As with all examinations, the key strategy for success is preparation. It’s critical that you take time to prepare for the exam, then get a good night’s sleep before taking the test. Feeling tired and drowsy during an exam clearly is not the best route to positive results.
Questions on nursing exams typically are structured in three parts: 1) case or scenario that describes what’s happening to the patient; 2) the stem where the question is asked; and 3) the distracters, which are the incorrect, or in some cases less correct, answers. Critical thinking is required in order to distinguish between all options to determine which is most important. This will guide you in answering the stem with the solution that is “most correct.”
Read all instructions carefully before beginning, and carefully read each question so you clearly understand the stem and what is being asked. Obviously, you only want to answer what is asked in the stem. If you’re not careful, it is easy to read into the question and not focus on what actually is being asked. Logically think through the priorities and, if you’re asked to respond to only one option, then clearly identify which option has the highest priority.
Always be cautious about selecting answers that limit or qualify a potentially correct answer. Keywords in the stem should guide you in selecting the correct answer or answers. A good approach is to answer the question in your head prior to reading the possible options. And be sure to real all the choices before making a final selection.
Responses often come down to a choice between two different answers. Logically think through the answers as they are presented and determine prioritization of care based on those answers, always remembering that one is more correct than the others. When you are not sure of the correct answer, start by eliminating all incorrect options. When all else fails…make an educated guess.
Pacing yourself is critical; always keep track of the time left to complete the exam. Make sure to answer all questions and place your responses on the bubble sheet (if one is being used) right when you answer the question. Don’t wait to go back and put your answers on the bubble sheet – it could keep you from finishing on time.
Remember that exam prep begin the minute you walk into class and continues through your reading assignments and homework. If you’ve done all that well, you should be fine when you take your tests.
Dr. Anders has been funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for nursing education.