study

80 Study Tips for PA School

A while back on Instagram, I asked for your best study tips, and you guys delivered. I compiled them into a list so if you're feeling stuck, unmotivated, or just need a new study idea to get the juices flowing you'll be able to refer back and find some inspiration. These are great study tips no matter if you are in undergrad or PA school. If you have another study tip to add, comment below to share with others! You may find some Amazon affiliate links in these tips!

  1. Study in groups

  2. Draw out material and make diagrams to visualize it

  3. Rewrite notes on material you don’t understand

  4. White boards!

  5. Use colorful highlighters and pens

  6. Quizlet

  7. Study in the morning

  8. Study after a workout to help clear your head

  9. Study alone first

  10. Make up mnemonics for material retention

  11. Study in a library

  12. Start studying before the night before the test

  13. Make flashcards

  14. Choose a location with no distractions

  15. Talk concepts out

  16. Make visual study guides with colors and pictures

  17. Find videos on YouTube to explain things differently

  18. Highlight your notes for important buzzwords

  19. Take turns teaching the material to someone else

  20. When you feel distracted write down what is distracting your mind on a piece of paper and then come back to it later

  21. Write the material over and over

  22. Practice taking exams in a setting that is similar to your actual testing environment

  23. Take a break when you feel burnt out

  24. Share your resources with your study group and see what they use

  25. If you can’t get motivated, just start and then you’ll get momentum to keep going

  26. Change up your environment to freshen your mind and keep from getting stale

  27. Unplug from all distractions = phone off

  28. Tell your friends and family the periods of time when you’ll be busy studying

  29. Limit your time on social media to designated break times

  30. Use “Focus Keeper” app on your phone or laptop to track your study session and tell you when it’s time for a break

  31. Evaluate whether studying in groups is the best option for you

  32. Snacks!

  33. Find a quiet location

  34. Take breaks every 20 minutes or so

  35. Make a chart so you can compare similar topics

  36. Use different color post-its to keep track of what you understand and what you need to review more

  37. Block time in your planner for studying

  38. Make sure you get good sleep

  39. Eat healthy

  40. Teach the material - even if it’s to an empty room

  41. Use friends to keep you accountable

  42. Record lectures and listen to them again

  43. Review the material each night to keep up the workload

  44. Focus on the material that you don’t know instead of covering what you’re familiar with

  45. Go on a walk to exercise and think through the material

  46. Listen to classical music

  47. Make a summary sheet of the main topics

  48. Listen to podcasts

  49. Use the Pomodoro technique - set a timer and divide your work into intervals with small breaks in between

  50. Make a last minute review sheet for the morning of the test to have a quick review

  51. Study for a shorter amount of time, but more often

  52. Actually pay attention in class instead of having to try to learn it afterwards

  53. Keep snacks and drinks nearby

  54. Drink lots of water

  55. Drink a specific drink or chew a specific gum when studying and do the same thing before the exam to help you recall the material more effectively

  56. Coffee!

  57. Use Google Excel to keep track of important facts

  58. Go over practice questions to practice applying your knowledge

  59. Quiz each other

  60. Take a nap if you are feeling tired

  61. Make up your own questions as you study

  62. Study at a stand up desk

  63. Take mental health breaks

  64. Buy cute study supplies so you want to use them

  65. Remember why you’re studying. What’s the end goal?

  66. Get rid of the computer or internet if it’s distracting you too much

  67. Read about the topic before going to the class or lecture

  68. Figure out your study methods and stick to them

  69. If you’re bilingual, try to think about the material in another language and translate it so you are studying it twice

  70. Use flash card apps if you don’t want to use index cards

  71. Don’t give up!

  72. If all else fails, cram.

  73. Put candy on your notes so when you make it to the next section, you get a treat

  74. Have confidence in yourself and your study skills

  75. Go study outside to get some fresh air

  76. Use Google docs to collaborate with others to make a study guide

  77. Don’t study where you sleep

  78. Link a difficult concept with an interesting story or life event

  79. Use ear plugs

  80. Don’t forget that you got this!


Guest Post from Jamie: Clinical Medicine Study Tips

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Jamie's back guys! Today, she is sharing some of her Clinical Medicine Study Tips to help you succeed during didactic year of PA school.  You may remember her previous posts, but check them out if you haven't already! - The Unexpected Costs of Interviewing and Attending PA School, Letters of Recommendation: How Do You Ask? and How Do You Get a Good One? and What's in My Medical Bag? Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means Jamie will get a few cents from Amazon if you purchase one of her recommendations! 


