Four Ways to Enhance Physician Assistant Students’ Knowledge Building and Concept Mastery
Within an average length of just 27 months, physician assistant (PA) educators are tasked with delivering a vast amount of complex content to students, who must successfully pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam® (PANCE®) exam to become a practicing PA. Following an increase in the PANCE® passing score in 2019 and changes to the exam blueprint, a 5% drop in first-time pass rates was observed amongst the 2019 cohort compared to the year before although first-time pass rates remained high. Faced with these challenges, what can PA schools do to enhance students’ foundational knowledge and strengthen concept mastery?
The paired TrueLearn-Picmonic platform has the answer. The two approaches provide educators with science-based learning methodologies and tools proven to enhance concept mastery and memory retention, provide visibility into students’ progress and performance, and surface data to identify at-risk learners and guide remediation focus. PA schools can leverage TrueLearn and Picmonic to accelerate and advance students through the rigors of PA education, improving their chances of a first-time pass on the PANCE®.
Leverage science-based learning methodologies and resources
Picmonic’s audio-visual mnemonics align perfectly with the brain’s natural three-step memory process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information by linking visual symbols with stories to enhance learning, strengthen remembering, and trigger recollection. Combined with recall questions that cover need-to-know topics in the PA curriculum, faculty can leverage Picmonic to craft active learning experiences that enhances and accelerates students’ learning process and journey.
Picmonic also provides programs with a way around the “forgetting curve,” a hypothesis by Hermann Ebbinghaus that memories can and will be lost over time unless efforts are made to retain them before the curve dips. Using retention algorithms, the platform pinpoints when that might happen and prompts students to review specific topics at the right time—a learning technique known as “spaced repetition.” If students get a question wrong, they will reencounter it in a subsequent quiz but spaced out over increasing time intervals until the information is eventually committed into long-term memory.
Utilize low-stakes recall practice to improve memory retention
For PA students to match the accelerated pace and demands of the program, they need to easily memorize, retain, and recall basic concepts. Low-stakes recall practice, an active learning technique shown to improve memory retention allows students to make multiple attempts at answering multiple-choice questions without being penalized for missing any. This shifts the emphasis from scoring well to building concept mastery, stimulating the memory process, and strengthening information storage and recall.
PA schools can incorporate low-stakes recall practice into the curriculum through the quizzes accompanied with Picmonic’s audio-visual mnemonics. Additionally, Picmonic’s daily spaced-repetition quizzes intelligently adjust students’ daily study queue to maximize retention based on their specific learning algorithms.
Integrate formative assessments into the curriculum
PA school is fast-paced and information-heavy, requiring students to quickly absorb and master a large amount of medical concepts to perform well in class and on exams. With 79.69% of PA students reporting high levels of emotional exhaustion, institutions need an approach that is time-efficient at enhancing students’ learning outcomes, alleviating stress and test anxiety, and optimizing PANCE® scores.
The solution? Integrate formative assessments into the PA curriculum from day one. When students are assessed regularly, they learn to set aside regular study time and continuously apply their knowledge. The TrueLearn-Picmonic platform provides educators with different types of assessments–low-stakes recall and application-style questions–paired with data analytics to enhance learning and exam readiness. Educators can assign TrueLearn and Picmonic quizzes as pre-lecture material to assess foundational knowledge, pair them with reading assignments to help students practice applying what they are learning during independent study, and as an active learning tool to get real-time feedback during didactics. The quizzes in TrueLearn’s SmartBank can also be customized to suit cohort and individual learning needs, comprehension levels, and curricular trends.
Lean on memorable lessons and answer explanations to optimize knowledge application
Achieving concept mastery is crucial to ensure PA students can remember and apply the knowledge learned in practice and for the long term. How should institutions bridge gaps in comprehension without the risk of faculty and student burnout? The memorable story and educational lessons provided with each Picmoninc and detailed explanations that accompany the practice questions on TrueLearn is the ideal solution. Detailed rationales for each answer choice help them understand why the correct answer was the best choice and the other options were not ideal. If students answer a TrueLearn question incorrectly, they can also revisit the relevant video lesson in Picmonic to review and master the material, boosting memory retention and preventing a repetition of the same mistake.
Streamlined integration of the paired TrueLearn and Picmonic platforms into the PA curriculum will lead to more efficient learning, knowledge mastery, and memory retention. When PA students can easily build on their foundational knowledge to achieve the required level of concept mastery, educators can focus on advancing and accelerating students through the curriculum to steer learning, program, and PANCE® outcomes.
The Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination® (PANCE®) is a trademark of the National Commission on the Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This content is not approved or endorsed by NCCPA.