Medical Surgical Questions on the NCLEX®
Nothing scares nursing students quite like the words MED/SURG. Whether taking a med/surg class or preparing for these kinds of questions on the NCLEX, students should know what to expect and how to tackle this topic.
Medical Surgical nursing (commonly referred to as "med/surg"), is typically the foundation of a nurse's career, the place where many begin to lay the initial groundwork. Med/surg nursing often involves a heavy client load and long, arduous hours, which is why it often gets a bad rap.
With the right study tactics and skills, students can efficiently learn medical-surgical content, but that's not where the challenge ends. Students must also be able to answer med-surg questions on exams, which is another skill in its own. Here are a few tips to better help nursing students approach and conquer these questions on test day:
Secret to medical-surgical questions
In order to begin with a strong foundation when answering medical-surgical questions, nursing students should understand the pathophysiology of the disease. In particular, students should study the signs and symptoms, complications, nursing interventions, tests ordered and treatments for the disease or condition being tested.
Of course, med/surg questions involve more than just understanding pathophysiology. Once you have learned all the content you need for your nursing course, you're ready to apply your new knowledge and skills to exam questions. While some questions will ask you to recall your knowledge, many will ask you to think critically and apply these questions to client scenarios. To answer these questions successfully, you can take a few different approaches:
What you need to know
- Understand normal and abnormal anatomy for the disease or condition being addressed. For example, think to yourself, "What does the client with pneumonia look like?" In many cases, knowing "normal" anatomy will help you to distinguish what abnormal looks like.
- Study the anatomy and physiology of the disease. Those of you who have taken Anatomy and Physiology I and II in nursing school should remember what "normal" looks like for the disease in question. Understanding this information will help you to apply what you know and eliminate answer choices in the questions.
- Know the signs, symptoms and nursing interventions for the condition expressed in the question. The foundation for this strategy is to recall the nursing interventions for a particular disease, but understanding concepts like "what should the nurse do first" or "what is the best nursing action" are critical thinking skills you will need to apply for tougher priority questions.
- Understand why the client is experiencing signs and symptoms. A great place to start is your anatomy and physiology notes. Understanding the "why" behind the "what" will help you to identify the big picture when addressing NCLEX or nursing exam questions.
- When analyzing select all that apply (multiple response) questions, treat each answer choice as a true/false. Especially on the NCLEX, there are times when each answer choice might feel correct. To help you navigate these questions, ask yourself "is this true or false" for each answer choice and choose only those that apply.
- Remember the "ABC's" (Airway, Breath and Circulation) for each question. For priority questions ("what should the nurse do first), you should always pick an answer choice dealing with the patient's airway (for example, respiration or administering oxygen). If no airway answer choices are present, look next to breathing, then to circulation.
- Focus on the stem of the question and avoid the distractors. With med/surge math questions, instructors (and the NCLEX) may sometimes add extra information that you don't need to answer the problem. Understanding what the question is asking (the stem) will help you better identify what in the answer choice is relevant, which will help you get to the correct answer much quicker.
Practice makes perfect
Don't let all this information overwhelm you! Now that you have this new knowledge, we recommend you start practicing! Practice questions can help you to strengthen your critical thinking and application skills, which will help you perform better on your exams, including the NCLEX. We especially recommend working through application questions that include rationales so that you can investigate why you answered a question correctly or incorrectly.
The more medical-surgical questions you tackle, the more prepared and comfortable you will be for questions on your exams. Always remember to stay calm, read the question carefully, and think about what the stem of the problem. You've got this!
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