It’s terrific that you have decided on a physician assistant career. Despite there being over 106,200 physician assistants in the US (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), there is a very high demand for more professionals in this field.
In fact, the number of jobs available for physician assistants is expected to grow by 37% from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average for other jobs.
As you might know already, to become a certified physician assistant, you need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). Here are some very effective strategies for passing the PANCE.
1. Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint
That’s right! Treat studying for the PANCE as if you were preparing for a marathon. Long distance runners rarely train by doing their entire distance run. Instead, they train at much shorter distances for more extended periods of time. Your brain is wired the same way. Learning, studying, and memorizing require you to use your short-term memory. Try and use the marathon-preparation approach while studying, with shorter periods of focus and multiple breaks. This is recognized as a technique called “chunking.” In cognitive psychology, chunking is a process by which individual pieces of information are bound together. It is believed that individuals create higher order cognitive representations of the items on a list when they are registered as a group than as individual items themselves.
2. Know your study style
We all have slightly different learning styles, and you probably know yours by now. If you understand concepts well with a visual representation of information, it might behoove you to draw out rough sketches. If you are an auditory learner, there are plenty of YouTube lectures and podcasts that cover your test subject. If you learn best through discussions, be sure to create a study group to talk through concepts together.
3. Treat study time as if it were a job (and you can’t call in sick)
Would you be able to show up to your job haphazardly? Of course not! Treat your study time like hours you are scheduled to work at your job. Schedule your study hours and stick to them. Too many people make the mistake of waiting until the end of a long day or try to squeeze it in on weekends. That almost never works. Remember to stick to shorter learning periods versus longer ones. Use commuting times (if not driving), lunch breaks, and even occasions like waiting at the doctor’s office. OMG, these waits always last at least an hour and leave plenty of time to do practice questions.
4. Take study breaks
Even though this is a “no-brainer,” this is a crucial tip that a lot of people miss. You can’t study 24/7. Trust us, it’s not possible. If you try, you will get tired, lose focus, and just start wasting time. Building breaks into your study routine is vital. Breaks will give your mind a rest and keep you fresh and ready for more content. Just don’t let your study breaks get out of hand. They are in the routine for a reason – to increase study efficiency. They aren’t supposed to become a distraction.
5. Invest in yourself
That’s right. It is definitely worthwhile to invest in anything that you think may help. Online review courses, audio courses, practice exams, and test apps are all beneficial. Find out what works with your style of learning and go for it. After all, you are talking about a career that may possibly pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the rest of your lifetime. This small investment can earn you huge returns.
6. Practice questions
Practice exams are absolutely the best and most important way to prepare. However, merely taking the practice exam questions is only half the process. It is just as important to look up questions that you answered incorrectly. Practice question banks provide explanations or rationales as to why each answer choice is correct or incorrect, as well as outline the particular content topic it falls under. Try to find online programs or apps that track your progress and allow you to retest yourself in areas or categories that need the most improvement.
7. Believe in yourself
Most importantly, believe in yourself. In all likelihood, you have gotten to this point researching testing strategies because you have already completed all the other requirements. This is only the final step on your exciting and new journey; so, congratulations are in order. Now, boost your confidence levels and cross the final hurdle to a great physician assistant career.
The Bottom Line: Preparing for a test does not have to be an exhausting, stressful experience. It’s a mental game. This is your life – your Super Bowl, so to speak. So, go into it with a winning mentality and proper preparation, and you will pass!