For Clinical Medicine:

I always read the relevant chapter of Pathophysiology Made Ridiculously Easy before we start a unit. 

Then I take notes from the PowerPoints. I reformat my professor’s PowerPoint slides into a format that suits my study technique. For me, that means creating a new PowerPoint document organized the same way as the book. 

 I try to keep each disease or disorder to one page, but sometimes they spill over. I typically start with epidemiology and pathophysiology, followed by clinical presentation, relevant labs or imaging, treatment and then complications.

Some of my classmates make charts instead in Microsoft Word. They’ll do diseases down the first column and then the columns following will be:

  • “Etiology” (who gets the disease)
  • “Pathophysiology” (why the disease happens)
  • “Signs and Symptoms” (what brings them in)
  • “Diagnosis” (labs and imaging needed to confirm)
  • “Treatment”
  • “Complications”.

I spend about a week creating this document and then I print it. Everything typed is guaranteed to be from the lectures, which makes it easy to reference when I study. 

These are the books I use to supplement my notes as I go: 

  • PANCE Prep Pearls (the 2nd edition just came out and I love that sweet, sweet index). If you’re a PA student and you don’t own PPP, you’re doing something wrong. It’s like a super condensed version of everything you need to know. Great review before an exam, great way to highlight your own notes with the absolute most important stuff. 
     
  • Step-Up to Medicine (worth buying new to get the physical copy AND the eBook). I love this book, very well organized and just the right amount of depth. It’s technically a USMLE Step 2 Prep Book but it’s perfect clinical medicine! This book has more pathophysiology and epidemiology than PPP. 

Once my notes are printed, I go through with multiple pens and highlighters. I highlight the top of the slide based on its importance level on the NCCPA’s PANCE Blueprint. Then I handwrite in additional notes from the books I recommended above. They’re color-coded by source so I know where I got each piece from (everything typed is always from my professor’s notes, and then handwritten comes from Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment (the course text, in dark blue), Step Up (green), and PANCE Prep Pearls (pink). I usually don’t add any written notes from Patho Made Easy, but I do read it before a unit starts and again the night before an exam. This takes me about one full hardcore day of studying. Anywhere from 10-12 hours. I usually will take two or three days to do it, unless I’ve done a lot of procrastinating, and then I’ll sit down and do the entire thing in one day instead. 

I spend about a week creating the typed study guide, about a week adding notes, and then a week studying what I’ve created and taking practice exams. For practice exams, I like the following:

Lange Q&A Physician Assistant Examination. This technically goes with the course book, but there are a lot of mistakes in treatments and labs. It seems outdated for about 10% of the questions. For this reason, it’s usually the last test I take. It does have full explanations for each answer at the back of each section, though, and the added bonus that it’s a physical book. I like real paper. All of our exams are online, though, which brings me to my next recommendation: 

SmartyPANCE! I LOVE their practice tests. They are broken down by subject, so you can use them before an exam to see how you’re doing. It also has a review by subject with “pearls”. 

The other review site I recommend is HippoEd. Same thing, they have study materials and videos, and practice exams broken down by subject. I find them to be a little more challenging than SmartyPANCE and usually take these closer to the unit exam. 

Finally, a lot of people really like Rosh Review, but I consistently score 55-60% on every exam I make for myself, which is terrible for my self-esteem. I did not purchase after my free trial expired. Some of my classmates don’t mind the difficulty because of how amazing the answer breakdown is. I love that it tells you how you compared to other people taking the exams, so you can see, “Okay, well I got this wrong, but so did 72% of the other people” or “Well, I’m the only 1% that answered this question this way, so clearly I need work on this.” It’s helpful for sure, but like I said, proceed with caution in terms of confidence before an exam! 


