequence the subjects, determine how and when you practice with questions, and help you judge when you are test-ready.

Creating a Good Review Plan

An effective study plan involves the following key factors:

1. Determining how much time you need for each area

2. Setting a sequence of topics

3. Establishing a good study process

4. Retaining your review

5. Monitoring your performance

6. Determining when you are test-ready

Assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you aren’t sure, use practice questions to measure your current level of knowledge. Take 20 to 25 questions per subject area, and score the items. Calculate your percent correct for each area. This initial performance profile will help you determine where to focus more time. Also, faculty members probably mentioned some topics that they know are heavily tested; these topics need attention. Finally, the ultimate source of information about the number of items used to test topics is the PANCE blueprint, which you can find at the NCCPA website. Your personal mix of current recall and topics that faculty emphasized, combined with the exam blueprint, will help you determine how much time you will need to devote to reviewing each area. By thinking carefully about what needs more time and what needs less, you will derive the maximum benefit from your review.

At this point, you are ready to sequence the subjects in your study plan. Because the PANCE tests even basic science information in clinical contexts, one way to sequence your review is to move through the content by organ systems.

Organ System Reviewing

Systemic pathology provides the ideal organizer for organ system reviewing. The initial part of your review in this method is general principles, which includes preliminary material, such as physiology, cell biology, general pathology, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and genetics.

Once you have finished general principles, begin reviewing each organ system by starting with the embryologic development of that organ, its gross anatomy, the physiology of the organ, the pathology associated with the organ, and finally, the drugs used to treat problems with that organ system. Repeat this process for each of these organ systems:

  • Special senses
  • Skin and breast
  • Cardiovascular
  • Pulmonary
  • Renal
  • Endocrine
  • Hepatobiliary
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Female reproductive
  • Male reproductive
  • Blood and lymph
  • Immunology
  • Nervous system

Once you have finished reviewing all of the systemic topics, move on to the remaining subjects:

  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Behavioral Sciences

Study Tip

Study the aspects of each organ system in the following order:

1. Embryology

2. Gross anatomy

3. Physiology

4. Pathology

5. Pharmacology

Advantages of reviewing by organ system

One of the advantages of organ system–based review is that practicing clinicians organize their knowledge this way: It allows them to interpret patient signs and symptoms, arrive at a differential diagnosis, and form a treatment plan efficiently. You are thus getting a head start on thinking like a clinician.

Another benefit is that this sequence of reviewing helps you integrate subjects that you learned separately. What integration really means is that instead of studying anatomic structures independently from their functions and how they malfunction in disease processes, you will tie all these perspectives together, forming a working understanding of the human body’s dynamics in both the healthy and diseased states. People who review this way often report that they can reason their way to correct answers far more easily and don’t need to memorize as much.

Subject-Based Reviewing

If your school uses a problem-based or integrated curriculum, then you might want to review by subject instead of by organ system. Changing the path that you take through the material helps you fill gaps and provides some novelty in that you are moving through the material in a different manner. If you decide that a subject-based method is right for you, then sequence your review as follows:

1. Behavioral Sciences

2. Physiology

3. Immunology

4. Genetics

5. Anatomy

6. Pathology

7. Pharmacology

8. Microbiology

9. Biochemistry

This sequence works well for most people because it allows them to begin by studying material that involves lots of concepts, mechanisms, and processes, which tend to remain in memory longer. The plan then moves on to the content material that involves more memorization as the exam date gets closer. This keeps any forgetting to a minimum, which is an advantage when there is so much material to cover.