Study Habits That Set You up for PA Success

Physician assistant preparation is a grueling process that requires persistence, attention to detail, learning by observation, and success in the classroom. This is why effective PA study habits are so important for students looking to learn everything they can in the classroom in order to score well on their End of Rotation exams and, eventually, the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination® (PANCE®) for licensure certification.

Here are five helpful study habits to practice that will help you know how to study in PA school . . .

Physician Assistant Preparation Requires You Remove Distractions

Today’s high school and college students are used to reading, writing, and studying in a multi-tasking environment. It’s quite common for students to be listening to music, streaming a show, texting with friends, and more . . . all while working on an assignment or studying for an exam. However, physician assistant preparation is much more demanding than high school or an undergraduate program. It requires your full, undivided attention. 

When you sit down to study for a test with a textbook, or prepare for EORS or the PANCE with an online learning tool like UWorld, be sure to remove all distractions. Avoid loud or high traffic spaces like coffee shops or bookstores. Instead, find a quiet place where you know you will have privacy for the entirety of your study session. Turn off other devices that might draw your attention away from the material you are reviewing. Let friends and family know you are studying during a particular block of time so that they don’t unknowingly interrupt. 

Distraction-free studying is essential for learning, retention, and effective physician assistant test prep.

Build a Study Plan and Stick With It 

The pressure that comes with a high-stakes licensure exam like the PANCE can be a very stressful thing for PA students. A test of that difficulty can feel overwhelming. This is why a strategic study plan is crucial to maximize PA study habits. A well-thought out study plan will alleviate stress, build confidence, and have you prepared on exam day.

Your study plan will depend on how much time you have between now and your PANCE exam. A three month study plan will be much different than a six month study plan. Just like a six month study plan will be different from a nine month study plan. But every study plan will include defined dates and times for study, a key focus on weaker areas of knowledge, performance tracking, and lengthy practice tests to build exam stamina.

Use Your Goal Setting Skills in Your Exam Preparation

Students don’t get to their End of Rotation exams or the PANCE exam without having ambition. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve learned how to set goals and accomplish them throughout high school and while earning your undergraduate degree. 

One of the best things you can do to improve your test prep is to apply your skill for setting goals to your regular study sessions. There are a number of ways you can do that — here are a few examples:

  • When working through your UWorld QBank, set a goal to complete a certain number of questions per week.
  • In the month leading up to the exam, set a goal to increase your study time each week (e.g. Four weeks until the exam = 12 hours of study. Three weeks until the exam = 14 hours of study. Two weeks until the exam = 16 hours of study. Last week before the exam = 18 hours of study.) (Note: Even though you will study a lot in the last week before the exam, avoid cramming the night before the exam. This is a night you’ll want to relax and get plenty of rest before exam day.)
  • Set a goal to improve week by week, and follow your UWorld performance tracking feature carefully to see if you’re meeting this goal.

There will probably be days or weeks where you don’t hit every goal that you’ve set for yourself. That’s okay. You’re still going to be making more progress than if you had set no goals at all. Goal setting keeps you accountable to your own high standards and can even make studying fun as you accomplish goals on a regular basis. 

The Best PA Study Habits Are Efficient Study Habits

The demands of life during PA school require that you become as efficient as possible in your study. The sheer amount of information you have to learn, not even considering your other responsibilities, demands that you do more than just study harder, but you study smarter. Here are three ways you can be more efficient in your physician assistant test prep: 

1. Focus on your weak areas first

A key to successful exam preparation is knowing where to focus your time and energy. If you are spending significant study time on a subject or system that you are extremely knowledgeable about, you’re not making the most of your study session. While you will want to occasionally review that subject or system, the majority of your study time should be spent on weaker areas of knowledge. 

2. Utilize flashcards with spaced repetition

Spaced repetition technology is a perfect example of more efficient study. Some students might shuffle through random flashcards during their study sessions, but this lacks intentionality and efficiency. Spaced repetition flashcards maximize your time by showing you the cards in an order and frequency that enhances learning. In a nutshell, spaced repetition helps you see difficult information more frequently until you master it, then decreases the frequency so your brain is challenged to create long-term retention.

3. Consider each minute an investment

To make the most of each study session you’ve appropriated in your study plan, be careful not to waste minutes here and there. Those wasted minutes can add up quickly. If your study session is from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., make sure you’re ready to begin precisely at 7:00 p.m. Don’t take a phone call or answer a text during the hour. Each minute is a study investment and should be guarded carefully.

Test Yourself Long Before the Actual Test

If you don’t know how you are progressing in your test prep, you’re not going to know what to study next. This is why practice tests and performance tracking are so important as you progress through PA school. In your study plan, allow for occasional days that are dedicated to taking a practice test that simulates the actual PANCE exam. After each practice test, take a careful look at your performance to see what strides you have made up to this point and where you need to improve in the future. If you’ll keep close tabs on your progress through practice tests and performance tracking, your study sessions and your test preparedness will greatly improve. 


Are you preparing for an upcoming high-stakes exam like the PANCE® or PANRE®? If so, check out UWorld’s comprehensive online learning tool for your didactic, EOR, PANCE, PANRE, and clinical success. Our challenging questions, in-depth explanations, and performance tracking features will have you ready for success on exam day. Start your FREE trial today.

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