UNDERGRAD: The material for the majority of PA school is not the super tiny details. Undergrad, focused on the general education classes like chemistry, biology, and organic chemistry, etc. In these courses, I felt like I was learning the material so that I could show what that I studied on the test. Obviously, the material is important and a great foundation for the more difficult material to come, but for a large majority of it, I felt like it was just part of the college experience. It was fairly easy to receive an A in nearly all the courses I took in undergrad. The strategy was the same for every course: master the lectures and questions --> do well on the exam.
PA SCHOOL: PA school on the other hand, is mostly clinical. There is also a much greater pressure to know the material since all of it is important. I think the stress of that fact alone caused some meltdowns and anxiety for me. The majority of what is being thrown at you, you need to eventually know and learn well, because if you don't, someone will be paying the price for your lack of knowledge down the road.
In regards to content, I felt that the material was easier to understand in PA school, but takes longer to master (primarily because it was all memorization). The strategy for absorbing and retaining material in PA school was difficult for me. The majority of our classes required a lot of reading and external sources of information. In the past, I showed up to lecture, learned it, did some questions and felt confident. There is so much reading and material in PA school that I rarely ever felt "confident" going into an exam. (Personally, I do not get a whole lot out of reading text books. I typically forget the information fairly quickly and then all my study time was wasted. Read more about learning styles below) There will always be information in medicine that you will not know... accepting this took a long time to grow on me. The goal soon became to learn the basics and build to common scenarios and if time allows, to less common scenarios.
For the most part, you still need to master the art of studying, memorize a lot and learn a ton of information in both undergrad and PA school. There are many study techniques out there, and some work better for me and some work better for others. Prior to PA school, I worked as a tutor for many years. One tool that I often used with my students was the VARK questionnaire.
This assessment will determine what type of "learner" you are: Visual, Aural (auditory), Read/write, or Kinesthetic (hands-on). This website is fantastic for not only assessing what type of learner you are to maximize your study time, but also to give you tips on studying for your learning style (under the "questionnaire" tab).
What Type of Learner am I?
For example, a large majority of my learning style is AUDITORY (aural). I learn best my listening, talking, discussing, questioning and recalling information. When I first took this assessment a long time ago, I never considered this; however, learning that my "study time with friends" was my best hours of studying, I started to put two and two together. Knowing this, I was much more effective when creating my study routines. This was particularly easy to manage in undergrad and even PA school with many study sessions with friends and classroom interactions/Jeopardy-type games.
As this type of learner, I typically absorb A LOT of information simply from class lectures. I believe that the majority of what I know and remember did not come from hours of staring at a book, but more from recalling the powerpoint lectures given in class or interactions and conversations with patients/preceptors.
To be honest, because I am this type of learner, rotation exams are relatively difficult for me because I often do not have anyone to study with or discuss material. Obviously, I get "pimped" on rotation and typically like those interactions, but in regards of preparing for a written exam, it is difficult to find ways to incorporate my "auditory" learning style into this new study pattern.
I do want to point out that I am not "solely" an auditory learner. MOST people are defined as "multi-modal" learners, which involves many different types of learning styles. This questionnaire was not designed for students to ignore their "weaker" learning styles, but simply to understand a little more about your own brain in episodes of stress, frustration, limited resources, or crunched for time. PA school requires a lot of memorization and retention of a TON of information. Knowing your learning style can definitely improve your study habits if you know how to maximize some of the strategies. It is actually highly suggested that you try to strengthen your weaker skills when possible.
There are tons of programs out there to help with studying for sciences and medical courses. Since I am an auditory learner, I gain a lot from Youtube videos, online lectures, and talks. A while ago, a fairly new and growing company, called Lecturio, reached out to me about their online study aids. Like all of us, they are aware that PA profession is growing rapidly and know that there will be many more people attending PA school looking for study aids. They let me try their program for a few months to see how it fit in the "PA school" framework. In my opinion, much like the typical online courses, Lecturio is built around the "medical school" curriculum, for the most part. However, their approach differs from other companies...they have highly skilled and qualified PHYSICIANS from all over the country giving the lectures and during the lecture series, they had mini quizzes to evaluate what you learned. A large portion of the material is very similar to PA school and was very helpful when learning some of the difficult topics and concepts. The only caveat to this program is that they are still in the works of truly identifying with PA school curriculum, specifically. That being said, some of the material is very deep and not entirely focused on in PA school. (but when is too much information a bad thing? :P ) Overall, it is definitely a nice aid if you are an auditory learner like myself and looking to go to PA school in the future, so keep their courses in mind!