I decided to update the post now that I have officially finished PA school and all seven EOR exams. I ended up doing fairly well on all of my exams (above average) and I thought I would share the ways I studied. However, there are definitely things I would have done different. Hindsight is always 20/20 and there were ways those exams could have gone smoother for me. So I’m going to share how I studied, and what I would have done differently.
I think a big thing to realize with PA school, or Medical School, or Nursing School, is that the ways that you studied in undergrad will probably not be as successful for you in graduate school. In Didactic year, I had to constantly reassess how I was studying and make changes to ensure that I continued to succeed. This didn’t changed for me in Clinical Year. I’ve previously talked about how my study habits have changed in this POST
First step is to head over the PAEA website and check out the EOR exam topic list. This is a list of different diseases covered in the EOR exam, but keep in mind that this list is not all encompassing, and there could be other diseases tested on. This is just something to get you started. Looking back, while studying from this list was great, I wish that I hadn’t taken this as the holy grail of topics and broadened what I studied – I can think of lots of questions that were asked that weren’t on this list. I used this topic list to create my EOR chart that I did most of my studying from.
While you’re there, also check out the blueprint chart. This gives you a breakdown of the sections and what percent of the exam they make up – for instance, Cardiology makes up 15% of the Family Medicine EOR exam. I wish that I would have spent more time looking at this breakdown, because it would have guided me more on what I should study. For example, I would have focused more Clinical Therapies for Cardiology because there were 5 questions on the exam about this! And there were only 2 questions on diagnostic studies, which was something I studied more. Look at the big topics and try to focus more on study those. Cardiology is a huge portion of the exam, while Hematology only makes up a small portion. Because of this, you should spend more time studying Cardiology than Hematology.
Next I took a practice exam to get a baseline idea of where I was at and what I needed to focus more on. I recommend taking this practice exam at the beginning of your rotation. It’s going to give you the best idea of where you stand going into your rotation. There are a couple of great sites out there for making questions, like RoshReview, PAEasy and ExamMaster. Check with your school to see if you have free access to any of these kinds of test banks, because they can be pretty pricey. I’ve found that PAEasy tends to be a little easier, so I spent more time using ExamMaster as my go-to question bank. Then, towards the end of the year I discovered Rosh Review and that ended up being my favorite test bank.
You can edit what kind of topics you want to cover in the practice exam, and you can also edit the style – whether you want instant knowledge of if you answered correctly (frequently called tutoring mode) or if you want to take it in exam-like conditions. Personally, I think it’s best to take your first exam in testing mode. The tutoring mode can give you the answers for questions that come afterwards, so it can skew your results.
After you take the practice exams, look at the topics you got wrong and see if there are any patterns. For instance, at the beginning of my studying for the Family Medicine EOR I got over 90% of the dermatology based questions right, but struggled with the Pulmonary based questions. Looking for the patterns helped me figured out what I needed to focus on so that I would really be prepared for the exam.
After you get ideas on what you need to study, I would devise a study plan. I didn’t do this for my first rotation, and that was the EOR exam I struggled the most with. For the next six rotations I prepared a study plan from day one, and it helped me to feel a lot more productive and comfortable. What I did was break down the things that I wanted to accomplish for the week into things that I wanted to accomplish in a single day. I tried to give myself a max of 3-5 items I wanted to accomplish, and I tended to write this out into a checklist format. I stay away from breaking it down further into hours because I never actually follow the guidelines for the timing, and then it ends up stressing me out more. But I felt like having small goals to accomplish every day helped me towards my end studying goals and what I wanted to have covered before the exam. Learn what works best for you and stick to that. I also tried to study one big topic and one small topic every day, so that I didn’t end up feeling overwhelmed with studying.
Actually follow the study plan. I know how hard this can be, trust me. I used to make these grand study plans and I would end up not following them at all and then scrambling to cram. After a while, I realized that I needed to make my study plans more general and simplistic. That’s why I recommend only giving yourself 3-5 tasks to accomplish and breaking it up so your days are more even.
I also made sure to schedule days off for myself. I made every Monday a “me Monday”. I knew that I was often going to be studying a lot more over the weekends, and that I needed Monday to help me get back into the groove of seeing patients and the work week. I also used it as my day that I did errands and meal prepped.
And don’t forget to schedule catch-up days. Sometimes despite your best intentions you can get behind on studying. Having a catch-up day allows you to make up for lost time. If you are on schedule, you can use them as review days for topics you still don’t feel confident about!
Figure out what kind of study methods you want to use and create them! I strongly recommend taking a test to find out what kind of learner you are if you haven’t already. I’m a read/write learner, so reading or creating my own notes tend to work better for me than watching a video or listening to a podcast. Use this knowledge to create whatever study methods you are going to use. There are a ton of amazing resources out there for studying, which I list in each of the core EOR study materials posts.
I personally like to use charts. I find the act of reading the information in a reference book, and then synthesizing it into my own words helps me to retain the information the best. This might not be the best study method for you, so you need to figure out what works best and stick to it (even if other people tell you its “weird”). My rotations were 6-weeks long, so I spent the first 4 weeks creating my study charts. I then spent the last 2 to 1.5 weeks reviewing and studying off of those charts!
