The PANCE Just Got Harder to Pass. How Does This Affect You?

June 30, 2019

[Updated 1/15/2020] Since this post originally appeared on June 30, 2019, thousands of PANCE scores have been reported. As expected, the PANCE passing rate dropped to approximately 93% for first-time test takers.

YearPass Rate

Back in January 2019, the NCCPA released an updated Content Blueprint. There were significant changes in this update. One of the consequences of altering a blueprint is often a more challenging exam. Scores typically decline for a while but gradually improve once the blueprint changes are digested and the test-taking community gets a better grasp of what new material appeared on the exam. 

But wait, there’s more…

NCCPA Announces Expected Decreased PANCE Pass Rates:

The recommendation from the 2018 PANCE standard setting study was approved by the NCCPA Board of Directors and resulted in a passing standard with an anticipated slightly lower passing rate when compared to the last several years. This indicates that the group of PAs who participated in the study agreed that entry-level PAs should demonstrate a slightly increased level of content knowledge in order to achieve initial certification. This trend is fairly typical of the historical standard settings. Based on the analyses conducted to estimate performance on the PANCE, it is anticipated that the pass rate for the 2019 PANCE will be slightly lower than the past few years. Throughout NCCPA’s history, although an increased passing standard typically results in a slightly reduced passing rate, over time the passing rate steadily increases.

The NCCPA announced they are altering the scoring of the PANCE. How they are altering is still unclear, but history tells us they are increasing the passing cutoff score. For example, if I took the PANCE in January 2019 and scored a 350 (let’s say that roughly correlated to a percentage score of 70%), I’d pass. However, if I take the PANCE today and score a 350…I fail.

So did the PANCE get harder? 

Yes and no. 

According to the announcements from the NCCPA, there is no indication that question difficulty changed. It appears that the passing cutoff changed. 

So…if I barely passed the PANCE back in January, that same score today would be a failure. 

Let’s look at this another way:

PANCE scoring

If 9,000 people took the PANCE in 2018 and the pass rate was 95%, then 450 test takers failed. 

With an increase in score cutoff correlating to a pass rate of 88% (with more test takers since there are more programs), then 1,140 test takers fail. 

According to ARC-PA, there are 242 accredited PA programs. If 1,140 test takers fail, then, on average, almost 5 students per program are expected to fail the PANCE. 

How should you change your PANCE review?

The good news is, even with an increase in the failure rate, the vast majority (9 out of 10) of students who prepare for the PANCE will pass! 

The greatest impact of the new NCCPA pass rate will be on those test takers that are on the cusp.

The takeaway…

Stay calm. Don’t alter your study plan too much. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the PANCE, both mentally and physically. You may benefit from reading the PANCE study plan they don’t teach you in PA school and learning about techniques to increase your PANCE score by 100 points

Preparing for the PANCE begins on the first day of PA school. While the days are long, you’ll be done before you know it. And if you are focused every day and put in your best effort, when it is time to take your PANCE, you’ll have no problem passing. 

Adam Rosh

Here are more useful articles to get you prepared for passing the PANCE:

What Is the Best PANCE Review Qbank?
How to Apply for the PANCE
PANCE Prep Tips
The 6 Resources I Used to Crush the PANCE
My Study Plan for Crushing the PANCE
What Is the Likelihood of Passing Your PANCE?

By Adam Rosh


Get a little more clarification

Where can I find free PANCE practice questions?
You can access free PANCE practice questions with a free trial for the PANCE Qbank—no billing information required. The free trial includes practice questions that align with the PANCE blueprint and include comprehensive answer explanations and beautiful teaching images. After practicing with these questions, if you decide you're ready for thousands of additional questions to help you confidently prep for the PANCE, you can easily upgrade to a full Qbank subscription.
How should I study for the PANCE?
If you found a study routine that worked well during your rotation exams, stick with it! If you're still trying to find your optimal strategy, check out these resources:
How hard is the PANCE?
That’s a subjective question—everyone’s experience is different!

In January 2019, the NCCPA updated the Content Blueprint, which resulted in lower pass rates for first-time test takers. This doesn’t mean the test is harder (just different), so keep studying, and remember that you’ve been preparing since day 1 of PA school.

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