Test-taking Tips: Nursing Students

Trocaire College Libraries

This guide with help you with preparing for the various types of testing that you will need to take during your nursing school career.

Sections of the Guide:

  • Ready for a Test?
  • Before the Test
  • Strategies to Help You Study
  • During the Test
  • After the Test
  • Helpful Videos

Ready for a Test?

To be successful in passing a test and retaining information, you need to develop a test-taking strategy or plan. Developing a strategy or plan for test-taking success will be beneficial not only for your nursing classes, but any other classes that you take in your academic career.

Being successful involves preparation, concentration and follow up.

So, you have chosen a profession that will help others with their healthcare needs. That means that you should be very aware of making sure that you get your rest, exercise and maintain healthy eating habits. If you are rested and feel good, you are able to concentrate on your studies.

Plan to study at a reasonable hour and have a space to study. Make sure that you have all your "stuff" for studying and you have plenty of time to study.

Think positive when studying.

Being mindful of all of these elements mentioned above will lead you to being at the “top of your game”!

Before the Test

Listed here are some tips for successful test-taking.

  • Understand the purpose and the scope of the test. It is important that you know exactly what kind of information will be covered in the test. It is also important that your know the "weight" of the exam. For example, is it a quiz worth 10% of your grade or the final exam that is 50%?

  • Know the time, time allotted, date and location of the test. Usually it is listed on Moodle or in your syllabus. A good habit is to look at the syllabi of all your classes and note the time/day of each test (and assignments) in a calendar. This will give you a visual of things that need to be accomplished or attended to.

  • Determine the type of test that will be given. Is it a written test, simulation with a mannequin or clinical with a patient surrogate?

  • If it is a written test, what four types of questions will be asked and what is the format?

Types of questions:

  • Knowledge questions: requires you to recall information learned in class
  • Comprehension questions: asks how or why something occurs
  • Application questions: demands that you relate information to a real situation
  • Analysis questions: uses your ability to define, comprehend and apply your knowledge

Formats of questions:

  • Multiple-choice: 1 correct answer
  • Multiple response: 1 or more correct answer
  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • "Hot Spot": asks you to identify a feature on an illustration
  • Chart or Exhibit: a scenario or chart is given and you must interpret the relevant data and make a clinical decision

  • Prepare. Learning nursing concepts, content, application, critical thinking and clinical decision-making is all a part of the nursing education experience. This requires that you study and focus on the task at hand.

  • Visualize success- Don't go into an exam negative! Visualize your success in acing the exam.

Strategies to Help You Study

Listed below are some strategies that will help in studying and being a successful nursing student.

  • Attend class and participate: Take notes during class and review them immediately after and fill in any missing information. Nursing is not a "spectator sport" you need to participate actively in your own nursing education.

  • Find a "study buddy" or study group. Make a review schedule. Avoid the last-minute cramming!

  • Use practice questions that are the same complexity as the test. Use outside sources if necessary.

  • Study major concepts and nursing implications, especially for tests that ask you to think and act like a nurse. Think in terms of action, not necessarily facts.

  • Know your preferred learning style. Are you more of a visual, auditory or tactile learner? This will help you to tailor the way you approach studying.

  • Attend a pretest session if offered by the instructor.

  • Don't hesitate to approach your instructor with a question.

  • Be physical prepared: sleep, exercise, eat healthy

During the Test

  • Read the test directions and questions carefully. If you can, skim the entire test and note sections and point values of questions.

  • If the test is done electronically, make sure you know how to mark, change and submit your answers.

  • If you cannot answer a question quickly, move onto the next question and come back to that question later.

  • If there is only 1 and only 1 correct answer and you make a selection, keep it. Don't convince yourself to choose another. Your first instinct is usually the right one!

  • If AGE and TIME are mentioned in a question it is USUALLY significant.

  • If all answers are true, re-read the question. What is it asking?

  • If all answers are correct, select the most inclusive answer.

  • Look for keywords. Sometimes one word or phrase will bear the most weight, focus on it.

  • The same word or synonym may appear in the question as well as the answer

  • If there are 2 opposite answers, usually 1 of them is correct.

  • If the question contains words such as initial, first or priority, use your priority skills. Remember: ABC's, Maslow's hierarchy of need, nursing process and always patients before equipment.

  • Be sure to understand each component of the question: A scenario: essential data on a patient or situation. Read it and focus on the data. A stem: the question. Paraphrase it in your mind and be sure what is being asked. Many times the answer to the question is in the stem. Possible answers: one or more may be correct.

  • Manage your anxiety. Be prepared and stay relaxed. Answer the easiest questions first, this will help you gain confidence as you go along.

After the Test

  • Obtain your results and follow up. Think about what went well and what you could have done differently. Look up the answers for the questions that you did not answer correctly. Do you understand the correct answers? Then look for patterns in the missed questions. Is your knowledge lacking in that area, did you not completely understand the concept or procedure? Do you need to review the entire topic?

  • Evaluate and perhaps revise your test-taking prepping. Should you join a study group? Should you take practice tests? Did you attend all classes and take thorough notes? Did you do all the assigned readings?


Billings, D. (2007). Seven steps for test-taking success. AJN American Journal of Nursing, 107 (4), 72AAA-CCC.

Chancellor, J. (2013). Students Voices. Effective study habits for nursing students. Nursing, 43(4), 68-69.

Any questions, ask a librarian!

updated June 2021