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A Guide to Taking Nursing School Tests/Exams

Written by Mary Olayon-Yaw

Tests and exams in nursing programs are a breed of their own. They propose very different challenges than the tests taken in prerequisite courses relying simply on memorization is not enough. For these tests, you must filter out each possible answer and utilize the material you’ve learned in a way that provides you with the most correct answer.

One of the biggest challenges I have endured in college was transitioning into what one would call the “nursing school life.” It was difficult to adapt to this new way of answering questions and it began to affect me psychologically. As a result, I failed my first three tests. The entire situation was incredibly discouraging as I was never the student to have problems in school, much less fail tests consecutively. 

Eager to bounce back, I received advice from fellow nursing students and watched dozens of YouTube videos about test taking skills. I realized that there was an entire “test taking” toolbox for me to utilize in the way I study and approached future tests. As I started implementing these new strategies, I instantly saw the positive impact it would make on my grades. Five quarters of nursing school later, I feel more confident than ever in my test taking skills. There is definitely a method to this madness that everyone is capable of learning. 

Here are the 5 test taking strategies that have made the most positive impact for me:

  1. Utilizing ABC’s, nursing process, and Maslow’s hierocracy – Refer back to these when your caught in a prioritization question! Airway, breathing, and circulation is the order of priority of nursing action in most cases in order to keep a patient stable and alive. The nursing process or ADPIE (assessment, diagnosis, plan, intervention/implementation, and evaluation) is another tool to use for systematically providing patient care. Whereas, Maslow’s hierocracy is the order of human needs that must be followed in order to provide effective patient care.
  2. Pay attention to strategic key words in the questions such as “best,” “priority,” “initial,” and “most appropriate.” - This is the most important tip for prioritization questions! In these types of questions, there is likely to be multiple “correct” answers, however, the key word determines which answer follows the order of priority.  This can be combined with tip #1 when choosing the most accurate answer for priority type questions.

    Example question: The nurse is assessing the client’s condition after cardioversion. Which observation would be the highest priority? 

    1. Blood pressure
    2. Status of airway
    3. Oxygen flow rate
    4. Level of consciousness

    Correct Answer: B – Think about airway from the ABC’s. Understand that maintaining a patient’s airway is the highest priority written out as a nursing responsibility when a cardioversion is done.

  3. Delegation/assignment-making questions require you to understand the scope of practice for nurses versus other parts of the care team (i.e. CAN/UAP can help patients with ADL’s, LPN’s can do med passes, etc.) - Understand the different roles of the care team so that you know which tasks may be delegated and which tasks require a specific team player. 
  4. Use process of elimination – When you really don’t know the answer, it’s best to work your way backwards. Try narrowing the choices down to the last two. You will have better chances when only choosing from two answers versus guessing between four. This is a strategy that I only use when I’ve exhausted all my other test taking skills and have no clue what the correct answer actually is. 
  5. Do not change your answer! – UNLESS you are 100% sure that your original is not the correct one. You chose it first for a reason, so what’s making you second guess it now? Trust your gut and instincts! 

These are just a few test strategies that I’ve learned over the past year and a half. One book that I highly recommend reading for more test taking skills and tips is Saunders Strategies for Test Success. It does a great job of breaking down and explaining how to take nursing school tests and what the benefits are to those specific strategies. I’ve also decided to incorporate this book into my NCLEX review guide. After all, the NCLEX is essentially the ultimate nursing school test. Nursing school can be difficult and nursing school tests will be challenging, but just remember that you made it this far for a reason! You can do this!

Authors

Mary Olayon-Yaw

RN, BSN | Former Student Ambassador | Everett Community College