Nursing school is full of med quizzes, pop quizzes, content exams, standardized tests, and the big licensing exam – the NCLEX. Performing well under pressure on tests can be tough, but when you can go in with a game plan, it can ease your anxiety and allow you to focus in and access that precious information in your brain that you worked really hard to put there in the first place! For test taking strategies for nursing students, read on!
- Know the Content
- Narrow Your Focus
- Manage Your Time
- Read Each Question Carefully
- Use the Process of Elimination
- Turn the Multiple Choice Question into a Yes/No Question
- Manage Your Test Anxiety
7 Test Taking Strategies for Nursing Students
Let’s cover 7 different ways to set yourself up for success, so that when you walk into the classroom on the test date, you’ll be confident and calm.
Know the Content
Make sure you put in your time studying. While people in other majors can improvise during exams off of little studying, nursing school is a different ball game. You can’t expect to perform well without having an understanding of what’s on the exam. Attend all your classes, review your notes regularly, and use additional resources like textbooks, online resources, or study groups to reinforce your understanding of the material. I have a full blog post jam-packed with my best studying tips for nursing students here.
Taking practice questions can be really helpful to get you in the routine of answering questions. It takes time and discipline to get accustomed to answer questions over and over again. Picmonic is a great nursing school resource that has many review questions you can use. (And use promo code FRESHRN for 20% off.)
If you pay close attention in class, your professor may give you hints on what specific information will be on the test. Make sure you highlight those in your notes!
Narrow Your Focus
When you sit down to test, make sure you are focusing in on the information at hand only. Don’t think about the cardiac exam next week during the OB pharmacology. Nursing school has a lot of back-to-back exams from different classes and subsequently it can get easy to get your wires crossed.
Remember to re-focus on what you are being tested on for this specific exam. It is very easy for our minds to wander, so actively pull yourself back to focus as often as required.
Manage Your Time
Time management is critical when taking nursing exams. Allocate time for each question and stick to it, don’t spend too much time on any one question, and make sure to leave yourself enough time to review your answers before submitting your exam.
If you are under time pressure and stuck on a question, it may be more beneficial to move on to the next question and come back to the one you are unsure of later. This can help you to ensure that you answer all of the questions on the exam within the given time frame.
Consider how much the question is worth in terms of points or how much weight it carries in the exam. If the question is worth a significant portion of the exam grade, it may be worthwhile to spend more time on it.
Read Each Question Carefully
Nursing school exams are tricky. They throw in information that isn’t relevant but really seems like it should be, and then some of the possible answers connect with that irrelevant information. The question can also provide a lot of detail, but the last sentence asks a very clear question.
- What would you do next?
- What is your first action?
- What is the least appropriate intervention?
Make sure that whatever answer you select is answering specifically what is asked. Many times I got excited, saw something in the question that I recognized, then saw something it was related to in the answer options, selected it, and confidently moved on. Only after I received my exam back and re-read the question did I realize that I answered a question that wasn’t even being asked!
Use the Process of Elimination
If you are unsure of an answer, try to eliminate any options that you know are incorrect and focus only on the ones you know are genuine possibilities. This will increase your chances of choosing the correct answer.
Look for obvious incorrect answers
Go through each answer option and eliminate any that are clearly incorrect. This may include options that are completely unrelated to the question or that are contradicted by information in the question stem.
Use your knowledge
If you have a basic understanding of the topic, you can eliminate answer options that are inconsistent with what you know. For example, if you know that a particular drug should not be given to patients with a certain medical condition, you can eliminate answer options that suggest giving that drug to such patients.
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Use context clues
Pay attention to the context of the question and the answer options. Sometimes, the way a question is worded or the wording of the answer options can provide clues about which option is correct or incorrect.
Narrow down your options
As you eliminate answer options, you will eventually narrow down the choices to two or three. At this point, you may need to use your best judgment or make an educated guess to choose the correct answer.
Turn the Multiple Choice Question into a Yes/No Question
Converting each answer option into a yes-no question is one test-taking strategy that some students find helpful, especially for multiple choice tests. The idea behind this strategy is that by restating the answer option as a question, you can better assess its accuracy and eliminate incorrect options.
Here’s an example:
Original multiple choice question: What is the capital of France?
- A) Rome
- B) Paris
- C) Berlin
- D) Madrid
Converting answer options into yes-no questions:
- A) Is Rome the capital of France? (No)
- B) Is Paris the capital of France? (Yes)
- C) Is Berlin the capital of France? (No)
- D) Is Madrid the capital of France? (No)
By restating the answer options as yes-no questions, you can more easily determine whether each option is correct or incorrect, and eliminate any incorrect options. This can help you to narrow down your choices and increase your chances of selecting the correct answer.
Manage Your Test Anxiety
Exam anxiety can be a common experience for many students, but there are several strategies that you can use to keep it in check during an exam. Here are a few tips:
Practice relaxation techniques
Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization techniques can help you to relax and calm your nerves during an exam. Take a few deep breaths before starting the exam, and repeat the technique whenever you feel anxious.
Tell yourself you’re excited, not nervous
Our bodies experience nervousness and excitement in the same way. When you feel nervous during the exam, tell yourself: “I am excited to do this,” and it changes your mental state, enabling you to focus in on the task at hand.
Manage your time
Time pressure can be a major source of exam anxiety. Use your time effectively during the exam by allocating time for each question, and sticking to the plan. If you’re spending a lot of time on one question, consider skipping it and returning later if time allows. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be stuck on one question for 15 minutes and then have to rush through 10 questions in 5 minutes. Rushing through would significantly decrease your chances of answering them correctly.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Try not to worry about how other students are performing during the exam. Focus on your own work, and do your best.
Get enough sleep and eat well
Ensure that you are well-rested and nourished before the exam. Being well-rested and well-fed can help you to perform better, and also reduce your anxiety levels. This is because your body isn’t trying to overcome sleep deprivation, dehydration, or excess caffeine to be able to focus and perform. Don’t make it harder for your brain – make it easier!
If your anxiety is significantly impacting your ability to take the exam, consider reaching out to a counselor, student services, or a mental health professional for support. You may have access to free counseling services at your college where you can meet with a therapist one-on-one to outline specific anxiety management techniques that will be helpful for you and your unique situation.
Final Thoughts on Test Taking Strategies for Nursing Students
To review, my 8 tips to destroying your nursing school exams are:
- Know the content
- Narrow your focus
- Manage your time
- Read each question carefully
- Use the process of elimination
- Turn multiple choice questions into yes/no questions
- Manage your test anxiety
Take these to heart, and you’ll set yourself up for success!
Getting ready for nursing school clinicals, but feeling unprepared?
Nursing School Clinical Prep from FreshRN is a self-paced video course that will prepare you for your first nursing clinical experience. Each lesson walks you through the basic tasks and concepts you will experience in the clinical setting. Once completed, you’ll feel comfortable in a hospital setting, understand the basics of what the bedside experience will feel like, and know insider tips and tricks that will make you feel confident and in control.
More Resources for Nursing Students
- Medication Administration Basics for Nursing Students
- How to Survive Nursing School [Masterpost]
- Nursing School Pharmacology Doesn’t Have to Suck!
- 10 Mistakes Nursing Students Make (And How to Avoid Them) – a free 26-page ebook that outlines all of the mistakes I made in nursing school, and the ones I’ve seen so many other students make since – plus practical ways to prevent making them yourself
Pooja Patel says
Such good advice! Wish I had this when I was in nursing school 6 years ago haha! But happy you are sharing all of this great info to the current nursing students!