Test Taking Techniques
Joy Borrero, RN, MSN
How to pass your nursing exams:
• Get NCLEX review book
• Log on to Evolve website: Potter and Perry Tex, review
• Practice ATI questions
• Remember “Maslow” when answering priority questions:
Keep them breathing
Keep them safe
Top 10 Tips
• Be consistent with time and place
• Limit the study time to 45-60 minutes, then take a 10
• During break- do somehing mindless
• Prioritize as you study or review-what you need to know
versus what you want to know
• Alternate subjects every hour
• Use a highlighter to ID essential facts or concepts
Top 10 Tips
• Use yellow paper or notecards for note-taking
• On low energy day-study content you consider easy and fun
• On high energy days-study content you consider difficult
• Keep a portable study reference or some review cards in the
car, purse or pocket.
Test taking tips
• Read the test instructions carefully and if you don’t understand something
ask your proctor
• Synchronize your watch with the proctor’s
• Cross out any answers that make no sense.
• Look for answers that contradict basic nursing knowledge
• Watch for answers that contain absolutes such as “never” because these
answers are seldom correct
• Pick the best answer based on which answer is true.
• If you are still stumped always think Maslow and the hierarchy of needs
• Briefly review the exam before handing it in to make sure you didn’t
misread an always, never or except question.
• Don’t obsess over every question-trust your gut instincts.
Multiple Choice Questions
• Try to answer the question yourself before looking at the answers
• Answer the questions you know first. Mark the ones you are not
sure of and go back to them
• Your first instinct is usually correct, don’t change an answer unless
you are sure you made a mistake
• Take questions at face value- don’t get caught up looking for tricks.
There probably aren’t any. Stick to the facts, don’t read to much into
• Watch meanings of sentences containing double negatives. Cross
out both negatives and then answer the question.
If you are still having trouble:
• Rephrase the question in your own words
• Underline, circle or highlight key words. This can
help untangle complicated questions.
• Look for answers in other test questions
• Cross out the answers you know are incorrect, and
select your answer from the remaining options
• Never leave a question unanswered.
If ABC is taken care of, go for the option that is the
least dangerous to the patient
When reading the question ask
1. Who is the client?
2. What is the problem?
3. What specifically is asked about the problem?
4. What time frame is being addressed?
5. Identify which nursing process step is being tested
Use the following rules together with
• Law of opposites
• Odd man wins
• Repeated words
• Absolutely not
What action would violate medical
asepsis when making an occupied bed?
A. Wearing gloves when changing the linen
B. Returning unused linen to the linen closet
C. Using the old top sheet for the new bottom sheet
D. Tucking clean linen against the springs of the bed
A patient is on a low sodium diet. Before
discharge, the pt should be taught to avoid:
A. Stewed fruit
B. Luncheon meats
C. Whole grain cereal
D. Green leafy vegetables
When rubbing a pt’s back, the nurse
A. Knead the skin
B. Wipe off excess lotion
C. Use continuous, firm strokes
D. Apply pressure over the vertebrae
• The nurse is assigned to care for a pt who is
incontinent of urine and stool. What should the
nurse apply to best protect this patient’s skin?
A. Petroleum type jelly
B. An incontinent pad
C. Talcum powder
• What should be the nurse’s first action before
administering an enema?
A. Verify the physician’s order
B. Collect the appropriate equipment
C. Arrange for a bathroom to be empty
D. Inform the patient about the procedure.
To meet a pt’s basic physiologic needs according to
Maslow, what should the nurse do?
A. Pull the curtain when the pt is on a bedpan
B. Maintain the pt in proper alignment
C. Respond to the call light immediately
D. Raise both side rails on the bed
What should the nurse do to meet a pt’s self-esteem
A. Encourage the pt to perform self-care when
B. Suggest that the family visit the pt more often
C. Anticipate needs before the pt requests help
D. Assist the pt with bathing and groomimg
Type 1 Question Format
These are questions that ask for:
• Initial or first action
• Priority factors
• Identification of initial or beginning symptoms or
• Anticipated findings.
• Consider all of the options are correct
• Do not look for the incorrect option
• Can easily narrow the options to 2
• Then consider these priorities:
Is there a time element?
What is the length of the disease process (acute/chronic)?
Associated essential concepts: Maslow, ABC, Kubler-
Never chose an option without reading all of the
options or all of the parts of one option!
Awkwardly Worded Questions
• Need to clarify what is being asked.
• Don’t get upset over them
• Reword the question
What does the nurse include about what to avoid?
