Scoring the PANCE: The Process

PA student trying to understand scoring the PANCE and hoping he passed

In our previous blog article, we explored the merits of studying not just to pass the PANCE but to master the concepts tested. In this article, we will examine the PANCE passing score process as outlined in the PANCE Performance Guide. This exercise will help us figure out how the PANCE is scored.

The PANCE Passing Score

The National Commission On Certification Of Physician Assistant (NCCPA) reports performance on the PANCE on a scale-score metric. Scale scores place all scores on a unified scale regardless of the difficulty of any specific test form. This means PA students with the same level of ability will achieve the exact same score on the PANCE regardless of the test form they use. The PANCE scale has a minimum score of 200, a maximum score of 800, and the passing score is 350. 

But what’s in a score? How exactly does scoring 350 out of 800 ensures that a PA graduate is now ready to take their abilities into practice? It has to do with the method the NCCPA applies to set the score. The NCCPA selects a diverse panel of PA content experts to determine the passing score. This panel identifies what competencies an entry-level PA should be able to demonstrate to be trusted as a capable clinician. 

The NCCPA’s panel of content experts reviews each test question and decides whether a PA student with just the minimum qualifications would be able to answer the question correctly. The panel then rates each question, combining the ratings to define a recommended PANCE passing score. The panelists give a final recommendation for the passing score, which the NCCPA Board of Directors then reviews and approves. Once approved, that final recommendation becomes the official PANCE passing score.

Standardizing the PANCE

The content authors design every PANCE test form from the same content blueprint. Each test form features similar concepts tested, difficulty, and average response time. They do this to standardize the PANCE test experience for each PA student. The content authors also design the test forms to mirror the criteria found in the content blueprint. The content blueprint is the official guide for topics and concepts tested in each PANCE test form.

Studies and analyses conducted by a committee of certified PAs influence the PANCE content blueprint. Per the NCCPA, a committee of PAs conducted the last practice analysis in 2015 when they used survey data gathered plus their own personal experience to set the blueprint that became live in 2019.

Sure, the debate may forever rage on about the pros and cons of standardized testing. Yet it is fair to say that the PANCE score is, if not a good predictor of a PA’s performance in practice, a sufficient indication of that PA candidate’s readiness to practice with satisfactory competency.  This is mainly because the NCCPA uses a meticulous process to determine the PANCE passing score.

Check out the PANCE Performance Guide for the full process on how the NCCPA determines the PANCE passing score.

If you are a PA student prepping for an upcoming PANCE exam and want to optimize your chances of success, click here for your FREE trial of our PANCE QBank. We’ll have you ready to ace the PANCE on exam day.