The Week Before the PANCE

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The week before you sit down for your PANCE can be very stressful. There is not an ultimate guide on how to study for your boards that works for everyone. The week before the big exam, prospective physician assistants often wonder, “Should I kick it into high gear or should I relax?” Great question.

The advice I am about to give is not for those of you who have been slacking off and thought they’d only study on the week before the boards. If you are one of those epic procrastinators, you should look into a flexible online course, audio review or board book that can assist you in a crash course of what you need to know. You can find some helpful tools at the NPAE main screen.

If you are like the majority of prospective physician assistants and have been studying pretty regularly in the time leading up to these boards, here we are at the homestretch. You no longer need to fret; you’ve done most of the studying you are going to do for this test already.

During this time, you should be relaxing your brain, recharging your batteries and familiarizing yourself with difficult concepts sure to be on the exam. You have already made it through PA school and you have already been studying. You know what you need to know to become a physician assistant. You just need to perform on exam day. For those of you who have been involved in sports, think of this as competition or game day. In the past weeks and months you may have been sleep-deprived, isolated and running exclusively off caffeine and Ben and Jerry’s. Time to start over.

For starters, promise yourself 8 hours plus or minus one hour of sleep this week. Over and under sleeping will make you groggy. You need to be at your best this week. Make healthy eating choices this week. Your brain needs fuel, not pure sugar. Sugar gives you lots of energy, but can also bottom you out. You want constant energy and brain fuel this week. Try eating foods with complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal. I’d recommend staying away from fast food this week. Your body deserves the best. Also, this week while you are studying, take plenty of breaks. Get some exercise throughout the day. Keeping that blood flowing to your brain is great to help you think more clearly. Lastly, stay away from toxic people and relationships. Bad news sometimes happens at the worst times. However, try your best to keep your environment positive. The week before your boards can be stressful because you know how much your future depends on passing, but let’s not add any extra unnecessary stress. Keep your eye on the prize.

Now that you know how to keep your mind and body acute, we will talk about how and what you should be studying this week. I would recommend taking at least one 60 minute, 60 question practice exam each day. Some of you may be feeling ambitious and you know that even when you know the material, you are a poor test taker. In that case, you should take a full exam at least one day. Run through the exam with the appropriate breaks, meaning allow yourself 5 hours and 45 minutes to take the exam. Give yourself five 60 minute 60 question sections and allow yourself a total of 45 minutes in breaks. If you decide to spend one day running through the exam, make that early in the week and allow that to be the only studying you do that day. The test can be exhausting. You get no extra points for putting in 24 hours of studying in a day. You get points for studying smart and actually retaining information. On days where you take one or two 60 minute, 60 question exams, you should also review material. In this time leading up to the exam, review only the material that you know you will be asked but have difficulty remembering. For example, review your heart murmurs, EKG findings, antibodies, radiographic findings, types of gastroenteritis, etc. Also review the differences between diseases that are similar like osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis and crohn’s vs ulcerative colitis. Remember to emphasize the organ systems that have more weight, like cardiology and pulmonolgy. This is not the time to try to learn something you are completely unfamiliar with. Review the notes you took while you were studying over the past few weeks during this time. If you don’t think you took good notes, there are resources online that can help you focus. I created the PANCE/PANRE Study Guide exclusively of must know information that worked very well for me and hundreds of others. In general, on the week leading up to your exam, you should be studying no more than 8 hours per day. This is the time to practice your ability to perform on test day and refine difficult, important concepts.

The day before you take your boards, relax. Even if you read and reread every medical book you can get your hands on, which I definitely would not recommend, you are going to get some questions wrong. You are not expected to know everything. You are expected to know the information that allows you to be a good practioner. This information is already in your brain from PA school. It just needs a little teasing out through studying, which you have already done. Remember, thousands of physician assistants have come before you and passed this exam. You would not have graduated PA school, if you did not have what it takes to pass the exam. Trust me. In an effort to recruit future physician assistant students, PA schools care about their percentage of first time passing scores, so they would not allow you to graduate if they did not believe in you. Manage your test anxiety and get out there and rock your PANCE. I know you will. Yes, you.

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