Do-it-yourself guide to online PANCE prep

The last step standing between a graduate of an accredited physician assistant's program and his or her real-world career is the intimidating five-hour, 300-question, computer-based, multiple-choice exam known as the PANCE. Those who pass the exam become nationally certified and are enabled to take their first steps toward becoming a physician assistant. But to pass the medical and surgical questions on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, you have to be at the top of your game with a mastery of the material.


Those who want to avoid paying that $475 registration fee more than once or simply want to start work as soon as possible will want to study for the PANCE effectively from the start.

How to prepare for the PANCE

The California Academy of Physician Assistants recommends developing a study plan that starts at least two months in advance of your testing date. You should commit to studying from two to six hours each day and allow one to two days off each week for a 'brain break' and a chance to recharge. Other tips include the following:

  1. Prep with a PANCE study guide: These books can remind you of the key concepts you will need to know to pass the exam, help you with tricky questions and give you a good idea of what to expect. Additionally, these books offer test-taking strategies to help you keep your cool on the big day. The "Appleton & Lange Outline Review for the Physician Assistant Examination" is a popular choice.
  2. Study in a group: Small study groups can be an excellent way to learn from others. Just be sure that your studying isn't derailed by small talk and that socializing waits until the study period is over.
  3. Use flash cards: Though most of your study should be done in blocks of dedicated time, don't forget that you can study during downtime. Use flash cards to help you remember key concepts. The PANCE study cards are available for purchase online.

These tips can benefit you in prepping for the PANCE, but it may ease your mind to know you don't have to pass the very first time. PANCE guidelines include a 'six years, six attempts' rule, but if you max out on your attempts, you can end up spending $2,500-plus on registration fees and not be able to advance into a physician assistant career.

How to prep for PANCE online

You can find several online options to enhance your preparation. These options can be inexpensive alternatives to other at-school test-preparation programs, and allow you to work at your own pace. Some online PANCE prep programs are available through:

  1. Kaplan: This test prep program offers both free and paid options, although the paid material is more extensive in nature and includes live online instruction. The paid model features a 10-day program starting on a specified date and cost $550 as of August 2011.
  2. NCCPA: Take advantage of these practice exams offered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Each $35 exam includes 120 questions that are taken either from the PANCE exam or the PANCE question bank.
  3. Test Prep Review: Here you can find free practice exams to help with self-assessment in 20 different modules that include biochemistry, diabetes, nutrition, pathology and more. Each module includes 20 questions and an answer key.
  4. The University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey: The UMDNJ online PANCE review offers you assessment and study in five different modules. The review modules are $75 each with the entire course available for $275.

These are just a few ways to enhance your online PANCE prep. However, new methods of study are constantly available and a rigorous search online for review materials can help you locate recent offerings. For example, Exam Master now offers a $19.99 PANCE download for the iPad and iPhone.

When it is time to take the test

Preparation for the PANCE should include practicing for the test as much as possible. Do your trial-runs within the allotted time periods so that you'll be familiar with the pace of questions on the real test.

On test day, you'll take the PANCE in four blocks of 90 questions each. Each block has a 90-minute time limit and you'll have the opportunity for breaks in between. Your test will be scheduled at a Pearson VUE testing center, with locations around the country as well as select locations around the world. You will want to visit the testing website in advance of your test, set up an account and download a tutorial so you are familiar with the test-taking process when you go into the actual center.

Student who do not pass the PANCE on the first time need to wait 90 days before testing again. However, by committing to a PANCE prep plan from the start and studying on a daily basis, you are taking the steps toward being well prepared and making a quick start on your career.