PANCE Scoring: Pass Rates & Passing Score

PANCE Scoring: Pass Rates & Passing Score

If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning to take the PANCE or have taken it already and want to know how to interpret your score. In either case, congratulations on making it this far! Understanding how the PANCE scoring works is a step towards mastering the exam itself.


PANCE scoring
Bianca Villanueva


April 26, 2024

In this article, you’ll get a brief explanation of the PANCE. Then, I’ll delve into the discussion of the actual scoring system. This includes a little background on how the PANCE was designed and how to interpret your score. So, for those who don’t know, what is PANCE?

What is PANCE?

The PANCE is an exam that tests your basic medical and surgical knowledge, which is required to become a certified physician assistant. It’s a multiple-choice, computer-based test with 300 questions administered, in a standardized environment. This exam is for students who have finished PA programs that have been accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). 

Its administering body is the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, and you must register on their site if you decide to take the exam.

What does it mean that the PANCE is standardized?

Standardization means that all examinees take the test under the same conditions. This standardization is assured through a process the NCCPA calls the Automated Test Assembly (ATA). There are different test forms of the PANCE. The numbering and the items themselves are different. What remains the same, however, is the difficulty and the time it takes to complete. All test forms are reviewed beforehand to ensure that the items are up-to-date, and those that aren’t are removed and replaced.

Why does standardization matter when it comes to your score? That’s because it ensures that your score accurately reflects your actual performance as a PA. The more accurate your score is to your actual performance as a PA, the better the test is, and (hopefully) the better you’ll feel about your score since it’s made to be fair.

How is the PANCE scored?

PANCE scores range from a minimum of 200 to a maximum of 800. Unlike the MCAT, they don’t use percentiles for your score. The PANCE is a pass or fail test with a set passing score: 350.

Fortunately, the exam is simply based on the items you answered correctly. There are no deductions for wrong or missed answers like in a right-minus-wrong exam. So, even though you may not be sure about your answers on an item, you should give it your best educated guess and move on.

Right now, you must be wondering how one can achieve 800 points on a 300-item test. That’s because instead of being a 1:1 kind of scoring, the PANCE uses Scale Scores. This means that each item doesn’t mean they’re worth exactly one point. Instead, scaling statistically converts raw scores to adjust for item and form difficulty. This implies that people of the same ability should get the same score regardless of the items and test forms they answered.

What is the PANCE passing score?

To pass the PANCE exam you need a passing score of 350.

Learning path pance learning path

Ace your PANCE with Lecturio

PANCE Pass Rates

How many people pass the PANCE exam?

According to the NCCPA, these were the passing rates in the previous years:

YearPANCE pass rate among first-time test takers

So, overall, your chances of passing the exam are pretty good! Check out Lecturio’s PANCE preparation resources to walk into test day with confidence.

How were the PANCE scores standardized?

To understand your PANCE score, you must first know where the scores came from. How do we know that this test is valid? Does it truly test the ability of future physician assistants? Can the results be generalized with the target population?

All standardization starts with a standard or benchmark. In the case of the PANCE, they use the scores of the first-time takers of the past two years as a reference. According to the NCCPA, this is to ensure a large enough sample size to generalize the results with the current test takers.

The NCCPA also checks the validity by using the blueprint as a content guide. According to the NCCPA site, it is the result of practice analyses wherein various diseases encountered by PAs were analyzed. In 2015, the NCCPA revised the blueprint using surveys to ensure the exam aligns with the real-life competencies expected of PAs.

The passing score of 350 was set by standard setting. What does that mean? In the construction of the test, a panel of PA experts were chosen as representatives of the whole PA profession. The NCCPA made use of the modified Angoff method wherein they had to review each item of the exam and decide whether this is the bare minimum required of a new PA. These ratings per question were then aggregated to define the passing score. That score was then approved by the NCCPA Board of Directors for their final evaluation.

What does my PANCE Score mean?

Your score primarily indicates whether you have passed or failed the exam (above or below the passing score of 350). However, that shouldn’t stop you from trying to get the highest score possible. So, as you study, focus more on understanding and learning about what’s being tested in the PANCE rather than simply passing the PANCE itself. Many patients who need help interact with PAs every day. Sure, passing the PANCE is required to become a PA, but at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be just about passing. It should be about doing your job well.

Pance subscores

Along with your score, you’ll also have subscores corresponding to how well you did in each content area. You should be able to view these on your score report so that you know your strengths and weaknesses. Along with these scores, the report will have an indication of the standard error of measurement (SEM) for each content area.

What does the SEM mean?

When you design a test, you want to measure something. In the case of the PANCE, it aims to measure your competency as a physician assistant. 

In short: The standard error of measurement is the potential for discrepancy between the competency that your numerical test score indicates and your real-world, actual competency as a PA (“true score”). 

In an ideal world, your PANCE score would reflect exactly, with perfect accuracy and precision, your competency as a PA in numerical form. However, there is no such thing as a perfect test. In the real world, there will always be room for error and your “true score” can never be truly ascertained from a simple test. It is only through proper test design and standardization that we can come somewhere close to your “true score”. Basically, the bigger the SEM, the more likely it is that your numerical score could deviate a lot from your “true” score; the more room for error. Likewise, a smaller SEM implies a score closer to your true ability, with less room for error.

So how do we lessen the SEM of a content area? Let’s say that you want to get to know a person. You don’t stop at one question and say you know everything about them. The more questions you ask, the more you know about them. As a result, you have a closer picture to who they truly are. In relation to the PANCE, the content areas that ask more questions have smaller SEMs, and are therefore more likely to be closer to your “true” score.

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