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TEST TAKING STRATEGY: The Way To Pass Nursing Exams

Updated on August 1, 2011


You studied for that big nursing exam only to get a grade that you were not proud of or may you passed but you know that you almost missed it. Are you willing to leave your nursing exams in the hands of chance? You know what you want and that is to be a nurse but how will you get there if you are not passing your exams? Well do not worry because I will share some very helpful test takings that helped me to pass my test with excellent grades. Well you probably have heard some of your classmates saying they do not study much or they just read their handouts and they have somehow managed to get excellent scores, while you literally read your book from cover to cover and still were not able to get the grade you wanted. The technique that they have used is TEST TAKING. This technique can be developed by understanding how to approach questions and by practicing questions. I remember my earlier days complaining to a friend about how the hard nursing tests were. He told me that my problem is, beingunable to think on my feet. I was more than offended but quickly found out that he was right. I really did not know how to critically think. I changed the way I viewed the questions. A tip, is to view each nursing question as an actual patient . Hence when faced with a question (patient), ask yourself what am I going to do for this patient and why am doing this (every intervention should have a rationale)? Read on and you will discover how to pass nursing exams.



A. What if my verbal skills are weak?

The test is a verbal exam. Therefore, if you have weak verbal skills or think better in other ways, transform the question to a clinical situation where you are the supervising nurse talking to or directing a student nurse or you are a nurse caring for a patient. As you state and then answer the question imagine you are talking to one of these people. Imagine telling the patient what your are going to do (the option you chose) and why (the actual question).

B. Why is covering answers a good idea.

Covering your answers allows your brain to think a minute about the question. If you answer the question, and then find your answer among the option, you can be pretty certain you answered the question correctly (but you must read the other options). You still can't jump, that is, you must still read all the options carefully to that you accurately and precisely address the situation. Two of the options are distracters. If you jump to fast, those distracters can confuse what you know.

Note: this strategy does not work with all questions and in any case should be practiced prior to the exam.

C. What if I think the question is difficult?

Do not tentatively answer the question; that's like taking care of a patient, but you are not sure if you did the right thing. Circle it and come back to it. The more time you spend slogging through a difficult question, the more your anxiety will increase and the more likely the chance the next question will be affected by the one you are having difficulty with.

D. Is it true that often the longer answer is the right answer?

This may be true for some test questions, but now you are really playing test taking game with limited time. Instead of counting words, spend that time thinking about the question and which option best addresses the specific problem.

E. How do I handle difficult questions?

For questions you find difficult, circle or otherwise mark them and go back to them later. If you struggle with one question and can't determine the answer, you are liable to take that struggle to the next question. When you finally decide on the answer, take each option back to the question. Which one is the most appropriate and best fits the whole situation given?

F. How do I avoid reading into the question?

This happens when you read too fast, or when you haven't spent enough time with the information you are given. Your instructor has given you enough information to answer the question. If you are tempted to add or delete words, write them down and see how they change the question. If the question requires some minor assumptions, you are probably ok. Or, generally, you can assume the client will show the usual signs and symptoms of the disease process. AVOID WHAT IFS

G. Why is the nursing process important?

Many of your test questions are about a patient somewhere in the nursing process. Use your theory to stay focused and avoid reading into the question.

H. I tend to get distracted; what can I do?

If you are right handed, sit on the left side of the room if you can. Lefties sit on the right. Try earplugs, but practice using them a week before the exam to get used to them.

I. What if I am stuck between two answers?

Go back to the question, go back to the question, go back to the question - you likely missed a word that indicates what nursing theory or application is required. Ask yourself - is this a Safety, Maslow, etc. question? Where in the nursing process is that patient? This time paraphrase it or set up an authentic clinical setting for the question



What is the best NCLEX question & answer book ?

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Divide your questions in to these 4 parts :

1. The KEY WORDS. Early, late, immediately, postoperative, most likely, least likely, initial, after several days, on the day of, verbs of action, administering, and words that seem insignificant but can make all the difference, e.g. change.

2. The CLIENT. The person with the health problem, family member, another client in the health care setting, another member of the health care team, the nurse.

3. The ISSUE. A drug, problem, toxic effect, behavior, disorder, procedure, safety, nutrition, communication, legal, monitoring, following doctor's orders, etc.

4. The TYPE OF STEM. Nursing questions normally have a variety of stems ignoring them likely result in you picking the wrong answers. See below a list of common stems:


Which nursing action is MOST IMPORTANT?

Which approach by the nurse would be BEST?

The nurse would demonstrate the BEST judgment by taking which ACTION?

Which response by the nurse would be MOST THERAPEUTIC?

INITIALLY the nurse should:

The nurse understands that the CHIEF purpose of drug is to:

The nurse should give IMMEDIATE consideration to which symptom?

In collecting data on admission, which OBJECTIVE sign observed by the nurse would be indicative of a fracture?

Which comment by the nurse would indicate the BEST UNDERSTANDING of the client's needs?

The nurse knows that the client UNDERSTANDS how to care for his health problems when the client states:

FALSE RESPONSES (inappropriate, inaccurate, unimportant, negative)

At this time, which nursing action would be iINAPPROPRIATE?

The nurse knows which medication would be CONTRAINDICATED for this client?

The LEAST important concern for the nurse to raise with the client at this time is;

Which nursing action receives the LOWEST PRIORITY

The nurse would identify that the client required FURTHER INSTRUCTION

Which nursing action would demonstrate an UNSAFE nursing judgment?

Which characteristic would the nurse identify as LEAST likely to contribute to the client's problem (e.g. hypertension).



ABC - Know them literally! Airway, breathing and circulation are basic. Prioritized based on your ABC.

The Nursing process. Most patients you encounter are at some point in the nursing process. Be flexible; you may find yourself going back to assessment in the middle of an intervention if a complication arises.

MASLOW'S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS. The premise is physiological needs should be met before psychosocial ones. Remember safety is a basic need. And often ABCs are part of the Maslow consideration.

COMMUNICATION THEORY. Therapeutic communication depends on a number of factors. Among them is addressing client's/patient's feelings (client including family, etc.). If there is a need to address them, do so. Usually in communication questions, the correct answer addresses the client and uses a therapeutic communication tool.

SAFETY. In addition to the above is general safety, e.g. fire, hazards and nurse safety during transfer, etc.

TEACHING. Nurses are constantly doing it. What is the client's motivation? Sometimes the correct answer for a teaching question includes motivation.

Theories in special contexts such as Orem's self-care theory.



Yes my grandmother used to say, "practice makes perfect". The only way that this information will be useful is if you apply it along with the wonderful information that's stored in your brain. Grab or borrow question and answer books to test how well you can think. My favorite Q & A book is FUNDAMENTAL SUCCESS because it is very user friendly and it is also a very useful tool for beginner nursing students. For more advanced NCLEX style questions, my favorites are SAUNDERS or LIPPINCOTT: Q & A.These books ar every beneficial because they provide you with excellent rationales for every question while teaching you in the same breadth . Whatever your prefernece in NCLEX book is make sure you practice doing as many questions as possible.TIP: to maximize question and answer books, try to think of the reason why you picked a particle answer and not the others and then check the book's rationale to see if your reasoning/rationale is the same. Soon you will be thinking the same way as the examiner and even as a nurse. REMEMBER: your questions are your patient and answer wisely so that you will provide them with the best care.

Best Wishes on your next exam.

Tips To Remember

REMEMBER the 4 parts of a sentence & UNDERLINE them for each question:





Always PRACTICE doing questions





QUESTIONS = PATIENTS (ie. 50 questions = 50 patients)........Care for them !


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