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Hi all. Thanks for reading! I'm Jamie Murawski, a physician assistant student at the University of Detroit Mercy. I have a Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University. I'm a Michigan girl through and through. 

I'm growing my online presence in the PA community through Reddit, where I moderate /r/prephysicianassistant along with some other pretty cool PA students. I also have an Instagram where I pseudo-blog about my journey (@jamienicole_pa.s). Please feel free to follow me or message me with any questions, I'm happy to help!


Guest Post from Holly: How To Study and Succeed in Didactic Year of PA School

Holly has some awesome tips on how to survive didactic year of PA school.  If you thought getting into PA school was the hard part, you better get ready for the didactic portion.  This post is great for whether you are just getting ready to start school or already pushing through PA school. I agree with so many of these tips, and I experienced or learned a lot of this stuff myself in PA school. 


Congratulations! You’ve finally made it to didactic year of PA school (likely your ultimate dream, just as it was mine). It’s a HUGE accomplishment so be proud, but now it is also time to start working the hardest that you ever have academically (or at least learning in a fast-paced environment that I definitely had not experienced prior to PA school). Didactic year was definitely something I was absolutely terrified of when I first started the journey a year ago, but I am here to tell you that it is not impossible, and in fact, was one of the best years of my life! Being fresh out of didactic year, I’d like to provide some study tips I learned throughout my time as a PA student in the classroom. 

  • Don’t be afraid to completely change your study habits. Your previous study habits may or may not be as effective during your time as a PA student. This was something I was initially super resistant to (I always took hand written notes in all of my past college classes), but I quickly learned it was hugely beneficial to tailor my note taking to each individual class, and what I needed out of lectures in order to properly study and succeed in learning the material. Think about how you might best benefit during lecture for retaining the material long term. I used print out PowerPoint slides for Anatomy (they were all pictures, so I would bring a bunch of colored pens to color in what I was writing about and then write any additional notes about the structure we were discussing). In most of my classes, I realized it was most time efficient for me to type out notes on PowerPoints, and either study from them or create Word document study guides to print out. Pharmacology and Laboratory Medicine were 2 classes I struggled with, especially when only viewing the PowerPoints with my notes, so I made sure to create my own personal study guides for each of those, organize the material in a way that made sense to me, and would print out and write additional notes on my notes especially a few days prior to exams. Flash cards are also a great idea for subjects that require a lot of route memorization (Infectious Disease, for example). Figure out what works best for you, and constantly be willing to re-evaluate if that method is working well for you.
     
  • Work with others and study alone. This was another thing I was initially resistant to as a new PA student. In undergraduate classes, I never studied in groups because I assumed I wouldn’t be as productive. And it worked for me then, but I found it took way too much time to figure out everything on my own in PA school. I tested out quite a few study groups before I found the right group of people, but it was especially helpful to have a few classmates and friends to rapid-fire study. During finals, we usually had about 2 exams every day for 2 weeks straight, so even if we tried not to wait until the last minute, sometimes it was inevitable, and having others to quickly help me retain information and make me think about aspects I wouldn’t have on my own was extremely beneficial. Again, do what works for you, but definitely don’t be resistant to change if you have not tried a study technique in the past!
     
  • Use any mean of studying you can think of! Some examples include (but are certainly not limited to!) videos, audio, flashcards, study guides, charts, pictures, writing on chalk/white boards, sketching out images, and more. Really, use anything that will help you to retain the information and truly understand it on a fundamental level. Some of my favorite tools included Khan Academy, Online Med Ed, PANCE Prep Pearls (I highly recommend this book, even for didactic year! It is meant as a review for Boards, but I found it quite helpful for exam reviews and also for freshening up prior to OSCE’s and the PACKRAT exam), Physician Assistant Boards (I found both the Pharmacology and Boards Review audio files particularly helpful for my commutes, especially for solidifying information prior to exams), and the Physician Assistant Exam Review podcast. Many of my classmates shared groups on Quizlet so that we were able to use each other’s Quizlet online flashcards. Our class even had a shared DropBox where we would upload any helpful information or study guides we completed for the rest of the class to utilize. I found it super helpful to hear information over and over through multiple sources, and it has certainly helped me to retain a lot even after exams were finished. 
     
