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NCCPA Certification

By Clay Walker - Nov 10, 2021

NCCPA Certification

Once you have completed the rigors of physician assistant school, there are a few more hurdles in your way to becoming a practicing physician assistant.  The most daunting of these may be passing the NCCPA (National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistant) Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).  Today we will discuss the certification process of taking the PANCE, test day and maintaining your certification.


NCCPA PANCE Examination

The Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) measures two categories: knowledge of the diseases/disorders and skills related to tasks PAs perform (e.g., formulating likely diagnoses, clinical interventions, etc.). 

All of the topics tested can be found on the NCCPA’s 2021 PANCE blueprint.

The examination is a total of 300 multiple-choice questions.  There is no penalty for guessing wrong; therefore, all questions should be at least attempted, even if you are not sure of the correct answer. 

The 300 questions are broken into five blocks of 60 questions.  For each of the five blocks, you have 60 minutes to complete the block.  During the test day, you are allotted a total of 45 minutes of break time. 

You can choose to use all of the 45 minutes at once.  You can equally divide the time between each test block.  You can sit down and take all five blocks at once.  How you use your break time is entirely up to you when you are taking the PANCE.

To read more about the PANCE, check out our comprehensive article on Passing The PANCE

We also host a free webinar to help you pass stress free:

Click here to register to our free "Pass the Boards" training


How to Register and Take the PANCE?

About 90 days before your graduation date from physician assistant school, you will be allowed to register to take the PANCE on the NCCPA website.  When you submit this initial application, there is a $500-dollar fee that must be paid as well.  Once you have completed this registration, you will receive an email with instructions on how to set up your examination date.

You can schedule your examination date on any day that you would like that the testing center of choice has availability and can accommodate.  The only caveat is that the test must be taken within the 180-day timeframe that is given based upon the graduation date provided to the NCCPA from your respective physician assistant program. 

Most students will take this examination as quickly as they can after completing physician assistant school...that is what I did!  However, some students will spend more time studying and push back their exam date. 

When registering for the PANCE, there are some final important things to remember.  The NCCPA allows you to take the PANCE at earliest seven days after your graduation date. 

As mentioned above, you will have 180 days from the beginning of your exam timeframe to take the PANCE.  If for some reason, you are unsuccessful at passing the PANCE, you can only take the examination once every 90 days or three times in a calendar year. 

One final thing to remember is that traditionally, there are no PANCE test dates from the middle to the end of December.

Finally, once you are able to select your test site, test date, and time of examination, this will be completed at the Pearson Vue Test Center website. 

At this site, you will create an account, select which Pearson Vue Test Center you would like to test at, and then finally, select the date and time that works best for you.


Maintaining NCCPA Certification

Lastly, we will talk today about how to maintain your NCCPA certification.  Maintaining certification is a gradual process over months to years between each recertification examination.

To successfully maintain NCCPA certification, every two years, physician assistants must acquire at least 100 hours of category continuing medical education hours and log these into your NCCPA profile.

Additionally, each physician assistant must pay their $180 certification maintenance fee by December 31st of their certification expiration year. ($180-dollar fee every two years).  At the end of the final year of a physician assistant’s certification maintenance cycle (every ten years), you must complete a recertification examination.

The PANRE (Physician Assistant National Recertification Examination) can be elected to be completed in the ninth or tenth year of a certified physician assistant’s maintenance cycle.  The PANRE can be taken up to two times in the ninth year of the recertification cycle, and up to three times in the tenth year, with a total maximum of four attempts per 10-year period.

In addition to the traditional PANRE, there is now an experimental alternative PANRE.  Since January 2019 the NCCPA released a new program as an alternative option for practicing physician assistants to continue their recertification.  In the NCCPA PANRE pilot program, those participating will answer twenty-five test questions quarterly for two years.

Due to this examination being novel, the NCCPA needs to have a sufficient sample size collected to acquire enough data before being able to provide a final passing score.  Just like with each and every NCCPA examination, a content-based standard (also known as a criterion-referenced standard) will be set for the alternative PANRE.

Therefore, if all of the pilot PANRE testing takers meet this standard, then everyone will pass the examination. 

To learn more about The Alternative PANRE, check out our article: https://medgeeks.co/articles/alternative-panre

On each physician assistant’s NCCPA Dashboard, there will be a checklist of all of the items that are required for the 2-year cycle. 

Below is a screen-shot of what this page looks like.  As you can see, the checklist can be a reminder of what you have completed, and what still needs to be done for your two-year time-span.

NCCPA Recertification Exam