Physician Assistant Student : Study Techniques That Work

Physician Assistant Student : Study Techniques That Work



Study Techniques that Work (and Those that Don’t)


As a physician assistant student, one of the hardest parts of P.A. school is finding a study technique that works well. I had a technique for the 1st two years of undergrad that worked for me, I rewrote slides in a way that each subject was on one sheet of paper. This was great for microbiology since I would write gram – organisms on blue paper and gram + organisms on red paper since I always mixed up which were + and which were -. That way all I had to do was think about the organism during the exam and remember what color paper it was written on. Also, each organism was on one piece of paper so I was able to shuffle them just like flashcards and pick one to quiz myself on. However, when I tried using this same method for clinical medicine it did not work out as well. There was just simply not enough time to rewrite everything in as much detail as I wanted to, even if I was to type it and split the work with someone else. Not to mention the fact that typing the powerpoints didn’t help me remember things as much as writing it out. Even though this method did not work for clinical medicine some of my classmates pointed me towards another technique that worked well for pharm: tables. In pharm it was always hard to remember which drugs were in which class and what each drug’s MOA was and their contraindications, etc., etc. But when everything was right next to each other in a table it seemed to make more sense. The tables would usually be set up something like this:




Drug Name MOA Side Effects Contraindications Special Notes


Binds to Y H/A, N/V/D, Dizziness

Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

B “ but no dizziness

Best used in pts > 60 yrs old


“ & do not use in pts w/ renal dysfxn

Renal testing needed

D “ & also binds to Z Immunosuppressed pts

DOC for pregnancy & breastfeeding


So I would have each class broken up into the separate drugs. Usually the MOA, side effects, and contraindications were similar so I would write them all out for the 1st drug on the list and put the “ symbol for the drugs below if it was the same as the 1st drug. If there was something a drug in that class had different than the first drug then I would put the difference in that square after the “ mark (as seen in drug D’s MOA, Drug C’s contraindications, and drug B’s side effects). If the drug was not at all similar to the first drug in a certain column then I would leave out the “ symbol and type out what was appropriate (as seen in drug D’s contraindications). I also included a special notes category to highlight certain thing about that specific drug. I found this method very helpful for pharm since I would be able to learn what the drug class was generally like but also learn what drugs were different than what was normal for that class. That way I only really had to memorize what the general MOA, side effects, etc. was for the class and the differences for the certain meds as compared to memorizing the MOA, side effects, etc. for each drug individually.

Another thing that really helped me while studying/taking notes during lectures was abbreviations. They are simple, quick, and allow you to think more about things while you are writing them out and reading them over again. I would become familiar with as many medical abbreviations as possible and use them as much as possible as I found them to be very helpful.


One of the major mistakes that I had made while studying at the start of the semester was asking someone, my sister, to quiz me who was not in the medical field and didn’t know anything about the notes. I thought at first that it wouldn’t be that hard for that person to make up questions off of the notes even if they didn’t know what they meant. But the real issue is that they didn’t know what type of questions to ask, what our test questions were usually like, or how they questions are usually phrased. For example, they might ask something like “For beta blockers, what is it when they bind to beta-adrenoceptors and therefore block the binding of norepinephrine and epinephrine to those receptors?” and expect the answer of “mechanism of action” instead of a correctly phrased question like “What is the MOA of beta blockers?” If you are going to have someone quiz you, you should have a classmate quiz you and go back and forth or ask a friend/family member who works in the medical field to quiz you. Or, you can randomly pick a slide in your packet, look at the slide title only, and see what you can remember from that slide.

Physician Assistant Student

Make sure you have a good study plan!

As for specific study methods/techniques you just need to use what works best for you with the additional factor of the time constraints. Everyone is different and learns/studies differently as well. You just have to know what works for you and is also efficient and then use it. The above are just some things that I found worked and didn’t work for me but that doesn’t mean that they will work/not work for you.


Look for my next blog on how to get and stay organized in your didactic year!

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John Bielinski, Jr., MS PAC is a practicing emergency medicine clinician, and has been lecturing nationally for more than ten years, teaching the tactics that have proven invaluable in his career as a medical professional.