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Nursing Test Success: The EASY A

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While common study skills are important whenever you are pursuing higher education, there are also some not-so-common things to consider when pursuing your nursing degree. Clara Hurd offers her tips for an easier way to the A.
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It’s a new year and a new decade. What was your new year’s resolution? Maybe it was to improve your grades for this semester. If so, you will be really interested in the material contained in this article. No one has to tell you how difficult it can be to obtain an A in a nursing course. If you set this as a goal, the steps that follow will improve your chances of reaching that goal.

There are several paths to follow that will lead you to that A. All of these paths work together to get you the success you seek.

Become acquainted with the material

One of the major tasks that will help you obtain an A is to master the knowledge of the content to be tested. How to obtain this knowledge will depend on your individual learning styles. Some students learn best by listening, whereas others prefer visual presentations. Whatever your style of learning, some common aspects to keep in mind include the following:

  • Class attendance and class participation—in order to get all the material you need for an exam, you must attend class. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to students tell me how missing just one class decreased their test score. This fact reiterates to me just how important it is for you to be present for this experience. Participation in class can be an important way for you to retain information. Be an interactive participant during class by answering questions, asking questions, and being involved in group work or discussions. Taking notes during class, rewriting notes after class, listening to audiotapes of the content are all other means of learning the material.
  • Class preparation—Nursing courses are fast paced; therefore, you must be prepared prior to class in order to fully understand the material. This can be as simple as reading the content or as in-depth as studying and writing notes prior to class. Your instructor is a phenomenal resource. If you have content that you do not understand by preparation, write down your specific questions to discuss with your instructor. Several medical surgical textbooks offer several means for students to grasp content with online services (case studies, videos, etc.).

Study for the exam

If you really expect an A, you have to study. You have already prepared for class, participated in class, and obtained notes and audiotapes to assist you with studying.

Now is the time to further utilize your notes, audiotapes, etc. so that you are thoroughly prepared. You are probably familiar with how to study for the exam. Has this been getting you the A that you wanted? If it hasn’t, then it’s time that you rethink how you study. Are you giving yourself enough time to study or are you waiting to the night before the exam? Have you used all the resources available to you (notes, online resources, books)? Have you done case studies on the content to be tested? Case studies can be valuable in making you think critically, which is required for NCLEX-type nursing items. Case studies also help you identify areas where you’re not yet truly prepared. Another valuable tool for studying is Pearson’s collection of review books. These books can give a summary of the content, allow you to practice questions, take exams specific to your content, and identify your weaknesses.

Utilize test-taking skills

Now, I realize that there are students who have the necessary knowledge, but may still be unable to make an A on the exam. It’s not that you’re not prepared; it’s that you are probably not a good test taker. Fortunately, I have information that will help with that also. Several techniques have been identified to help students who have a problem with taking tests. Please keep these in mind when answering every item on the exam:

How should I answer questions?

  1. Look at the stem (the question). Note key words in the stem (best, initial, priority).
  2. Exactly what is the question asking? Put it in your own words. Disregard any unnecessary wording.
  3. Decide the answer to the question in your head. Look at your options (potential answers) is it there? If it is, Good! Select it. If it’s not, then select the one that is closest to the answer you decided upon.

What if I don’t know the answer to the question?

  1. Read the stem carefully and look for anything that can help you with the answer.
  2. Search for clues, note any extra descriptive in the stem, and the options (for example: extreme dryness, severe bleeding, etc.). Consider this information as important in the stem or a possible answer if in the options.
  3. Note that if stem ask for priority or ranking, then more than one answer may be correct.
  4. Look for test taking clues:
    • Words in the option that are closely associated with words in the stem—the option that contains words closely associated with words appearing in the stem it is often the correct answer. For example, the stem may have the word “cyanosis” and one of the options might include the descriptive term “bluish discoloration.”
    • Odd answer out—when you find an answer that is different from the other options, it is usually the correct answer. An example may be a diet question where several options are all fruits and the correct option is a vegetable such as broccoli.
    • When you see a question containing options that are opposites, one of these opposites is usually correct (for example a high blood pressure and a low blood pressure).
  5. Look at your options and start to rule out each one individually. If you eliminate one distractor on a multiple choice question containing four options, you increase the probability of selecting the correct option by 25%. Select the best answer that goes with whatever your stem is asking you.


I hope that this article will help you to succeed in obtaining an easy A on your nursing exams. Doing as well as possible in nursing school will be important on receiving the preparation necessary to pass the NCLEX exam, provide quality patient care, and personify the nursing profession.


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