Studying for the Canadian PA Certification Exam

This time last year I was definitely fretting about the Certification Exam. I, like, others have talked to PA graduates regarding resources they used to study, how long did it take for them to study for it, and how difficult the exam is (aka, will I fail?!).

I think I mainly wanted reassurance that “Everything will be okay”. I know that the exam will be what it will be. I know that as long as I study I will (or should) pass. However, the uncertainty was a lot of pressure on me and my classmates that in fact, our program had to organize an informal presentation regarding the logistics of what the exam is to lessen our stress.

I am writing this to share my experience on studying for this exam, along with resources I used. Maybe it’ll help some of the soon-to-be Canadian PA graduates. Maybe it will just add more stress haha I tried!

Disclosure: The following is based on my own experience and is not affiliated with CAPA or the PA programs. There will not be any information regarding the exam contents.

What is the PA Entry to Practice Certification Exam

After completing a CMA accredited Physician Assistant program, graduates go on to write the Physician Assistant Entry to Practice Certification Exam which gives them the designation of a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant (CCPA) upon passing. This is not a license but a certification. At the time of writing this post, it is not required for the PA to hold a CCPA designation to work but most employers do prefer candidates to have passed the exam. The purpose of the certification is to “ensure that the PA meets the standard set out in the CanMEDS-PA for the Physician Assistant profession” and “reassure the public that there is a national standard of care from PA providers” (see here).

In order to write the exam, the candidate must be a member of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) or National Commission of Certification for Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and a graduate of a Canadian PA program or US PA program. For more details on eligibility, see here.

There is a fee upon registration for the exam paid by the candidate. The exam is usually held at the end of October with two writing locations (Ontario and Manitoba).

Study Materials

If you haven’t already, review the blueprint of what will be on the exam (see here, it’s kind of outdated but it’s all we have).

Listed below are the materials I used to study for the exam. I tried to keep my resources to a minimum. I’m sure some of us have hoarded study materials in the past and only used one or two. I also didn’t want to feel overwhelmed by all the resources.

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A Comprehensive Review for the Certification and Recertification Exam for Physician Assistants. This green book was my primary resource for the exam. It was recommended by multiple grads. I bought mine online for around $90 with shipping. What I really liked about this book was actually the quiz bank and quick reference to materials on questions I got wrong. I felt that at this point in our education, I should know the basics and using the questions will challenge me to think through the problem. For myself as well, I learn best through mistakes.

Everyday, I would do 20-30 questions from the quiz bank and review the answers afterward. I make sure I understand WHY I got that question wrong. If I consistently do poorly in a certain area (which will happen when I first started studying and don’t remember anything from cardio in MF1), I would read that specific chapter in the book taking quick short notes. I really liked the infectious disease section of the book 😉

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Toronto Notes 2016. Anything I needed a review on, I turn to trusty ol’ Toronto Notes.

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Lange Q&A Physician Assistant. This is a mobile app question bank from Lange recommended by two PAs whom I spoke to. I really like this one. The questions are short and to the point. I did about 10 questions whenever I’m on public transit commuting somewhere or waiting for my food to cook (efficiency!).

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Kaplan Quiz Bank Physician Assistant. Last but not least, I used this as well. The question stems are longer for this question bank. We were told the questions are significantly more difficult than on the actual exam and if we can answer these questions, we are good to go. In retrospect, I think I could’ve done without it – it wasn’t cheap but I was convinced that spending a bit more money on it is better than failing.

Oh wait, don’t forget to review these documents:

  • CanMEDS-PA
  • CAPA Code of Ethics of the Physician Assistant Profession

Study Schedule

Other than the specific content materials I reviewed while on my rotations starting in the summer, I did not start studying for the exam until I came back from my International Elective and small vacation (1 week). I had about 6 weeks between then and the exam date.

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Study buddy to keep each other accounted in our studying.

I have described how I used my study materials. I studied about a few hours a day, everyday. It was a hectic time as well because I was preparing for my interviews (SO. STRESSFUL.). At times it was hard to focus when I’m worrying about sending out applications and interview results. The last few days before the exam, I studied purely using the question banks. At this point, I know what you know.

Day of Exam

For our year, the locations of the exam were in Toronto, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. I wrote mine in Toronto. We arrived early to the location. No drinks and

The rules are no different from undergrad exams but more strict. All coats and bag are left at the sign in table. Once you sign in, you cannot leave the exam room without a proctor accompanying you. Absolutely no drink or food in the exam room (maybe water is an exception, I don’t remember). Only allowed to have ID, pencil, eraser on you. You may leave if you finish early. If not, must stay til the end until all examination booklets are collected.

Aaaaaaaand my class went out together to grab lunch to celebrate another milestone! This ends with a happy ending with results sent to us around December/January and CCPA certificates hanging on our walls by February!

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