UPDATED 2021

The PANCE Test Guide

The PANCE Test Summary
What: PANCE is an exam that provides national certification for physicians assistants.
Who: Candidates wish to work as physician assistants and will have completed an accredited physician assistant program.
Where: The exam is administered at Sylvan Prometric testing centers, which are located throughout the United States.
When: Testing is conducted year-round, with the exception of December 20-31. After registering, a candidate has 180 days to schedule and take the exam. A candidate may take the exam no sooner than seven days after graduating from an accredited PA program.
How: Questions are multiple choice.
Type: The exam is given via computer.
Why: Successful passage of the PANCE provides the certification required by every state for employment as a physician assistant.
Time: PANCE is a six-hour exam.
Language: English
Preparation: A self-test may be helpful.
Cost: Registration for the exam costs $425.

By Adam Reger, Tests.com Contributing Writer

The Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) is a national certifying exam that provides physician assistants with the Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) credential. Every state requires that an individual pass PANCE to be licensed as a physician assistant. The exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

A certified physician assistant is obligated to complete a continuous six-year cycle in order to maintain his or her certification: every two years, the physician assistant must log 100 continuing medical education (CME) hours, and after six years, he or she must take and pass either the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) or the Pathway II exam.

The Exam

PANCE is a multiple-choice exam, made up of 360 questions. The exam lasts six hours and is divided into six 60-minute blocks of 60 questions each. Questions test for basic medical and surgical knowledge.

The percentage of correct answers needed to pass the exam varies according to the NCCPA’s mathematical scoring formula, but is thought to be in the range of 55-60%. There is no penalty for an incorrect answer. A number of the questions include images, including EKGs, X-rays, digital images, and photographs. Candidates may answer the questions in any order, and if time remains during one block of questions, they may go back to review their answers.

The exam is administered by computer in Sylvan Prometric testing centers. Results will be posted in candidates’ online personal certification records when they are available, usually two weeks after the test. Candidates will receive an e-mail message notifying them that their scores are available. Guidelines for interpreting exam performance will be included with the score report.

The NCCPA advises candidates to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to their testing time. Arriving late may result in the candidate not being permitted to take the exam, forfeiting the registration fee, and having to re-apply to take the exam. Candidates must bring two forms of current identification, one of which must include a photograph. There are 45 total minutes of scheduled break time allotted. There is a scheduled break after each block of questions. Unscheduled breaks—for example, a bathroom break—are permitted but this time is deducted from the 60-minute period allowed to complete that block of questions. Scheduled break time will be monitored by an on-screen clock. If the candidate takes more than the allotted break time, the next 60-minute testing block will begin. No personal belongings are permitted in the testing area, but lockers will be provided for the storage of any items. During a scheduled break, candidates may access the personal belongings in the lockers, but during an unscheduled break, they may not.

PANCE Eligibility

Test takers must have graduated from a program accredited by either the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, a Surgeon Assistant Program, or one of the certifying commissions that preceded these organizations. (These include the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs; the American Medical Association Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation; or the American Medical Association Council on Medical Education.)

Note that even if an individual has earned a medical degree in another country, he or she must also have graduated from an accredited physician assistant school. After graduating from an accredited program, an individual will have either six years or six attempts to take and pass PANCE. After six years, or a sixth failed attempt, the candidate must re-enter and complete an accredited PA program.

Exam Registration

Individuals can register for the exam online by creating a personal certification record on the NCCPA website. Within three to five business days of registering, candidates will receive an acknowledgment letter with specific instructions for scheduling an exam. Candidates choose a three-month eligibility window to take the test and then schedule the examination at the Sylvan Prometric testing center of their choice. The exam is administered year-round, with the exception of December 20-31. The registration fee for the examination is $425.

Candidates may register for the exam as early as 90 days before the expected completion of their PA programs. (In this case, a candidate may need to obtain a letter of eligibility to confirm from a program administrator confirming that he or she will have completed the accredited program by the date of the exam.) However, the earliest date an individual may take the exam is seven days after completion of their program. Individuals may only take PANCE once in a 90-day period and no more than three times in a calendar year.

Are you ready to start preparing for the PANCE? Check out our PANCE Test Directory to find great study materials.