How to Ace Your Didactic Year: PA School Ultimate Guide

February 23, 2024
Congratulations! You’ve made it into your didactic year of PA school! Now, what should you expect when you get there?
The didactic year of PA school is—in all honesty—something of a whirlwind. This is when you’ll learn the foundation of your medical knowledge, prepare for your clinical year and the PANCE, and ultimately give you the fundamental knowledge you’ll need to become a successful, practicing PA. 
In other words, your didactic year is kind of a big deal! So how do you set yourself up for success?

6 Tips to Ace Your Didactic Year of PA School 

1. Use a planner.

You’re going to take a lot of exams during your didactic year. There were weeks when I had four of them! It can definitely be overwhelming, so be prepared for that. 

First off, get yourself a planner. A lot of courses will have exams scheduled from the beginning of the semester, so you should have these dates in mind. 

Try not to view the program as studying for each exam, rather try to keep up throughout the semester with each course. For example, say you have a cardiology exam on Friday. That’s a large topic, and you may find yourself trying to focus only on cardiology that week.

However, it’s important not to neglect other courses, because you may have another exam the following week that’ll sneak up on you. While you could spend the week primarily focusing on cardiology, it would be important to dedicate a few hours to other topics to keep up with all of your courses.

Studying throughout the program like this also helps promote long-term learning, which is ultimately to your benefit. Remember, you won’t be tested on material one time, you’ll see it again on final exams, end of rotation exams, and, of course, on the PANCE examination.

2. Set up a realistic study schedule. 

Try to schedule out your studying blocks, and when you do, make sure they’re realistic! For example, I always recommend having “make up” block time at the end of the week, because it’s so common to fall behind in a typical study schedule. 

Also, you need to allot time for commuting and other commitments (such as exercising if you choose to). As much as you may feel compelled to continuously study, do not neglect your physical and mental health during your didactic year. 

While things like going on a walk or spending time with family may take away from your study time, when done in increments I’ve found those things ultimately make you less stressed and more productive. This leads to better quality study time overall. 

If you’re looking for a “smart” study planner that can schedule your course schedule and exam prep for you with the click of a button, we highly recommend Blueprint’s FREE PA Study Planner!

3. Be ready to “drink through a firehose.”

Your courses will cover a wide range of information, from clinical medicine focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses across all organ systems to lab sessions focusing on acquiring a history and physical, and everything in between. 

You’ll also need to learn anatomy, pathophysiology, and pharmacology, amongst other topics. This is the time that you learn how to be a provider, whereas the clinical year is when those lessons are put to the test. 

4. Take your laptop to class and use it to take notes. 

The key thing to realize is that PA school is nothing like your undergraduate years. This means you’ll likely need to adapt your study methods. The correct way to study will vary per student, but I can tell you a bit of what I did. 

First off, I highly recommend using a laptop to type your notes in class. Your professor will have a lot of information to get through in a short amount of time, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep up by handwriting your notes. 

I also recommend downloading the lecture slides ahead of time if you’re able to, and utilizing those to type the notes. That way you can type blurbs that relate to the slides, so all of your notes are making sense when it’s time to review them.

5. Silence all notifications during class.

Lectures can be long, but it’s important to refrain from distractions during them. This is especially true if you’re utilizing your laptop. 

Make sure you have your notifications silenced. You want to learn the information during the lecture, rather than needing to waste valuable time later teaching yourself the material. 

There will undoubtedly be portions of lectures that you need to review independently in order to make sense of the material, but remaining engaged throughout the course is a way to optimize your time and learning.

6. After the lecture, follow up with passive and active study methods. 

Following the lecture, I would always do some passive studying by first re-reading and organizing my notes. To make this a bit more of an active learning experience, I would try and highlight key concepts. 

From there, I relied on active studying to truly understand the material. This included Rosh Review practice questions, studying in a group setting where we could collaborate on material and concepts, and flashcards. 

Now, flashcards are not useful for all topics, but for certain things they were really helpful! Be careful, however, to optimize your study time, rather than spending all your time preparing to study. 

For example, it would be better to utilize websites like Quizlet to make flashcards and possibly collaborate with classmates to utilize shared decks, so you’re not making all of them yourself. All of you are in this together, and teamwork makes the dream work!

Further Reading

Of course, you need to find what works best for you. My biggest piece of advice is that if you’re struggling in the beginning of the program, adapt your study habits immediately. It’s not uncommon for students to have to develop a new method of learning for PA school, so don’t be disheartened if you find yourself in that position. 

Remember to utilize your resources and get help if you need it. I’m currently working as a PA tutor through Blueprint, and have had a lot of success working with students to get them back on track.

PA school is hard, no doubt, but you can do it! There’s a reason you made it into the program. Now go get ‘em!

Looking for more (free!) tips for PA school? Check out these other posts on the Rosh Review blog!

Rosh Review is the leading Qbank provider for PA programs across the United States. Whether you’re a pre-PA student or PA-C, Rosh Review has something for you along your PA journey. Start a free trial today!

By Olivia Graham, PA-C

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