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A Guide to Preparing for Nursing School Exams

Nursing school exams are often one of the most stressful parts of life as a nursing student. These exams can be difficult, and it can sometimes seem nearly impossible to know what content will be on the exam and what will be skipped. Perfecting one's study technique is a great way to ensure nursing school success, but there are some other methods and tools to be aware of. With the right preparation, students should be able to take exams with confidence and be pleased with the results.

APA Style of Writing

Nursing students must familiarize themselves the American Psychology Association’s style of writing, especially when it comes to nursing practice papers. Failure to write papers and cite sources correctly may result in failing grades. Nurses are responsible for documenting physical health assessments for each patient under their care. This ensures proper treatment for patients. Without the correct patient documentation, the facility may not have a correct understanding of the patient's condition and medical needs.

Test Plan and Examination References

While this is not true of all nursing programs, some certification or diploma programs provide students with an examination handbook. One of the resources that might be found in this handbook is a test plan, or blueprint. The exam blueprint dissects the exam's content and provides statistical data that indicates how the subject matter is weighted on the certification exam. Prospective nursing graduates should familiarize themselves with the patient problems listed under a subsection entitled “Clinical Judgment.” This subsection includes signs, symptoms, laboratory values, blood gases, potential medications, and adverse side effects. It outlines the procedures and general nursing interventions related to the patient's problems. The test-taker should conduct a self-assessment to see which problems need special attention in order to improve future test scores.

Nursing examinations often require more application than recall-oriented exams. Some may require the test-taker to apply the information to a real-life patient situation. For example, a question might specify vital signs, symptoms, and laboratory values for a specific person and then ask the nursing student what he or she might do in that particular situation. Since nurses rely on their knowledge gained throughout the nursing program, the exam must reflect and test that knowledge. Practicing the application of information to patient situations will prove beneficial when preparing for exams.

Conduct a Self-Assessment Exam (SAE)

A number of organizations provide online self-assessment exams, including the CCRN and PCCN exams. Each SAE test question includes explanation for correct and incorrect answers. These guides will help prospective nursing graduates practice application-oriented exams.

Examination Review Classes

Similar to preparatory standardized test classes, nursing exam review courses help prospective nursing graduates to pass their licensure exams. Various companies offer these courses throughout the United States. These preparatory provide the necessary hands-on, application-oriented practice that potential nursing graduates need in order to pass their examinations.

Study Groups

For some students, it is useful to form study groups for the purpose of sharing ideas and providing feedback in regards to test performance. Candidates who share their resources and knowledge with each other can help reinforce the information needed to pass their examinations. It can be helpful for a group of students to schedule a practice test at the same time and arrive at the testing center together to provide support. However, study groups are only useful if students are able to stay on task and avoid off-topic conversation.

Nurses as Mentors

Seeking out nurses as mentors can help students to pass exams. Scheduling time to shadow a nurse can help increase nursing knowledge and experience. Experience in clinical settings can help improve decision-making skills, which is useful in nursing exams. It may also be helpful to seek out the advice of a nurse who has recently completed nursing school, as memory of exams and their own preparation techniques is likely to fresh in their minds.

Test Score Reports

Graduates retaking the nursing examinations should review their original score reports received after taking the exam and then identify the areas that need the most improvement. Extra attention should be placed on these areas, especially for the more heavily weighted subject areas listed within the test plan. While all information on the test is important, students should focus most on that which is weighted heavily.