How I Study in PA school

This post is all about how I’ve revamped my study style for PA school. I’ll keep the intro short because I have to go…you guessed it…study…

How I study:

I usually type out my notes while in class because my professors have a tendency to talk really fast. After lecture, either that day or shortly after, I print out the PowerPoint slides (4 slides per page) and go through and write out my notes next to the PowerPoint slides, adding in the notes I took while in class. There’s even an option to print out the PowerPoint as an outline (you’ll see this on the print page), if you don’t like the slide view of things. The sooner I can do this after a lecture, the better! Then I’ll re-read my notes, reading them to myself out loud and create mnemonics to remember things a bit easier. If it’s a subject like pharmacology, I have an extra sheet of paper to write out the categories of drugs we need to know. Or if it’s something like physiology or principles of medicine, I’ll create another sheet with big overarching concepts. The day or two before the exam, I get together with classmates and talk everything out for a few hours. This dramatically, dramatically changed my exam results. I absolutely can’t wait until a few days before to start studying because the material is just so dense. My absolute biggest recommendation is study early, review notes as soon after lecture as you possibly can, and do a little bit every day.

Another huge tip is that if a certain study style isn’t working for even though it’s worked for you in the past, don’t be afraid to get rid of it! Try something new!! First semester I was so paralyzed by fear to change my study habits because that’s what worked for me in undergrad and I was really successful with it. But PA school is a WHOLE different ball game. Below are a few ways to change things up to hopefully get better results.

Some other things that have really worked for me / our class:

  • Don’t be afraid to switch up your studying technique per class. Some classes I write my notes out on a blank sheet of paper, and others I study right from the PowerPoint. While some other classes I print the PowerPoints and write directly underneath them. Try out different things to see what works best for you!
  • A lot of people in my class like copy and pasting the PowerPoints and the photos and putting it in one Word Doc. Then going through that and highlighting / taking notes alongside it.
  • Once you’ve gone through all the material, try making a one page study guide of broad topics
  • Other resources I like PAs: Pance Prep Pearls, Cecil’s, and Step-Up to Medicine
  • When practicing for OSCEs / for clinicals / SIM lab: First AID for the USMLE Step 2 CS
  • podcast. Gives you little case scenarios of symptoms / history and the best tests to order for the clinical presentation. Dare I say these are even kind of fun (?) to practice with a friend during “down” time.
  • You could think about an Osmosis membership. I ended up getting one and really like it. You can upload your PowerPoints into here and take notes along side them. You also gets full access to all the Osmosis teaching videos which are AMAZING!!!! By far my favorite resources for helping me understand a concept. They’ll also give you quiz questions based off the material in your PowerPoint. Pretty cool stuff and a good gift to ask for before starting school. 
  • Create a giant group quizlet for your class!! Quizlet lets you create flashcards and then you can review them anywhere! I love doing this on the bus on my to / from school or during any down time – waiting for a workout class, if I go on the treadmill and walk and do it – really great!!
  • Post your study guides on a giant drop box. Our class each chipped in around ~$2 for a year of a the advanced drop box membership. This is where we posted study guides and recordings of lectures.  Plus if there’s just way too much for you to get through you can decide to make one study guide and someone else can do another. It’s all about sharing with your class and helping each other through it!! 
  • Study with people as much as you can! When you look at material so often you naturally gravitate towards the things you know and skip over the others. I know this because I do this. Having someone else quiz you makes you aware of so much more material!
  • Print out PowerPoints in outline mode and just read them whenever you have a few free moments.
  • Brian Wallace Physician Assistant Exam Review podcast. This gives you a really good overview of topics you’re learning in class. While it’s meant for the purpose of studying for the PANCE and doesn’t go into as much depth as many of our lectures, it’s a good check in point before an exam and explains concepts of things that I didn’t understand. Really, really love this. 

Here are a few tips from you guys about studying in general!