What should the patient avoid?
The nurse would assess for all but which of the following?
What would the nurse not look for?
Rewording the Question
Which color is not a primary color?
A child has swallowed an alkaline solution. The goal
for the nurse is to:
a. Neutralize the substance
b. Identify the specific solution
c. Prevent scarring/ obstruction
d. Provide emotional support
With every question:
Be alert to key words such as: most, least
first, initially, immediately
toxic vs therapeutic levels
side effects vs. expected effects
most likely, commonly, frequently
Make a note of time
Day one vs day three
Preop vs Postop
Predisposing vs. complication
Note unfamiliar words, reword the question without
Note the age of clients
Identify words of essence such as “acute” vs. “chronic”
Pinpoint locations such as hospital, home, PACU, etc.
During the assessment of a client with early LVHF, the
nurse might expect the client to report which of
• In clients with sickle cell anemia which terminal
complication does the nurse anticipate if the sickling
• For the client with…. is the nurse most likely not to
avoid instruction that includes the use of aspirin?
• What body system is unaffected by the enzymes
given to children with CF?
In performing the assessment of the client, what should
the nurse not omit?
You used your 50-50, but you can’t call
a friend or poll the audience
Read the question and note key words or clues
Read one option and note key words or clues
Read the question again
Read the second option and note key words or clues
This gives you 2 separate thoughts
A young pregnant client has a hx of heroin addiction.
For which problem should this client also be
screened for a potential dx at this time?
d. Symptomatic bacteremia
Underline: key individual words
Who is being asked about?
A client is being scheduled for a colonoscopy. The most
serious complication associated with this procedure is:
b. Severe abdominal cramping
c. Infection following the procedure
d. Perforation of the bowel
Cluster Approach:Shave or shorten
An hour after receiving pain meds, a new postop pt was
still complaining of severe (9/10) leg pain. Pain
med cannot be given for another 2 hours. How can
the nurse best assist the client with dealing with the
a. Offer the client a magazine to read
b. Guide the client in slow rhythmic breathing
c. Turn the light s low, give a PRN calming agent and
close the door
d. Call the MD and ask for an increase in the dosage
of the PRN pain med
Read vertically with series
What observations are anticipated in a client who is
a. Rising temp, HA, weak pulse
b. SOB, generalized discomfort, thready pulse
c. HTN, mottled skin, irregular pulse
d. Sighing respirations, decreased urine output, faster
The immobilized client is prone to the development of
PN. To prevent this, the nurse would:
a. Encourage hyperventilation
b. Order prophylactic antibiotics
c. Assist the client to C&DB
d. Teach the client about the dangers of overexertion
and encourage rest.
Which of the following contains all the elements necessary for
a. The nurse explains the procedure and obtains the written
b. Any hospital employee may obtain the client’s signature
on the consent form
c. The physician explains the operative procedure and
obtains the consent on a form that IDs the procedure
d. The client signs the consent for the specific procedure
after the MD explains the procedure and associated risks.
DM is the most common disorder of glucose
regulation owing to decreased amount/absence of
insulin that results in abnormal metabolism of:
d. CHO, protein, and fat
• Don’t panic. Pause and use your critical thinking
• Do not read into the question. JUST THE
• Be cautious in choosing an option that has
absolute words in it: all,none,always, forever,
• Content cannot be in the option if it is not in the
A 145lb, active, 91 yo male falls while painting his
garage. He is admitted to your unit with a fx hip.
He does not like hospital food and refuses to eat.
His basic caloric need during hospitalization is
expected to :
a. Decrease because of his inactivity
b. Decrease because of his advanced age
c. Increase because of his high activity level
d. Increase because of his fracture
• Use common sense and logic
• Do not read into a question, assume something, make
the client sicker than he is, speculate on the situation
or mentally add anything more than the information
• Remember each question contains all the info
necessary to answer the question correctly
• Be cautious with answers that involve “notifying the
physician” without checking for an appropriate
nursing intervention first.
After the test
• Review the questions that you have missed.
• Place the incorrect answer in a category of C
(lack content knowledge) or M (misread)
• Review C and see if you could have made an
association between the info and the option
• Review M and see how you could have avoided
reading into the question or ID key words
Rollant, Paulette D. (1999). Soar to Success: Do Your
Best on Nursing Tests.
Nugent, Patricia M. & Vitale, Barbara A. (2008). Test
Success. Test-taking Techniques for Beginning
Nursing Students. 5th Edition. Philadelphia: F.A.