I get asked about my charts on a regular basis, so I’m now going to discuss what I put into my charts that I use to study for EOR exams. Unfortunately I do not sell or give out my EOR charts. These charts are not foolproof or professionally editing, they are just one person’s tools for studying. I would have for you to get a bad grade because of me or the information I put out.
HERE is a link to a PA-C who does give out her study guides. I’ve looked them over and really like them! I didn’t use them for my EOR exams, but I did use her PANCE study guides
- Disease and definition. This is my smallest and least informative column, but I find it really helpful to have the definition of the disease in italics below the name. Seeing the two together helps cement it in my mind.
- Clinical Presentation. I put signs and symptoms here. I try to make it as short and sweet as possible (otherwise my charts are SO long). What am I going to see that is going to make me think of this disease? The things that are really important (like honey-crusted lesions for impetigo), I bold. These are the things that should stand out and immediately make you think of a certain disease when you see them!
- Etiology / Epidemiology / Pathophysiology. This tends to be one of my more full columns for a disease, and originally I had separated out the pathophysiology portion. But the more I studied, the more I realized how related knowing HOW a disease happened was to WHO it happened to and WHAT caused it. So this of this as the WHAT / WHO / HOW of the disease. Same as with clinical presentation, if something is really important, I’ll put in it bold letters.
- Diagnostic Studies. Is this disease a clinical diagnosis, or are you using having to do a procedure to determine what on your differential diagnoses this person has? This column is everything from important physical exam findings to lab results to imaging. Go with the most important ones here, because for some diseases there are going to be a bunch of tests that you can do, but only one will be the gold standard (like for a pulmonary embolism, you could do a helical CT scan, and that is a common study, but the gold standard is really a pulmonary angiogram). Chances are on the exam they’re going to ask you one of two things. They’ll ask you what is the best diagnostic test for this patient OR what the first test is. So, while I try to list out only the most important diagnostic studies, I tend to have 2 or 3 options listed here – first test done, gold standard, and an alternative test. I always bold the gold standard diagnostic study.
- Treatment. I tend to do first line and second line treatments for every disease. Because on the exam, they may tell you a patient can’t have the first line treatment for some reason, so you’re going to want to know what the second line is. With pharmacological names, stick with the generic name for everything. On the exam, if they do give you the brand name, it will have the generic name in (parenthesis).
- Other. This is my catch all column for the stuff that doesn’t seem to fit in any where. Something that I tend to put a lot in this column is complications of a disease. I also put in preventative tests or vaccines. Or I put in red flags and what that would make you think of.
When you’re 1-2 weeks out from your exam, it becomes time to buckle down.
Take a second practice exam 1.5 weeks away from your exam. Compare the results that you got on this test to the results of your first practice test. Hopefully you improved! If not you still have enough time to continue to study and tailor your study plan. The first few rotations, I was taking this second practice exam too close to the date of my actual test. It made it so that I didn’t really have a lot of time to fix my problem areas. I found that doing it 1.5 weeks out worked the best for me. It was close enough that I had done most of my studying, but still far enough away that I was able to continue to make improvements.
Now, in terms of this practice exam there are two options that I recommend you go with. Both Rosh Review and SmartyPANCE have practice EOR exams. I’ve used both. Personally, I felt like the Rosh Review practice exam was significantly better in terms of demonstrating what I did and did not know. It was also better written and the explanations are amazing. BUT, you have to buy each practice exam as a “boost” and it can get pretty pricey. SmartyPANCE however, includes the EOR practice exams in the normal subscription cost (which is already significantly cheaper). But the questions aren’t worded as well, there are some repeats, and the explanations aren’t as helpful. No matter which EOR practice exams you decide to go with, I think it’s very helpful to take one created especially for that EOR.
Something else to consider if you are struggling on EOR exams. Your school will often have older editions of exams. Consider reaching out to your advisor to ask if you could take one of these older exams for practice. Your school wants you to succeed, so never worry about asking for help.
In the final week, focus on your problem areas. Continue to do practice questions. Branch out into watching a lecture (OnlineMedEd is my favorite). Go study with a group. Just make sure that you’re really focused on the exam – which I’m sure you will be!
Just some other random tips
Use your free time. I always, always carried a study book with me to rotations. You never know when there might be a lull in patients and you want to take advantage of it! I did limit myself to how many study materials I brought to a rotation (i.e. I only brought one) because I knew that I would never look at them all while I was actually on site. Which brings me to my next study guide tip.
Limit your resources. The first few rotations I did, I tried to use every resource under the sun. And there was honestly no way that I could ever look at all of them. Not to mention that they something has conflicting information. So, I got to the point where I would limit the number of resources I used. This end up helping me a ton because I was able to really understand that source and I didn’t spend all of my time stressing out about not getting through all of the resources I had picked out.
And don’t forget to study for your actual rotation. If a preceptor asks you to look something up, look it up! If you start managing a patient and don’t feel comfortable, look up and devise a treatment plan for them at home.
I hope my methods of developing a study plan are helpful! I would love to hear your own methods of developing a study plan for PA school’s EOR exams, or your thoughts on how my study plan worked for you!
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