An Exam Overview for the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE)

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from your accredited physician assistant program and you’re ready to tackle your PANCE. If you’re not sure where to start or what to study for the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam, read on for an overview of the PANCE exam and get prepared.

The Physician Assistant National Certification Exam

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants has created an exam of 300 questions that are split into 60-question blocks. That’s five blocks, in case you forgot your calculator. You’ll have 60 minutes to answer each block of 60 questions. Again, if you don’t have your calculator, you’ll have roughly a minute to answer each question. You can complete a tutorial for the PANCE exam; you’re allotted 15 minutes for this part. After each block, you’ll have a break for 15 minutes to collect yourself before the next set starts. While you’re in each block, you can answer the questions in any order you like, which includes reviewing and changing your response to any of the questions during the 60 minutes. Once the hour is up, however, you will not be able to return to those questions. If you have to take any unscheduled breaks, the time is recorded and subtracted from your total exam time.

So, what’s on the PANCE?

According to the NCCPA’s website, the material on the PANCE covers the assessments of diseases and disorders of organ systems, and the diseases and organ systems themselves. Additionally, the PANCE assesses your understanding of the knowledge and skills that are required of physician assistants to appropriately respond when presented with these assessments and disorders. Of all the body systems, the greatest weight is placed on the cardiovascular system (16% of content) and the least are the hematologic system and infectious diseases (3% each). Other body systems are represented as such: pulmonary (12%), musculoskeletal (10%), GI system and nutrition (10%), EENT (10%), reproductive system (8%), endocrine, (6%), GU system (6%), neuro (6%), psych/behavioral (6%), and dermatology (5%).

Each question on the exam will cover an assessment, disease, or disorder from one of the aforementioned systems and a “knowledge and skill area.” These might include the application of basic science (10%), health maintenance (10%), or the assessment and treatment of disease. The assessment and treatment of disease knowledge and skill areas span the entire diagnostic and treatment process: medical history interview and physical exam (16%), use of lab/diagnostic studies (14%), diagnostic process (18%), medical interventions (14%), and pharmaceutical interventions (18%).

For a more specific look at PANCE content, check out the PANCE Blueprint. There you’ll find the breakdown of each knowledge/skill area. This is an excellent tool to use while studying – you can check off each skill as you master it and become comfortable with the material. Is there anything more satisfying than checking things off a to-do list? Definitely not. Except maybe passing the PANCE with flying colors, obtaining your license to practice in your state, and finally beginning your career as a rock-star physician assistant! But in the meantime, it’ll have to do. Repetition is key in preparing for a licensure exam – you know the material, already – so utilize your resources and answer as many PANCE preparation questions as you can before the exam to get yourself in the right mindset. Good luck!