The Most Useful Study Tools for Your Toughest Prerequisites

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Required prerequisite courses can vary widely by PA program. However, there are a few core classes that everyone can pretty much count on taking before PA school. (Some of us more than once.)


These core courses may be a bit intimidating, particularly if you have been out of school for a while, were a non-science major, or are looking to improve your GPA. But, the vast majority of PA students have gotten through these prerequisites, and so can you. 


In this post, you'll learn about a few of the best (reasonably priced) study aids for some of the toughest PA school prerequisite courses: anatomy & physiology, microbiology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. You will still have to do your part, but these resources can help you understand the fundamentals of these subjects better and faster than if you relied solely on the required text.


Anatomy & Physiology

Loved by some and feared by many, A&P is at the heart of PA school prerequisite courses. A foundation in anatomy and physiology is necessary for anyone who wants to make a career in medicine, and doing well in an A&P course shows PA programs that you have started to build that foundation.


Because A&P involves both the structure and function of the human body, it covers a lot of content. The abundance of material taught in the course can make it difficult to find a single resource. Often, resources that attempt to cover both anatomy and physiology are overwhelmed with so much information that they lose their usefulness of as a study aid. So, I'm going to give you one for each. 


The first, Netter's Anatomy Flash Cards, are the best anatomy study aids around. These flash cards are used widely by PA, medical school, and nursing students. The cards have full-color illustrations that are precise and text that is simple to understand.


Because the cards are ordered by body system, you can carry just a few at a time to study when you are on the move. These will cover more than you need for a college-level A&P class, but you will likely get them for PA school anyway, so why not start with the best?


For the physiology portion of the course, Inc. BarCharts makes a concise, 6-page pamphlet, Physiology, which covers the major concepts of human body function. The guide summarizes key terminology and has simple, easy to understand illustrations for each body system.


It's a great review after completing a chapter or for testing your knowledge before an exam. 



Microbiology is a prerequisite course for most PA schools as it builds the basis for understanding organism-borne diseases. Grasping the basics of microorganisms before PA school will help you understand more complicated concepts and disease processes as a PA student, and I have two resources to help you.


I am a little weary of flash cards that are made by large publishers, as often these are just miniaturized versions of textbook pages that aren't so useful. However, Lippincott Illustrated Reviews Flash Cards do not fall into that category.


Each card covers one concept with a question on one side and the answer clearly outlined on the opposite side. The images on the cards are particularly useful as they include not only simple illustrations, but also photos and microscopic images that help you to learn how bacteria, agar plates, and lab tests appear in real life.


Now, you may not need two study aids for microbiology, but I love this set of flash cards, so I am going to tell you about them too. Infectious Disease Flashcards by Julie Harless, are compact, glossy finished cards that have an image (photo, x-ray, or CT slice) on one side that represents a disease and details about the disease (including organism, transmission, disease mechanism, and diagnostic testing) on the opposite side. 


These flash cards would also make the transition to PA school well as they can help you identify diseases based on physical exam findings. 


Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is a struggle for many students and is often the reason that science majors become non-science majors. It is also a subject that tends to have an abundance of flash cards made by large publishers, which I warned you about above. 


Note cards are incredibly beneficial in studying the structures and mechanisms of organic chemistry. But, if you tend to draw wonky structures and miss a bond here and there like I used to, having the cards done for you is better than making your own. 

ChemCards Study Flash Cards are the best of all worlds. These cards are not just tiny textbook pages. They outline individual reactions and mechanisms in a straightforward way that allows you to visualize the reaction and get the information to stick.

They are printed on non-glossy card stock so that you can add your notes in the white space or on the back. I wish these were around when I was struggling to create my o. chem notecards. These are clear and precise and simple enough to allow anyone to begin to understand organic chemistry. 



Biochemistry is often the first merging of two sciences for most undergraduate students. The mixing of biology and chemistry can be a bit confusing at the first introduction.


In reality, no science exists in a vacuum, and concepts will only become more intertwined as you learn more about the practice of medicine.


Biochemistry is a prerequisite for most PA schools for this reason, and doing well in this course should be a priority for a pre-PA student. 


There are plenty of publisher-made flash cards for biochemistry, but I also want to provide you a resource that can do double duty. 


Schaum's Outline of Biochemistry covers the major topics of biochemistry and uses examples, problems, and practices exercises to improve learning. The outline is a sizable book, but it does not take the place of a text.


While it does not dive as deep into concepts as a textbook, it helps to solidify what you've learned in the course through problem-based learning. It also is a great review resource if you plan to take the GRE before applying to PA school. 


So, you can be working through problems and practice exercises to study for biochem and at the same time be cementing the concepts in your brain for your future GRE. 


Remember, no study tools can carry all of the weight of a challenging course. These courses are prerequisites for a reason, and you will have to put in the effort to do well. 


Keep this in mind when reading product reviews, as some reviewers believe that purchasing a study aid means they should ace the course, and they are disappointed when they don't. You are best suited to understand your study style and needs, and I hope that you find one or two of these tools helpful for your pre-PA prep. 


Having target programs in mind is essential when making your prerequisite game plan. Check out the prior post about and be sure you have your FREE PA planner. Already have yours? Share it with someone else preparing for PA school! 



Resource List (in order of mention):

Netter's Anatomy Flash Cards: with Online Student Consult Access, 4e (Netter Basic Science)

Physiology (Quickstudy: Academic)

Lippincott Illustrated Reviews Flash Cards: Microbiology

Infectious Disease Flashcards: for Microbiology, Third Edition

ChemCards: Study Flash Cards for Organic Chemistry - First Semester Topics

ChemCards: Study Flash Cards for Organic Chemistry - Second Semester Topics

Schaum's Outline of Biochemistry, Third Edition