Studying in PA School

There is no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to studying in pa school. Here are a few practical tips to help get started 

Studying in pa school wasn’t something that came easy to me. Before this, to study meant to skim a PowerPoint the night before an exam. A habit that I took into my first pa school exam, clinical pathophysiology.

I survived it. But the multiple exams and quizzes scheduled the following week made it clear that this method was no longer going to work for me. I had to develop a study method and quick! Below are a few essentials I learned along the way.

There is no “finding” time to study; You must “create” time to study!

With an active 5yr old at home & adulting (i.e.:dishes, laundry, etc.), the idea of squeezing in study time was laughable. I had to create a designated time to study. 

During the week, that meant in the evenings from 9 pm-11 pm (Click here to see my daily grind

Weekends consisted of 4-6hrs of study with frequent breaks (I lose focus at about 30min) in the morning before my kid woke up or mid-day while she was at a play date, birthday party, or with family. 

During times when help was limited, studying consisted of multitasking. 

Side Note: A frequent suggestion was to listen to lectures or videos during my one-hour commute. I wasn’t doing that! My brain needed rest after 8hrs of lectures. Exam days & hell weeks were the only exceptions to that rule but only during the morning commute. 

Instead, I opted to listen to a few quick videos on youtube (attention span!) or phone a study group member as she read the PowerPoints aloud then quiz each other afterward. 

Normalize the use of different study techniques! 

I learned that there wasn’t one method of studying that worked consistently. It changed based on the subject (cardio) or course (physical diagnosis). What works for one class/subject might not work for another.

For example, Using visual aids to help remember details about medications vs. handwritten notes and case studies to understand the disease processes in Clin med & surge.

Know your learning style

In our first week of pa school, the faculty had us take a learning style quiz that you can take here. The basic premise of the quiz: There are three main cognitive learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. (4 based on the VARK model, 7+ if you’re getting deep into it). In a nutshell, we use our senses to process information; some use one sense more than the others. Knowing this information helps to use specific methods to retain what is learned in class.

I had never heard of this before, so when this quiz came around, I found it super beneficial. 

I’m a strong kinesthetic learner, which means I learn by doing. Frequent breaks, models, movement, and hands-on activities are my jam. If you don’t know your learning style, try the quiz and begin implementing the study tips and suggestions as an undergraduate student. I can attest that learning this early makes for less struggling in pa school 😩 In addition to the learning style quiz, what I learned from classmates who were well-seasoned note-takers and studiers helped me to succeed, which brings me to my next point, study groups.

Study groups

Study groups in pa school have A LOT of value. But it is NOT mandatory. Many students prefer to study alone, and they do exceptionally well. For me, it was a healthy balance of the two. Once I’ve had a chance to review the information on my own, getting with a study group to bounce questions off one another helped drive concepts home. Pharmacology was one of those subjects where group study was crucial for me, as it involves a lot of memorization. 

Pharmacology meme

If study groups aren’t your thing, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you find yourself struggling after experimenting with various study techniques, consider studying with a group of mature individuals who are doing well (you’ll know who they are!). It can make a huge difference.

You Should Know 

Flashcards may not be in your favor. It’s not uncommon to have three exams plus quizzes and written assignments due within the same week. By the time you’re done making one set of flashcards, it’ll be time for ANOTHER exam.  

Always remember 

Finding what works for you may have a bumpy start, and that’s expected. But eventually, you will find your groove—sending my best future colleague! 

Comment below to let me know if any of these suggestions were helpful. For more tips, subscribe to the monthly tea. 


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