  • making index cards, talking out loud with someone about the material and of course crying @rachevelynn
  • POWER NAP @a_odate
  • taking breaks definitely helps. I can never sit for hours studying. Also scheduling workout/ yoga classes later in the day and then studying all morning knowing you have that to look forward to is always a great motivator. And making your favorite tea to drink while you study to make it a little more pleasant @the.mindful.ginger
  • When I got restless I would review study guides on the treadmill while playing my favorite study playlist. It gave me a change of scenery while staying in the zone @healthbyhailey
  • When I’m in lecture I’ll type notes, then read them and make a written outline. I would work in study breaks (walks, yoga, Zumba, dinner with a friend) into my calendar so I would just have to work around it. Having a part time job that was fun also helped me get around people who had no idea what I was larning and helped me manage my time (after first year). And when shit got real bad and I was delirious from studying I’d start singing my outline to myself and read it out loud using different accents. when the crying started, it was time to stop @arisgrainfreelife
  • It wasn’t until my 5th year of pharmacy school that I learned the IMMENSE value of studying/reviewing every single day instead of waiting until the week or so before my exams to cram it all. Spending an hour or two right after each class rewriting neat notes or rewetting lectures and flipping through whatever material is include on the next test was so helpful for me and totally changed how I viewed studying and exams. I’d start with what I learned that day, and then work backwards spending some time one each page. Just flipping through notes and reminding myself of stuff I’d learned since the last test helped so much and left me much less dressed out when it got to be exam time. It’s like I already knew everything. I went form c’s to a’s from this one change. It can be tough to make it a habit but so worth it. Only took 5 years to figure out! Another thing I found helpful was mapping out 1 or two topics to study per day ~1 week before the test, leaving a day or two at the end for general review. Breaking it out this way kept things manageable leading up to the test so I didn’t feel I had to study every single thing at once. Sorry to ramble, but I know how difficult it can be in these programs to maintain certain test scores. It seemed everyone around me was naturally getting good grades while I struggled. It took me awhile to realize I just needed to do what worked for me, and that meant putting in a ton more hours and really managing my time which I wasn’t used to  @abster428
  • Taking handwritten notes for me completely changes everything because then when I’m reviewing (a quick review every day) my brain remembers when I wrote those words down and the information comes rushing back. Dr. Barbara Oakley teaches this open course about learning how to learn and she was always suggesting this and that repetition with breaks in between is CRUCIAL to solidifying information in your brain. @carleebusby
  • Breaks and fresh air! Switching from passive to active learning makes a big difference. I like to try to “teach” the material to a classmate and see how much I can cover without looking at my notes. It helps me find the knowledge gaps + have some human interaction. @rachelsarahfree
  • Slow and steady and an organized study plan. I start with an outline of all the topics (just headings) to get a feel of the amount of material, then I go over each part 2-3 times, making note cards as I got of what I need to memorize. I read all the articles 2x and watch YouTube vids to get the content in another way. Slow and steady band with minimal stress. @linda_marie_
  • Forcing yourself to read through PowerPoints / notes from class for ten minutes after class and then taking three minutes to just breath / meditate is a great way to 1. stay sane and remember to breathe and mini meditate 2. review as you go and give yourself time to let it soak in and 2. remember what the hell you just spent x amount of time trying to ask up in class and find where you have gaps and what’s going to be hardest to study. @tay_spiration
  • I like to schedule my time out. That way I know that every minute in my day is purposeful. Whether it is a break, a chance to eat, or time to crack down hard on the books, I know when and how long I’ll be doing it by creating my schedule. @_sweetpotatoash
  • Set a timer of an hour or 45 minutes to motivate you to study. Then when that time is up take a bathroom / stretch / snack break. Tricks you into pushing toward a reward but you don’t cheat yourself by giving yourself to many time consuming breaks. Ex. break up your yoga mesh into like 4-5 10 min sessions in between power hours. Works great for me because I feel reenergized, rewarded and productive @theakkitchen
