by Diana Rupert, PhD, RN, CNE
Have you ever had a student say, “I studied the wrong thing!” or “I don’t know where to begin to study for this test” or “I do not remember covering this information.” Another popular statement is, “What will be on the test?” One way to help eliminate the confusion and anxiety that these statements represent is to create a test map.
Many students ask why they have to take so many tests. Nurse educators use tests and clinical practicum experiences to validate student learning and progress throughout the nursing curriculum. Instructors also rely on tests to help prepare students for their biggest nursing test…the NCLEX®! Many nursing programs introduce the NCLEX test plan as early as the first nursing course. Exposure to the NCLEX test plan provides students with an opportunity to understand how the NCLEX is organized and the content that it includes. This is also a nice chance for faculty to emphasize that content taught in the first nursing course is as important as the advanced concepts in later courses.
The nursing curriculum is broad, and concepts build on one another, requiring students to develop advanced reasoning skills to be successful. Though the breadth and depth of the NCLEX is not the focus for students preparing for a course test, students still struggle to identify key concepts and apply nursing knowledge. Just as the NCLEX test plan provides direction and clarification about what that examination will emphasize, a test map for course examinations provides students with the opportunity to reflect on the information presented for that course and how that information will be applied in nursing practice.
What are common considerations for nurse educators when building a test map? You must first begin with the basics. Building the test map starts by establishing the course’s place in the nursing curriculum and what is expected (depending upon level) of the student. Look to the course outline with objectives, then factor in the emphasis on the content by way of the time allotted to each topic. Proceeding in this way addresses the frequent student frustration that educators spend a lot of classroom time emphasizing a content area but have only one or two questions about that topic on the test. Aligning content emphasis with time also ensures thorough distribution of items from the content repository.
If you are developing a test and test map for multiple chapters (longer teaching hours and a higher number of test items included), a good idea is to make a test blueprint to organize the content. This is particularly helpful when team teaching. As you distribute the teaching content, also distribute the number of items needed. Test blueprints are linked to validity. Is the test measuring the intended content? Below is an example of a basic test blueprint.
Objective/ Content Topic Hours Alloted Number of Items Style of Item Taxonomy Author
Ex: Hypertension 2 hours 5 3 multiple choice 1 comprehension Dr. Rupert
Lastly, a decision is now needed on what to tell the students to help them use a test map to prepare for their actual test. Educators have different viewpoints on the amount of information they feel comfortable sharing and about the time at which to share it. Some educators will share content specifically (e.g., signs of hypertension, nursing considerations when administering antihypertensive drugs). Others on their test maps will provide the objective, number of questions, style of item, and taxonomy level, which are directly obtained from the test blueprint. Providing the style of item and content area allows the student to ask themselves how the topic could be asked as a fill-in-the blank question (e.g., medication calculation) versus a select-all-that-apply question (e.g., identifying the signs and symptoms of hypertension). Providing the taxonomy level allows the student to ask themselves which key points might be grouped together for analysis (e.g., lab values, medications). The test map provides the student with insight about the weight of each topic by the number and style of questions and begins to independently form key points. This facilitates higher-level reasoning, which will benefit students in their nursing careers as well.
Objective/Content Topic Number of Items Style of Item Taxonomy
Objective 1: 5 3 Multiple Choice 1 Comprehension
Content Area: 1 Fill in the Blank 1 Application
ex: Hypertension 1 Select all that Apply 2 Analysis
Faculty must choose the style and manner in which they design a test map. For an overall nursing program, it can be helpful for faculty to collaborate for consistency on their test map styles across courses, to avoid student dissatisfaction with one faculty member over another.