  • Connect the dots. I cannot emphasize this enough, but making connections between classes is super important. This helped me to not only better understand material in all of my classes (everything eventually starts to overlap!), land a pretty awesome PACKRAT score (the PA student exam that predicts how well you might do on the PANCE, or certifying PA exam), and helped me to feel much less stressed when it came to OSCE’s where we had to put all of the information together in order to diagnose and treat a hypothetical patient. It certainly shows if you are learning the material for life and not just for exams, especially at the end of didactic year when your professors will expect much more out of you. Don’t let yourself fall into a place of complacency – after all, as one of my favorite professors stated, “you are learning this for life and to keep your future patients alive”. It’s a pretty serious task, and I always want to make sure I am doing my best for my future patients. 
     
  • If you are losing speed and struggling to continue studying, change gears! This happened multiple times to me. Didactic year was a lot of studying. If I found myself losing focus or feeling burnt out, I would make sure to have some fun or reward myself to keep up my motivation. My friends and I often made trips in between classes or during day-long study sessions for coffee, cupcakes, chocolate, ice cream, you name it! Of course, it wasn’t the healthiest choice, but it kept us going and motivated to move on to more material. Another tip I can provide you with is to exercise! I didn’t do much exercising during my first 2 semesters, but at the beginning of my third semester, my friends and I decided it would be a great idea to attend work out classes twice a week through our school’s gym. It was actually a brilliant idea because we held each other accountable to attend every class, and we got in a great work out and felt mentally and physically refreshed afterward to continue studying if needed.
     
  • Know when you need help. This is probably the most important piece of advice, in my opinion. You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are at, and you don’t want anything to get in your way of continuing through the program and becoming a future PA. Know your limitations and shortcomings, and realize when you need to ask a professor, advisor, classmate, friends, and/or family members for help. Didactic year is super challenging, mostly because of the amount of information they throw at you all at once, and because of the time constraints you might find yourself in because of your dedication to studying and passing your classes. Unfortunately, 2 of my classmates were disqualified from continuing the program due to poor academic performance, and from what I observed, both were too late in asking for help. If you see a classmate struggling, make sure you reach out if possible. Had I known these students were struggling, I definitely would have, but by the time they let me and other classmates of mine know that they needed help, it was too late to bring their grades up enough to pass. I personally struggled with Pharmacology and with my first Psychiatry exam. It was actually a double whammy because I failed both exams in the same week, and immediately went to both professors (one while I was in complete tears). Take your professors’ advice – they are there to help you and it certainly will only benefit you if you can obtain tips for how to succeed in their specific classes. I also let my friends know that these were 2 subjects I struggled with, and asked them for advice especially if they did well in the classes. I studied with classmates that were able to help me in these classes, while I was able to help them in other subjects, and it worked out really well. I also made sure to change up my study techniques to ways that helped me retain the information in a more efficient way, and was able to pass both classes with pretty decent grades! 
     
  • Know that you might not be perfect, and that is perfectly okay! I watched a few of my classmates strive for perfection, and sometimes it worked but other times it simply stressed them out more than they needed to be. I learned that even though I may not be the smartest person in the class, and certainly did not receive straight A’s by any means, I could still succeed in PA school and make sure I was learning everything I needed to along the way. My hard work paid off and was evident with my PACKRAT score, and if you keep motivated and work hard, I am positive you will succeed! 

Holly is a second-year PA student at Marywood University. Prior to attending PA school, Holly graduated from Temple University Honors Program in 2014 with a degree in Neuroscience and minor in Psychology. She then worked for two years as a mental health worker, direct service professional in an autism center, and as an emergency department scribe. You can find Holly on Instagram at @xohollyd and on her blog XOhollyd for more PA tips!