  • I love writing everything down when I’m studying and shortening the work load by leaving out the things I know. Also writing makes me feel likeI retain info better. Also, do a bunch of PANCE type questions in different books for the sections you’re studying (I loved Lang books) and that helps your multiple question skills. @sweetpotato_sneakers
  • Phone do not disturb, packing everything the night before for an optimal peaceful morning and taking the time to step away from materials / assignments you’ve been starting at for too long. You’ll come back with a fresh perspective and might find some more energy! @thhproj
  • I’ve been trying to practice a 52 mins on (no phone, no checking email, no social media, etc) and then 8 mins off (when I can decompress and take a break, and look at all my notificaitons). It’s been really helpful for me to cross things off my to do list! Also, I try to get the thing I want to do the least out of stew ay first! @nicandes
  • make outlines! cheat sheets! Set phone alarms to STAND THE F UP every 10 minutes to get upside down and eat a snack. Reward yourself with something positive at the end of the week. Study and review as you go so you don’t cram it in. @balancwithb
  • I find that repeating everything orally really helps and making time to go on morning and evening walks. @lenapyx
  • Active recall really helps me. Making flash cards and the no though them. Do practice questions backwards, look at the answers you gave and try to come up with the question. It helps change the perspective! @kelseysclimb
  • I have found quilt incredibly quilt incredibly helpful! Review your notes right after class and the next morning. Take breaks to get out side and BREATHE. Do yoga at least three times a week even if it’s just a 5-10 minute flow. And most importantly, don’t stress! @ellenreece
  • Handwriting things or creating study guides based off notes I’ve taken in class always helped me focus. Also getting up every 30 minutes or so is helpful @skys_roots
  • Start your morning with exercise even if you think you dont’ have time. It really helps to get one thing accomplished and gets the endorphins flowing. Make a study schedule for yourself to stay organized. As you’re studying, keep a separate list of topics you need to review again rather than getting hung up on them right then. Use different highlighter colors to make things you know and things you should go back to. @emily.nagel
  • I literally take notes and then make a study guide and rewrite it over and over again in different colors for various topics. @thebalancedrose
  • While I was in nursing school, I would set my timer on my phone to study intensely for 45 minutes and then take 10 min breaks in between. I’d study for 3 hours per day and really felt like I was retaining more info by giving my brain a break instead of going for long periods of reading without breaks. And always treat yourself to something you love at the end of the day. @girlworthy_
  • Self-explanation. For my pathology courses, it was all about understanding the disease processes and less about memorizing. So…TALK OUT LOUD. Pretend someone just asked you what atelectasis is, why they have arteriosclerosis, why is it so hard to breathe with COPD. You will retain so much more this way, trust me. The memorization aspect comes passively, rather than with note cards, study guides, etc. Those are important, but if you can teach it back to yourself, you’re really getting it. @anneksimmons
  • Resign yourself to being imperfect. Though this seems cruel and unjust for a group of grad students who are likely type-a overachievers, this is unfortunately the reality of grad school — and detainee what you absolutely have to do to be satisfied with the effort expended while maintaining sanity each week. Don’t for get naps / self care no matter what they look like, even if it’s for 15 minutes. And hang in there. It never stops being hard but you do get better at managing it I think. @jelopa
  • Fueling my body with healthy foods helps me do my best when studying! I can’t get anything done when I’m hungry or don’t feel well. Also getting quality sleep and making time to exercise. School is temporary but your health and well being is not! @theresawoehnker
  • I like to take notes from one form (like google docs) and copy them on paper into a study guide. Something about taking it form one form to the other just really helps me. Also crate a playlist of music that pumps you up but you don’t know well enough to get distracted by and just it JUST for studying. @neilly_rose
  • Use first aid as a guide, it highlight important pearls and do as many practice questions as possible @kateathens

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