In the 6 months leading up to the PANCE, I had so much anxiety it was insane. The closer I got to taking the PANCE, the more anxious I became. I was convinced that I was going to fail, lose my position in the fellowship, and basically prove correct every person who ever doubted me. It was awful. I actually ended up pushing my PANCE test date back a week because I was having such anxiety related to taking it.
However, in the end, I passed. I actually ended up doing very well.
And now that I’m on the other side (by a few months – oops), I can look back and say that I did all of the right things. My study plan and methods were solid, and the score I got showed that. Do I recommend having a panic attacks and pushing back your PANCE date a week? No…but I do recommend actively assessing yourself and deciding whether or not you actually are READY.
So where do you start?
First thing, you need to sit down and assess yourself, and I mean objectively. Consider the organ systems you excelled in, and the ones that caused you to be more hung up. In my case, I rocked EENT, Derm, Repro, but wasn’t nearly as solid on Cardiology or Hematology. So I knew that I needed to focus more on those systems and that I could kind of put the others on the back burner.
How do you do this?
Ideally, your school will have provided you with the opportunity to take a PACKRAT. Basically, the PACKRAT is a national assessment tool created by the PAEA to allow schools and students to determine what their level of knowledge on a topic is when compared to the nation’s score. A lot of schools offer the PACKRAT at two different times during your schooling – the end of didactic year, just prior to clinical year, and some time during the clinical year. By taking the two (or more) PACKRATs, students are able to objectively decide what material they are weakest on.
If your school does not offer the PACKRAT, I highly recommend reaching out to your director and attempting to get it implemented in to your curriculum. If its still not a possibility to get the PACKRAT implement you have two options – google and find an old PACKRAT to take, or attempt to create your own.
At the same time, you need to go check out the NCCPA website and become very familiar with the PANCE breakdown.
This NCCPA breakdown of topics is going to be your blueprint of how and what you study – so you want to know it very well. The NCCPA recently has done several edits to the breakdown of topics to make things a little more even across the board; previously cardiology was worth significantly more and several of the topics were only worth 3% (so why would you even bother studying those topics?)
Next up, figure out how you’re going to study
This is actually the hardest part of preparing for the PANCE. How are you going to review and study the material? How do you know if this method is going to be effective for you? Should you try something new or stick to the tried and true methods from PA school?
On the positive, you’ve realistically spent the last two-three years preparing for the PANCE. All of those lectures, quizzes, exams, and standardized patients were designed to do two things – teach you AND prepare you for the PANCE. So everything that you’ve done for the last two-three years has been in preparation for this one exam, and you are prepared.
As long as you’ve consistently been preforming on average during clinical year and didactic year, you *should* have very few problems passing. At the end of the day, ninety-seven percent of exam takers pass the PANCE.
So basically you need to do two things right now:
- decide if you are going to study via review books or practice questions, or a mixture of both
- decide how long you want to study for
There are two main groups of preparation when it comes to the PANCE. Those who use review books/videos to study for the PANCE, and those who think that using practice questions is the best way to prepare. Each group thinks that their way is the best and typically is a strong advocate for learning that way.
So how do you possibly decide with path to take? Honestly its going to come down to what kind of person you are and how prepared you feel at the beginning of your study plan (ie how well you did on the PACKRAT + how well you have done on testing throughout your curriculum)
Personally, I used a mixture of both. I was told over and over that all I needed to do to pass the PANCE was practice questions. However, I’m way too neurotic to just place my chance for passing in the hands of practice questions. I felt like I needed to also proactively review material.
So, that is actually what my recommendation is for studying for the PANCE. I also recommend never doing more than 6 hours maximum of studying – there’s no need to burn yourself out, and like I mentioned above, you’ve been preparing for this for the last 2-3 years.
That brings me to the last thing you need to decide: how long are you going to study for
Most individuals take the PANCE within a month of the completion of their program. You can begin taking the PANCE 7 days following graduation and have up to 180 days to take it for the first time.
Originally, I planned to take my PANCE three weeks following graduation. Then my panic attacks/anxiety kicked in and I ended up pushing my date back one more week – leaving me taking the PANCE four weeks after graduation. I don’t recommend doing this unless you have to. For me, that extra week took a large amount of my stress load off my shoulders, and I was able to better focus on studying and feel more prepared.
I have a classmate who took the PANCE three months following graduation. And honestly, I don’t know how they did it. I could never have studied for that long, or had that amount of stress for that long. But at the end of the day you do need to do what’s best for you when it comes to when you should take your PANCE.
So, how do you sent up your study plan?
I highly recommend setting up, and following, a study plan. Generally, the more broad you make the study plan (ie study cardiology versus study AMI), the better chances you have of actually following this. I’m going to be sharing several very general, editable study plans next week – so keep your eyes peeled for those.
Like I recommended above, I tried to never study for longer than 6 hours because it ended up not being nearly as productive. Typically, what I did was spend the morning reviewing material with review books, review videos, online resources. Then I ate lunch/did something active. After lunch, I would do practice problems with Rosh Review.
I also recommend starting study during school. I spent clinical year actively thinking about the PANCE, and gearing a lot of my studying for the EOR exams also for the PANCE. And I think this drastically helped how well I did on the PANCE. I originally had a very detailed six month study plan starting in January, and while I did end up doing a lot of this studying, I also ended up doing less/being more focused on my rotations.
Now, do you need to do a review course for the PANCE
Absolutely not. Like I’ve mentioned several times, you’ve spent the past two-three years preparing for the PANCE. And 97% of people pass the exam.
I was flat out told by my advisor multiple times that I needed to do a review course. And every time, I brought up my scores with them and my study plan, and they weren’t actually able to give me significant reasons as to why I needed to complete a course. So I ignored their advice. And it worked well for me.
I do know for a fact that I will be doing a review course for the PANRE. I won’t have spent the previous 2-3 years in class studying, and I want to make sure I have best prepared for the exam.
You can make your own decision as to whether or not you want to do a review course, but I definitely don’t think its necessary if you’ve done well in school, been an active learner, and followed a study plan.
But what do I do if I fail the pance?
You will be able to take the exam 90 days after your initial exam, and up to three times in a year. Ideally, you would not need multiple retakes to pass the PANCE.
The things you need to do are very similar to the steps I outlined above, but I recommend really objectively evaluating yourself as you start out. The NCCPA will give you a score report that will break down your performance based on system.
I also recommend considering taking a review course at that point. I know I said above that it wasn’t necessary, but that changes if you fail the PANCE.
At the end of the day, you will do great, and you will pass the PANCE. Take a deep breath, don’t let the stress take over your life (like I did), and make a plan.
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