HESI & EAQ contribute to Stark State’s Medical Assisting 91% CMA exam pass rate

student studying in the library

Located in North Canton, Ohio, Stark State College offers a two-year associate degree in Medical Assisting. They’re accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) on the recommendation of the Medical Assisting Education Review Board (MAERB). Their current program coordinator, associate professor Kelly Reinsel, started her journey with the program as a student in 1990, where she would graduate three years later.

“Just a couple of months after I graduated, I was just working part time, I had little wee ones at home, I was asked to come back to what we call a laboratory assistant,” Reinsel says. “So I lab assisted for a couple of years, and then I was asked to come in and teach our night track program. I taught in the night track until 2005 when I became a full-time instructor.”

Throughout her time working at the school and in the field, Reinsel was also attending school to obtain a bachelor’s degree in technical education and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. In addition to medical assisting, she is also the co-interim dean of health and public services program at Stark State.

“I worked my way up,” Reinsel says. This year will mark her 25th year working in education. She still teaches a medical office procedures class and a seminar class, where they utilize the HESI exam. The program started offering their students HESI exams and practice tests back in 2016. They hoped HESI would help reach better pass rates on the CMA.

Identifying the Issue

“Before we had HESI what we would do is I would develop tests, I would grab old review books and things like that, and we would make tests,” Reinsel says. “But we wanted a better resource.”

The primary reason behind the school seeking out high-quality teaching resources was the need to improve on their program outcomes.

“We were having, which I think is still a good percentage, of about an 81% pass rate on our CMA exam,” Reinsel says. “We just felt like they weren’t getting enough practice in a proctored simulation test, something very similar to what they would have when they were going out to take this test.”

Now, four years after implementing the exams, the school boasts a 91% overall pass rate.

“I really attribute a lot of that to us, preparing them to take the test and the value of HESI in that,” Reinsel says.


Learning how to incorporate the exams into their curriculum was a learning experience for Reinsel and her faculty.

“The first year was definitely a struggle for us to be able to do it. The next year, we got a little bit better. And then a little bit better and a little bit better,” Reinsel says.

For faculty, successful implementation would come down to how they use the exams to assess students on particular topics prior to a final comprehensive exam.

“The way that we run our program is our students take three proctored tests, one for administrative, one for clinical, and one for general, and then we take the Exit exam,” Reinsel says.

The HESI Exit exam is designed to measure students’ readiness for their respective medical assisting certification exams. It identifies each student’s strengths and weaknesses prior to their exam through a diagnostic report of their performance. The exam reflects formats included on the CMA exam, but also includes content outlines for the RMA, CCMA, and the NCMA exams.

“We always talk about the value of becoming a certified medical assistant. So, with our students, we encourage the CMA exam,” Reinsel says.

HESI exams also include pilot questions, which is part of the test construction process to ensure questions are both reliable and valid. Reinsel points out that sometimes these questions can be confusing to students.

“That always throws students for a loop. They’ll be like ‘Well, we haven’t even talked about this’,” she says. “Well, it was probably in your reading, and you did read about it, but we just didn’t test you on it. So, you didn’t find value in it.”

Setting the Standards for Students

Reinsel requires students to pass their HESI exams before they can participate in the course practicum. Her students would come to find that their most important work would come after the HESI exam was over.

“We print out what their item analysis is, what their assessment looks like, and we go over where the areas I would like to see them improve on,” Reinsel says. “So that’s what I do after every test, I review with the students.”

Reinsel stresses the importance of showing students how to prioritize their study time before taking their certification exam.

“Students do not like it as we’re going through it,” Reinsel says. “But the ability to be able to print out at the end when they’re finished their assessment and say, ‘Look, you are struggling here, and you had six questions on the infections and you only got one right’. Here’s where we really need it.”

Since HESI’s primary ability is to assess student ability to apply clinical reasoning, most of her students wouldn’t see the value of these exams until they found themselves in professional practice.

“When they go out and they start to see those questions become familiar with things that they’re applying in the office, then they start to see the value in it,” Reinsel says. “So I think you just have to be willing to work with the students, let them find that same value that you find in it.”

Importance of Daily Quizzing

In addition to HESI, Stark State also makes use of Elsevier’s Adaptive Quizzing (EAQ) for Today’s Medical Assistant, the core textbook for their program.

“Every one of our clinical classes, plus a couple of our administrative, we utilize that book. So, the ability to use the EAQ is really across the board in our program from our freshman walking in the door to our sophomores walking out the door,” Reinsel says. “I’m a big proponent of quizzing students on a daily basis.”

For the school, keeping to one unified resource is also a strategy to save on student costs.

“Books are expensive. We know they are, so we try to make sure that we’re utilizing it the best that we can. So, the students are getting their money’s worth.”

Besides getting them to recognize the value of course material, educators will acknowledge that getting students to do any work at all is half the battle. For Stark State, the key to success has been consistent, required use throughout the program.

“Our faculty will set up quizzes, each chapter will have a quiz,” Reinsel says. “And if they feel like they need extra practice, we show them how to use it on their own also for additional study.”

Encouraging students to get invested in their development by quizzing in their personal time is another big factor in their program’s improvement.

“You can generate this little five-point quiz for yourself, maybe before you come into the classroom or after the class. Just to start that reinforcement is beneficial to our students,” Reinsel says.

Advice for Future Medical Assistants

For the students that graduate and get certified, Reinsel offers them a similar path to the one she followed years ago—all of the faculty teaching in her program are former graduates.

“They understand the value of holding people accountable,” Reinsel says. “I think that HESI does that, in its own way, because it allows the student to see, this is where I need to study. I’m okay on this content, but I need a little bit more on this content. And I think that’s something, that’s where the value comes in.”3

Click here to learn more about Elsevier's HESI