What Is A PANCE And Why Is It Important For A PA?

On your quest to become a Physician’s Assistance, you’re going to have to take a test called PANCE, or Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. This 300 question exam has been developed and administered by the National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants and it focus on two important areas of knowledge:

  • playOrgans and Systems in the Human Body & Common Medical Ailments
  • playResponses and Actions

What Is PANCE?

PANCE was produced by a group of knowledgeable physicians and physicians assistants. These contributors were chosen because of their experience with technical writing, their experience in the field, and demographics. Every contributor created a select number of questions which then went through review before chosen.

PANCE close-up.

A few of the questions that were reviewed were noted as worthy for “pre-testing,” which is when the student (you) will not be scored on those questions, but you’re not going to know which questions are not going to be graded.

The purpose of this is to let the NCCPA (National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants) know which questions should be included or excluded in any future PANCE exams.

The test is graded by giving every correct answer 1 point. Wrong answers are not given any points. The raw score is tallied up using the Rasch analysis where the total score is used to summarize the student’s capabilities.

This “proficiency measure” is then converted into scaled scores that are compared with the scores of other students who’ve previously taken the exam.

According to the NCCPA, the PANCE is broken down into 7 categories:

  • playHistory Taking & Performing Physical Examinations – 16%
  • playUsing Laboratory & Diagnostic Studies – 14%
  • playFormulating Most Likely Diagnosis – 18%
  • playHealth Maintenance – 10%
  • playClinical Intervention – 14%
  • playPharmaceutical Therapeutics – 18%
  • playApplying Basic Science Concepts – 10%

These categories can be broken down even further:

  • arrow-rightCardiovascular: 16%
  • arrow-rightPulmonary: 12%
  • arrow-rightGastrointestinal/Nutritional: 10%
  • arrow-rightMusculoskeletal: 10%
  • arrow-rightEars/Eyes/Nose/Throat: 9%
  • arrow-rightReproductive: 8%
  • arrow-rightEndocrine: 6%
  • arrow-rightGenitourinary: 6%
  • arrow-rightNeurologic System: 6%
  • arrow-rightPsychiatry: 6%
  • arrow-rightDermatology: 5%
  • arrow-rightHematologic: 3%
  • arrow-rightInfectious Diseases: 3%

Eligibility Requirements

In order to be able to take the PANCE, you have to graduate from a program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and is recognized as a PA Program.

If you have earned a medical degree in another country, you will still have to graduate from an accredited PA program in the United States to be eligible to take PANCE.

You are able to take the PANCE 6 times once you’ve completed the requirements to graduation. OR you have 6 years after completing the program to pass the exam, whichever comes first. If you are unable to pass the exam within the allotted time, you lose the eligibility to take PANCE.

Students taking exams.

You can earn the ability to take it if you complete an unabridged ARC-PA accredited PA program again.

Please keep in mind that you can take the PANCE once in a 90-day period or three times per calendar year.

Registering For PANCE

To be able to take PANCE, you will need to submit an application and include a payment of $500. Once you’ve done this, you have 180 days to schedule your exam based on a testing center’s availability. You will have 5 hours to complete five blocks of 60 questions (making it a total of 300 questions).

There will be a total of 45 minutes for breaks in between said blocks, but you are ultimately responsible for managing your breaks. There is a PANCE tutorial that must be completed within 15 minutes.

It is recommended that you review the policies and procedures before you actually register.

How To Pass PANCE

Your career as a PA is reliant on passing PANCE. While it is an intimidating exam that’s comprised of 300 multiple choice questions, it’s important that you prepare yourself for your exam.

The way you study is entirely up to you, but you should definitely take as many sample tests as you can. Keep in mind, though, that there is no way to learn everything about medications, diagnosis’, and ailment. The best you can do is focus on the areas you are weakest, first.

We recommend that you do start studying the top five categories first, as they are going to make up the majority of the exam. Also, instead of trying to memorize the information, you should understand the concepts being discussed in the material. This will help you understand the why and how, rather than reciting something from memory.

If your curious about your chances of passing PANCE, you’ll be happy to know that the passing rate is pretty high. In 2016, of the 8,631 exams taken, 93% of students passed. 8,082 of those exam takers were first time takers and 96% of them passed. With proper preparation, you too can be part of those passing this exam.


Deciding that you want to become a physician’s assistant is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It requires a lot of work, studying, and preparation. It’s crucial that the PA program you are enrolled in, or are thinking about enrolling into, is accredited by ARC-PA, otherwise you will not be eligible to take the exam.

Physician’s Assistant.

Also, keep in mind that even though you may have earned a medical degree in another country, you will still have to take an accredited PA program in the United States in order to register for the exam.

However, when you do go through the process, studied your materials and taken as many practice questions as you can, you have a very good chance of becoming one of those who have passed PANCE.






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