Magazine article American Nurse Today

Test-Taking Tips: Use Your Critical Thinking Skills to Ace Your Next Exam

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Test-Taking Tips: Use Your Critical Thinking Skills to Ace Your Next Exam

Article excerpt

Test taking is a skill, whether you're a student currently enrolled in a nursing program or have just recently returned to school after several years in the workforce. In either case, these tips will help you build your test-taking muscles.

Put on your critical-thinking cap

Multiple-choice exams can include charts, tables, or graphs, but usually you'll encounter three basic components to each question: the stem, the distractors, and the correct answer. The stem includes the situation or problem, all relevant information about the patient, including healthcare needs, and a question or an incomplete statement that you must answer. The distractors are the three incorrect answers that contain some correct information but aren't totally correct. Typically, one of the choices is completely wrong and easily eliminated. The right answer is the only totally correct choice.

The key to successful test taking is accurately identifying what the question is asking. Don't focus on the background information; think through the problem or situation as identified in the question. Whether it's a knowledge, application, delegation, or medication question, most questions are designed to test critical thinking. Several strategies will help you problem-solve your way to a correct answer.

Reword the question

Carefully read the entire question. Don't rush through it or stop halfway through because you assume that you know what's being asked. Reword the stem to make it easier to understand, and answer the question. Look for hints or key words, such as most, all, first, best, primary, initial, always, and never. On a paper exam, underline or circle those words so that you don't forget them when seeking your answer; on a computer exam, write them on scrap paper.

Questions with phrases in the stem stating "further teaching is needed" may indicate that the answer contains incorrect information or has a negative connotation. For example:

The nurse has completed discharge teaching with the parents of a child suffering from atopic dermatitis. The nurse determines that further teaching is needed when the mother states it is most important upon discharge to:

a. Maintain a high-humidified environment to keep her child's skin moist.

b. Keep her child's fingernails trimmed short and with no rough edges.

c. Wrap her child's hands in soft cotton gloves.

d. Dress her child in loose soft clothing.

The correct answer is "a." Since "further teaching is needed," you're looking for an answer that shows what the patient got wrong. In this case, a humid environment would increase bacterial growth and cause clothing to rub and irritate the child's skin.

The stem of an answer that holds positive or correct information might be worded like this: "the patient demonstrates knowledge and understanding." For example:

When a nurse is providing education to a patient newly diagnosed with diabetes, which action demonstrates learning has occurred?

a. The nurse presented information to the patient about diabetes.

b. The patient demonstrates how to inject insulin.

c. The patient watches a film on diabetes.

d. A primary care provider gives the patient a pamphlet on diabetes.

The correct answer is "b." "Learning has occurred" is a positive statement, so you're looking for a statement that demonstrates a learned action. "B" is the only answer where the patient demonstrates a learned behavior that's related to what has been taught.

Choosing the correct answer may mean choosing among several answers that have some degree of correct information. This is where critical thinking especially comes into play. Go back to your interpretation of what the question was really asking, and the correct answer should be apparent.

Answer the question first

Try answering the question before looking at the choices. …

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