5 Tips for PA School’s Didactic Phase

Advice from PA program directors

A PA’s career begins long before licensing – it begins the first day of PA school.  The didactic phase is the first exposure many future PAs have to the rigors, challenges, and rewards of their chosen career.  PA students should view the didactic phase as an opportunity to learn, to develop relationships, to determine strategies that work for them, and to start their PA career off right.

AAPA asked PA program directors for their top tips on surviving the first phase of a PA’s career – the didactic phase.

  1. Stay focused and make your PA education your top priority.
    • “PA School has to be your number one priority, and if it is not, it can be difficult to be successful.”
    • “We warn our students that PA school is the most intensive thing they will probably ever do. They should take care of any problems outside of school (relationships, divorce, financial, etc.) prior to starting school so they can devote their full attention to the program”
    • “Be ready from the get-go to put all other things on hold and dig in and study. Don’t wait until you find out that you really do need this to be your only focus because by then you are behind and it may be too late.”
  2. Your old study habits may not be enough.
    • “This is graduate school. Your approach to learning will have to change from what you did as an undergraduate student. Instead of rote memorization of facts, you will be expected to clinically apply the information.”
    • “Spend more time studying then you think you need to – it still won’t be enough.”
    • “Focus weekend studying to gain depth and breadth of knowledge.  Try not to let weekends be catch up study time.”
    • “Test taking is a learned skill. Don’t be discouraged if your exam scores don’t reflect your study time and efforts.  Learn to answer the question being asked, not what you think, and don’t over read the question.”
  3. Be prepared and ready to participate.
    • “Participate in class discussion and activities as this is an alternative method of assessment of knowledge and skills by the instructor.”
    • “For any lecture, if you scan the topic reading materials and objectives before class, lectures will make more sense. If you then review those lecture notes the same day, you’ll have already reviewed the information three times! Memorization will become easier.” 
    • “Come to class prepared. This includes reading the chapters before class, asking questions and participating in class lectures. Print and bring to class lecture and reference materials or you may use your laptop in class to take notes.”


  1. Take care of yourself.
    • “Stress can be corrosive, so PA students need to take care of themselves. Eat healthy food and eat regularly, sleep and exercise.”
    • “Make good use of lunch hours, breaks between classes and holiday breaks.”
    • “Be sure to make time for yourself and take a break from studying. Do something you enjoy, like exercise, watch a movie, or hang out with friends.”
  2. Collaborate with your classmates.
    • “Form study groups and learn from your classmates’ strengths and experiences.”
    • “Aim to interact with a wide number of classmates and do not isolate yourself or huddle with just a few friends.”

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