S. Kuykendall, MSN, RN, CHPN
Professor of Nursing
River Valley Community College
Methods of Test-Taking
In nursing school, some students may struggle with the varying testing methods utilized to determine theoretical knowledge and evidence of critical thinking as it relates to prioritized and safe patient care. One overarching challenge is when students must make the transition from regurgitation/recall-type questions, to more complex questions requiring application and analysis methods. In addition, when distractors with more than one correct answer (whereby students must be discerning and select the “most correct” response) are present, a greater depth and breath of conceptual understanding is required.
Considering these higher-level testing methods, students may find themselves unable to be successful in this new environment. Frustration may ensue, and students may become uncertain of how to rectify past test-taking mistakes and move successfully forward. The definition of insanity has been described as, “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” Students may lack the tools to understand why they missed the questions and may not be able to consider trends in their test-taking skillsets.
Analytic Tool for Student Success
With these ongoing challenges, nursing educators must assist students in taking a retrospective view of trends in their test-taking processes. As a result, this author has developed a “test-taking analysis” tool whereby students utilize this document at the end of each exam, allowing for scrutiny and evaluation of test-taking trends. Students should optimally utilize this tool at the culmination of each exam, and then evaluate trends to strategically plan for future study endeavors.
This tool can be amended to suit educator preference; however, the outline of the analytic document should be as follows: one column to the far left with a free-text area for students to write the topic descriptor, and then 4 vertical columns to the right, with the following headings: I read too quickly, I misread/overlooked key words, I used wrong rationale, or I prioritized incorrectly. Students are then given a second free text area with any helpful notes. Below is an example of this test-taking document.
Analytic Tool to Augment Scaffolding in Learning
Providing students with the opportunity to see trends in their responses; essentially how and why they are missing questions, will provide them with a direct analysis of their selection methods in test-taking. In addition, nursing is a profession whereby students must understand the concept of scaffolding: fundamental concepts will establish groundwork for higher-acuity conditions and maladies. If students are to simply view any particular exam content as isolated, then they are not recognizing the importance of using this analytic tool to provide insight and rectify possible issues with future test-taking.
Nursing educators should be focused on innovation while providing a solid theoretical and clinical framework. Utilizing this analytic tool can facilitate growth and trending beyond the scope of a traditional exam review. In addition, this retrospective assessment can allow nurse educators to take a system view to determine if there are gaps in pedagogical knowledge for students, or if students themselves need to strategize for test questions in an alternative way.
Utilization of a test-taking analysis tool provides students with the opportunities to see trends in their test-taking methods. This retrospective analysis can provide insight to students and educators, allowing for discussions regarding test-taking strategies in a manner in which the student finds relevance and applicability, and the educator finds improving score results. Focused academic reflectivity in this circumstance closely aligns with the QSEN competencies of Quality Improvement and Informatics, whereby the student evaluates performance to improve knowledge of future test-taking endeavors.