Along with practice questions, taking full-length PANCE and PANRE practice tests is an indispensable part of preparing for the PANCE and PANRE.
How many full-length mock exams should you take, though? And how often?
Let’s use a sports analogy to shed some light on these important questions.
What Sports Teams Can Teach Us About PANCE and PANRE Practice
Consider my favorite football team; the Seattle Seahawks. What if all they ever did was practice but never played any games?
They could spend weeks on end practicing the fundamentals, working on their conditioning, watching film, and scrimmaging against themselves, but they’d never know how much they were improving (if at all) if they never tested themselves against a live opponent.
That’s what games are for, to show us where we stand and enable us to apply what we’ve been practicing in a real-time environment.
On the flip side, imagine if they played three or four games every week! That seems like overkill, doesn’t it?
I mean, they’d never get significantly better just playing games because they’d never be able to work on the mistakes they were making in those games or work on new plays and strategies — not to mention the mental and physical fatigue they would experience.
So over-emphasizing games isn’t the right answer, either.
There’s a sweet spot for a football team, then, between practice and games. It’s a balancing act.
They need ample time to practice, but then they need to occasionally test themselves with games.
They play one game each week, and never more than that. They take one rest week during the season known as a "bye" week.
Thus, teams do get better from game experience, but most of their improvement comes from practice.
The Practice vs. Practice Test Spectrum
The same balancing act applies to your PANCE and PANRE prep.
If you think about it as a continuum, on one end of the spectrum would be people who never take a full-length PANCE practice test or delay taking their mock PANCE exam for weeks or even months, thinking they’re “not ready.”
I hear it often from students: “But I haven’t learned everything yet, and I don’t feel ready to take the mock exam” or "I don't need to take a full-length test, just doing practice questions is enough" or "I don't have time to take a full-length practice exam I'll just wait till exam day."
That’s an error in thinking. Even if you haven’t covered all of the NCCPA Content Blueprint or you are taking lots of topic-specific PANCE practice exams you still want to take periodic full-length mock PANCE and PANRE practice exams throughout your preparation so that you can get a benchmark of your progress and practice, identify strengths and weakness, and apply the concepts and strategies you have learned so far.
That’s really important. It’s not the kind of thing you want to leave until the end.
On the other end of the spectrum are students who only take exams believing that this alone provides sufficient practice.
They’re using the full-length mock exams as a source of practice problems, but they're neglecting the real practice that will prepare them for game day.
Practice is practice and tests are tests
Don’t make the mistake of blurring that line.
Thinking about that spectrum on the PANCE, then, there’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. You need to spend ample time learning concepts and working through practice questions before each full-length practice test.
But then a couple of times you should block out the required hours and test yourself with a full-length PANCE simulation exam.
Then review your results, figure out what types of questions you’re still getting wrong, and get back to practicing your weak areas.
After another week or two, take another full-length practice test and continue that pattern until you’ve shorn up your weaknesses.
In terms of how many mock PANCE or PANRE practice tests you should actually take, it will vary depending on how much time you have before your test date.
For most people, I recommend making the time to take a full-length (4 -5 hour ) mock exam at least two times.
Tips for Maximizing Your PANCE and PANRE Practice Exams
One quick note about that last point. It’s very important that when you do set aside the time to take a full-length PANCE practice test, that you re-create the testing environment as accurately as possible.
As I said earlier, practice tests are designed to help you gauge your current abilities and to get an accurate approximation of what your score might be on the real thing. As such, you want to take them as seriously as possible.
Toward that end, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your PANCE and PANRE practice tests:
- Take your PANCE practice tests on the same day of the week and at around the same time of day as you plan to take the real thing. If you’re going to take the real PANCE on a Saturday morning, then take your practice tests on Saturday mornings. That will help you get a feel for your fatigue level, how often you need to use the bathroom, your state of focus, etc.
