Test Taking Strategies

By Lisa Robert


exammultiplechoicepenciltestTest taking techniques are strategies one can utilize to analyze a test item. The most important skill for the test taker is the ability to read the question carefully and determine the key elements in each question. Each question has key words that relate to the patient, the problem, and to aspects of the problem.

Questions contain multiple parts. The stem is the part that asks the question. The other parts include the correct response and the “distractors,” or incorrect but feasible choices. Read the stem slowly and carefully identify what the question is asking.

Some things to remember:

  • Multiple choice questions have only one correct answer.
  • “Select all that apply” questions have more than one correct response, and usually the option “all of the choices” isn’t the correct answer.
  • Carefully and thoughtfully process what each question is asking.
  • Consider each option equally.
  • Each distractor you can eliminate increases the chances of selecting the correct answer.
  • Look for key words in the stem of the question (ex: first, best, most, priority). Rank the options in order of importance.
  • Is the question asking for a negative outcome (i.e.: use of the words “unacceptable,” “contraindicated,” and “least” in the stem of the question)? Which activity should the registered nurse have the patient avoid?
  • Is the question asking about a certain medical diagnosis, nursing intervention, or medication?
  • Identify who the central person the question is asking about (ex.: registered nurse, the patient, a child, etc.).
  • Identify if opposites are used in the distractors. Give this serious consideration. One or both may be eliminated, which increases the chances of selecting the correct answer.
  • Do not change your initial answer. Usually your first instinct is more often correct.
  • Double-check your answers before hitting submit.

Students now have access to a new eBook through the Excelsior College Library! This eBook has unlimited user access. Patricia M. Nugent, RN, MA, MS, EdD and Barbara A. Vitale, RN, MA have written an excellent resource for beginning nursing students, which provides information to assist with critical thinking, time management, effective study tips, and test-taking techniques. Students will find this book helpful to prepare for NCLEX-RN-style questions. Follow the link below to explore this resource, and to develop effective study and test taking strategies.

Nugent, P., & Vitale, B. (2015). Test success: Test-taking techniques for beginning nursing students (7th ed.).