9 Ways to Improve Your Test Scores

Here are nine tips and tactics to use in and out of class to pass the test. Nursing Students General Students Article

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9 Ways to Improve Your Test Scores

Whether you're a nursing student in A&P, taking the NCLEX for the first (or second) time, or upgrading from LPN to RN, testing is a fact of life. It's where you prove your knowledge base and critical thinking skills. And, unfortunately, it's the only way through the next door on your career path.

But a last-minute cram session is not the key to success.

Here are nine strategies to kick maximum butt on that exam.

1- Get a Good Night's Sleep

Pulling an all-nighter is counterproductive. (For those of you rolling right from night shift into class ... you're my heroes!) If you sit down to test with little to no sleep, your brain's already exhausted. How can it do its job if you've been racking it for 24 hours straight?

2- Fuel Your Brain

Have breakfast, even if it's not your usual routine, or lunch, a healthy snack, or whatever is appropriate for the time slot. Brains run on glucose, not caffeine (despite what you may think). You don't expect your car to run 100 miles on fumes, so don't ask your think machine to either.

3- Understanding Over Memorization

If you understand the how and why—rather than just memorizing the what—you can reason out correct answers on the spot. This way, you're not reliant on a memorized list that becomes slippery under stress. It's also where those critical thinking skills come in. Regurgitating a list is not critical thinking. Knowing how to use that list and find the next step, that's where it's at. And less straight memorization leaves more room in your overstuffed cranial closet, too.

4- Ask Questions (long before the test)

This builds understanding for #3 above. So many students choose to go home confused versus raising their hands. They figure they'll ask their friends later... but their friends don't know either. Gee, if only one of them would have asked! Don't be shy. You are students; they are teachers. That's what you're all there for! And chances are, three other people have the same question you do. When the instructor asks if anyone has questions, they really mean it!

5- Put Your Darn Phone Away!

While I'm on the teachers' perspective rant, allow me to give you another valuable tidbit: Give your full attention to what limited class time you have. For instructors, nothing is more frustrating than gazing out over a room of students to find only three or four pairs of eyes actually on you while everyone else is distracting themselves with TikTok, texting, and other nonsense. And they wonder why they flunked the test ...

6- Trust Your Gut

I used to say this before every test. And at every test review, several students inevitably said, "That's the answer I had, but I changed it!” Whatever you pick the first time, unless you have a darn good reason, I beg you, don't change your answer. And a pure lack of confidence is not a good reason.

7- Prioritize

"What should the nurse do first?” Everyone hates those questions. But they mirror real life. This is a frame of reference you can apply to most questions. What is the priority? Which patient needs your attention first? Which is showing signs of a problem brewing? When delegating, who is safe to delegate out and who needs your personal attention?

8- Think Safety

Like prioritizing, this is a lens through which you can view nearly all questions. If you're always thinking, "What is the safest option for the patient?” then you're 75% of the way to the best response. When debating between two possible answer choices, filter it through patient safety. The best choice may become clear. Safety also applies to delegation and scope of practice questions. Is it safe to give that patient to the aid or LPN? Do their needs fall into that coworker's SOP?

9- Breathe

Test anxiety is natural, but only to a point. If you're hyperventilating into a paper bag, you're making too big a deal of it. If you've spent five minutes on one question, you're overthinking it. Don't sabotage yourself. Relax. Take one question at a time. Read your answer options. Which one feels right straight away? Now read everything again. If you didn't find a very specific reason why that first answer pick is not correct, then move on. No big deal. 

I hope this helps. Remember, if you're rested, fueled up, prepared, and (relatively) relaxed, then you just doubled your score. You got this!

J. D. Brink has been a nurse educator, a Naval officer, and a novelist.

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Specializes in oncology.

In your community or baccalaureate college seek out the Student Success Professional  for a one one one session(s). Sometime the Student Success Professionals organize study groups that ARE STUDY GROUPS. The SSP limits side talks, keeps every one on task, knows the subject matter etc.

Memorization will be needed before application. How can you understand what happens when someone breaks a hip..if you don't know what a broken skeleton causes? How can you plan care to assist in the patient's mobility if you truly do not know how the fracture changes the original function?

The original writer has some really good points but when I have had test anxiety, it was because I hadn't studied. You can sleep, eat, breathe but if you don't know the content.....

JDBrink said:

Put Your Darn Phone Away!

Keep it away at clinical, classroom and lab. You will not be able to use it when taking NCLEX... and frankly your lives are not that important/interest that you need to be on facebook continuously. What did we all do before personal phones when we were students at the hospital/classroom?

We gave the phone numbers to our parents, spouse, children, children's schools, siblings etc  I have had students say they have to have their phone in front of their face at all times as their child has asthma. There was never an instance that the child's school didn't get in touch --- actually I don't remember any instance of a school calling about an emergency.

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Great article, thanks for sharing!

Specializes in ICU.

Best ways to improve test scores I also believe in:

1. Sleep well

2. Study Guides

3. Quiz yourself

4. Study Groups

5. Focus on most difficult material for yourself

6. Read answers aloud

7. Speak with professor about ways to improve and resources to study from

Specializes in Neurosurgery, Pediatric Transplant, OB.

Great article! 

One thing I've learned that has greatly helped me is to really focus on the specific question. All too often, I found myself veering off with "well, what if this" or "what about that". Once I was able to eliminate the "noise" in my mind & rein my thoughts back to what the question was actually asking, I starting acing exams.