- Complete all sections. There’s a temptation to "cheat" when you are taking your practice exam by skipping sections, rushing, or not completing the full exam block. But you won’t be skipping questions or sections on test day, so don’t skip them during your practice tests. You need to get a feel for what it’s like to have already done an hour’s worth of work before getting to the quant and verbal sections. Prepare for that extra mental stress and how it impacts your ability to concentrate during the rest of the exam. Don’t short-change yourself.
- Don’t pause the exam. You won’t be able to press pause on the real PANCE, so don’t pause your practice tests. If you get stuck on a question, use it as an opportunity to practice making an educated guess or marking it to come back to later. That’s how you hone your time management skills, a crucial part of scoring your best on test day.
- Honor the breaks. Hydrate and eat during the breaks. Use the bathroom within the allotted break time.
- Go to an external location, like a local library, to take your practice tests. Our own homes are usually too comfortable and too distracting to simulate a real test-day experience. A library, by contrast, has a little bit of ambient background noise like you’ll have at the test center, but it’s still quiet enough to focus and get in a good zone.
- Feel some butterflies! One of the hardest things about practice tests is recreating the nerves you may feel on test day. So how can you create a little bit of pressure around your practice experience? A risk/reward system is a good way to do that. Think about a risk and a reward you’ll honor depending on the outcome of the practice test. For example, “If I score at least a 70% on this practice test, I’m going to treat myself to a 30-minute massage. But if I don’t score at least a 70%, then I’m going to clean the kitchen and all of the bathrooms in my house this weekend.” Talk about pressure! Now for your first full-length practice test, I wouldn’t worry as much about the actual score. There are still likely some content areas or question types you haven’t even reviewed yet, after all. Instead, your risk/reward on those earlier tests could be around the number of questions you have to guess on, or how mentally engaged you feel like you were throughout the test, or how well you managed your frustration level, etc. That part is up to you, but get creative and have some fun with it.
- Decompress afterwards. Don’t immediately dive into more practice. It’s a mentally-draining exercise to take a full-length practice test, so take the rest of the day off. But then the next day, spend some time reviewing your results and going through all of the questions you got wrong. Use it as a learning opportunity. Use the website, to find answers to questions you were unsure of. Then dive back in to your studying!
The great American football coach Vince Lombardi is famous for saying that "practice doesn’t make perfect; rather, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect." So take that mindset not only into your daily study sessions, but also into your practice tests.
I hope you’ve found the football analogy helpful and that you now have a better grasp of how to balance your PANCE and PANRE study sessions and practice tests.
If you have any questions, post them below or reach out to me here.
Take Full-Length PANCE and PANRE Practice Exams
Members can take two full-length 300 and 400-question virtual PANCE and PANRE exams on my website at www.smartypance.com.
I also recommend taking one or two 120 question PANCE/PANRE practice exams on the NCCPA website for $50 each. They're not cheap, but do not miss the opportunity to take an exam written by the exam makers themselves.
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Carlo Coello says
I wrote my first comment on your website a little bit over 4 years ago, when I started my UG reqs for the PA program. Well, I graduated from the program this past September 2018. Thank you for the advice and tips you gave us. I took the PANCE a month after graduation, and I passed. I did fairly well on the exam. I just wanted to reiterate the importance of taking those mock tests. I took one mock, of about 200 questions from Rosh review, and another of 120 questions from the NCCPA. I must say that they both helped me tremendously. I also study many, many questions, but most importantly, the foundation knowledge gotten from my academic year was invaluable. So, for those planning to take the PANCE, don’t feel too nervous. The exam is a little bit intimidating, but it is possible to beat it. You need to study hard for at least a full month. Practice at least 1500-2000 questions, and take at least 2 mock tests. Some people can do well with half of those suggestions, but each person is different.
Good luck and keep charging hard.
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Thanks Carlo, it’s so great to hear that you made it and passed your exam with flying colors! Wonderful advice all around. I think Rosh is a great resources as well and I will add it to the list.