If I knew the only thing standing between me and my dream of becoming a Physician Assistant was an incredibly tough, multi-faceted exam with dubious answers, I’d be scared too. 

Passing the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) is a commendable milestone for any PA student. Every step on their path to success is daunting (trust me, I know), but with the right strategies, and insights from your predecessors, your chances of success will soar. 


So in this article, you’ll find a bunch of tips based on real-life experiences of those who either passed on their first try, or failed and passed on their second. 

Tips And Strategies For Passing The PANCE Exam 

1. Choose the Right Study Resources

There are tons of resources at your disposal when studying for the PANCE exam, but too many cooks spoil the broth. You need to streamline your study material to just a few trusted sources.

And here’s a few you can try: 

  • UWorld: This is a must have for its extensive bank of questions, and various modes that can help you interact with the material. I’d advise you to use tutor mode initially, then switch to test mode near your exam date. 
  • CME PANCE Book and The Final Step PDF: Its structured format and content review will help you build a solid foundation on body systems, especially when paired with UWorld. Both will help create a comprehensive and focused study plan. 
  • Podcasts: If you’re just like me, and love to learn on the go, then you’ll love “Cram the PANCE,” “Physician Assistant Exam Review,” and “Spoonful of Sugar”.
  • PANCE Prep Pearls (PPP): Clear, concise explanations of complex topics. 

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2. Effective Use of Question Banks

You probably already know this, but answering as many questions as you can is crucial for PANCE preparation. Here’s a few steps to guide you:

  • Practice Daily: 10-20 questions daily from UWorld during your clinical year will have you off to a great start. 
  • Always Review Explanations: Whether you get a question right or wrong, always read the detailed explanations. It’ll help you understand concepts deeply.
  • Focus on Weak Areas: Identify and focus on your weak areas by using subject-specific questions.
  • Simulate Exam Conditions: You may want to ditch tutor mode for test mode on UWorld when your exam date is around the corner. It’ll help you build stamina and become accustomed to the exam environment

3. Structured Study Plan

A well-structured study plan can make a significant difference, especially when there’s only 3 months between exams if you fail on your first try. 

Some people study specific blueprint topics from PPP, followed by UWorld practice questions. I prefer taking 100-200 question practice tests at the end of each week to consolidate that week’s learning.

In the last week before the exam, focus on stamina-building by taking longer practice tests. But you must not overdo it to avoid burnout. 

4. Exam Day Strategy

Your performance on the day of the exam is crucial because some people have walked into the exam with the knowledge, but still failed due to other personal reasons. 

  • You can choose what time of day to write your exam. If possible, schedule for morning when you are likely to be most alert.
  • You have 45 minutes of break time divided into three windows. Use these breaks to refresh and refocus.
  • Anxiety is the devil’s tool. Try to stay calm and confident in your preparation. 

5. Learn from Mistakes

If this is not your first go at the PANCE, use your first attempt as a learning opportunity. What went wrong in your preparation? How did you mess up on exam day?

Ask yourself these questions to pinpoint why you didn’t pass the first time and then structure your new strategy to combat your previous shortcomings.

6. Understand PANCE Grading and Question Style

Another thing to note is the PANCE can be tricky. Not necessarily for the content of the questions, but the nature of the answers. 

The examiners designed the answers to be ambiguous so even if you recognize the diagnosis quickly, you’d have a hard time picking the right answer.

Using UWorld, and practicing elimination techniques and critical thinking before hand should help you pick the best options. 

7. Maintain Consistency and Discipline

Consistency is key to passing the PANCE:

  • Make studying a daily habit. Even if it’s just 20 questions a day, staying in the groove keeps the material fresh.
  • Avoid last minute cramming. It’s not as effective as gradual, consistent study. 
  • Ensure you’re well-rested and take care of your mental health. Anxiety can impact your performance more than you realize.

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For your PANCE exam preparation, all you really need are the right resources, disciplined study habits, and effective test-taking strategies to pass on your first try.

By focusing on high-yield materials, practicing consistently, and learning how to manage exam stress, you can increase your chances of success. 

Remember, this test is designed for you to pass.