HESI A2 – Anatomy & Physiology

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When I took HESI A2 earlier this year, I was incredibly nervous about the Anatomy & Physiology section.  It had been 6 years since I had completed my last A&P course!  I felt like I was risking my credibility as an expert tutor based on that section alone, especially since I always emphasize that A&P is the most important topic you should be focusing on to succeed in your nursing classes.  

human anatomy

The truth is, I felt pretty confident in my knowledge of general A&P…but was afraid that I would be fuzzy on exact definitions, names of specific muscles, bone landmarks, or other little details that weren’t referenced very often in nursing school.  How would it make me look? For that reason, my strategy was to start with the Anatomy & Physiology section first and get it out of the way.  (By the way, did you know that you can choose which order to take your HESI A2 test sections?)

Before I jump into describing my HESI A2 Anatomy & Physiology experience, I first need to give a little disclaimer.  I never had to take HESI A2 when I applied to my nursing school, but I’ve gotten so many questions about it over the years that I signed up to take it earlier this year and I’m in the process of sharing my experience in a series of blog posts.  

That being said…for those of you that are new to Your Nursing Tutor, I’m going to let you know up front that I think maintaining honesty and integrity are two of the most important things you need to do as a nurse.  And that includes not cheating on tests for any reason when you are a student nurse.   I will never share specific test questions, and I am not interested in buying or selling test banks for exams or textbooks.  If you email me to ask me for something like that, I’ll politely tell you no and refer you to this previous blog post.

Now that we’ve gotten that little disclaimer out of the way…

How to Prepare for the Anatomy & Physiology Section

I definitely recommend picking up a copy of the official HESI A2 Review book, but you need to be aware that it does not contain a comprehensive review of A&P.  This book only offers a very brief overview that serves to remind you of the A&P topics that might be included on the exam, but it’s up to you to decide how well you remember everything and if you need to get additional study resources.  If it’s been a while since you’ve actually taken A&P, then you’ll probably want to pull out your old textbook to supplement your review.  If, on the other hand, you used your old A&P textbook as fuel for a celebratory bonfire five minutes after you finished your A&P final exam…well, maybe you should consider getting a new one.  I use an older version of this one by Saladin.  If you don’t have the cash to buy brand new, feel free to save some money by purchasing an older edition.  After all, it’s not like the human body changes all that much every few years…

As I mentioned, the HESI A2 Review book can be helpful in reminding you of the types of A&P information you need to remember, especially if it’s been a while since you took the class.  You’ll probably find that if you work a job that requires you to use A&P knowledge on a regular basis (like being a nursing tutor) that you only need a minimal review.  But if it’s been a long time since you’ve used any A&P knowledge and you feel like all that information may have evaporated from your brain, then it’s worth doing a bigger review.  Not only will it help you on the HESI A2, but it will be essential to your success once you start nursing school.  I’m not kidding when I say that A&P is the #1 thing you need to understand to succeed in nursing school, so this goes beyond HESI A2 in importance.

If your A&P class was completed more recently, then you’ll probably be fine.  This is especially true if you did well in your class and seem to be retaining the material.  If you didn’t do so well in A&P, then you might want to seriously rethink whether it’s a good time to start nursing school right now, anyway.  A&P is such a foundational topic to everything that you need to know in your nursing classes, that if you start out with a weak knowledge of A&P then you’re just setting yourself up for failure.  If that sounds like you, then now would be a great time to do some serious A&P review work.

What are the Anatomy & Physiology Questions Like?

The A&P section on my test contained 25 questions, and they were pretty straight forward so it didn’t take me very long to complete them all.  Definitely not like the NCLEX-style questions that you start seeing during nursing school!  I finished in exactly 8 minutes and 45 seconds.

Just like in your A&P class, there were quite a few questions that required you to know a memorized fact – you either knew it, or you didn’t.  For me, that was pretty tough because my tutoring philosophy is to focus on the big concepts and not get bogged down in trying to memorize the less important details.  Because of that, I generally discourage rote memorization for nursing material except in very specific situations.  A&P happens to be one of those exceptions, in case you were wondering, but remember how I said it had been about 6 years since I took A&P?  Yeah…those memorized details are a little bit fuzzy in my brain by now.

Luckily for me, I could usually narrow down the answer choices based on other A&P facts I remembered.  For example, if I didn’t know the answer, but I knew enough about 3 answer choices to decide that they weren’t the answer…then I could make an educated guess that the 4th choice must be the correct choice.  That’s a legitimate test taking strategy that you can use in nursing school, too!

I also noticed that the exam seemed to ask a lot about the functions of various body parts or systems.  This was fortunate, because when I tutor nursing students I tend to focus on what different body systems do, and why they do that.  So I felt very prepared to answer “what does the (fill-in-the-blank) do?” types of questions.

Identifying landmarks seemed to be another big segment of the exam.  It might include locating parts of the heart, naming major blood vessels, or figuring out where in the body something is located.  My confidence with these questions really depended on what specifically was being asked.  If the question asked about a body system that you need to know really well for nursing school (like the heart, lungs, kidney, etc), then I felt like I had the knowledge to answer correctly.  But some of the questions asked about things that aren’t as much of a foundation for nursing classes, and those questions I felt a bit shakier with.

Overall, there weren’t a lot of surprises on the A&P section.  There were many questions that seemed to require memorized knowledge, but I was also able to use good test-taking strategy to answer correctly when I couldn’t remember the facts.  That being said, I know that I would have felt a lot more confident all-around if I had taken the HESI A2 immediately after finishing my original A&P classes 6 years ago.

So…What Was My Score?

Fortunately for my reputation as an expert nurse tutor, I got 22 out of 25 of the questions correct, which gave me a score of 88%.  To see how that compares to other test-takers, the minimum recommended score for the A&P section of the HESI A2 at this school was 80% (according to the official documentation, each school can set their own minimum recommended score).  My score report also stated that the National Average of all HESI A2-takers for A&P was an 86%, and the average of all HESI A2-takers at my school was a 71%.  So all things considered, I did pretty well.

Surprisingly, this section actually turned out to be my lowest scored section on the entire test, though.  It was the only section where I scored less than 90%.  I chalk it up to a combination of nerves and the test’s focus on specific fact memorization, which is definitely a weakness for me at this point.  Nerves were an issue for me because I emphasize A&P so much to my tutoring students and throughout the PASS Program that I didn’t want to screw up on this section!  And as I mentioned earlier, the emphasis on recalling memorized details is the opposite of how I teach current nursing students (although it IS a good way to approach a lot of A&P information, and WAS a large part of how I studied way back then).

Bottom Line 

If it’s been a while since you’ve taken A&P and you haven’t been using the information regularly for your current job, then make sure you do a thorough review of…everything.  Sorry, but there’s just no getting around it!  It’s impossible to predict exactly what will be on the A&P section because they only ask 25 questions to represent two semesters worth of A&P knowledge.  If you just finished A&P within the past year (or are currently taking it), then you should do okay as long as you’re doing well in your class.  In either case, it is definitely worth spending time to make sure you have a confident understanding of A&P because it is the foundation of your nursing school classes, and can make your break your nursing school experience.

So, how long has it been since YOU took Anatomy & Physiology?  Which A&P topic do you think you need to review the most?  

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7 thoughts on “HESI A2 – Anatomy & Physiology”

  1. Hi I’m due to take my exam in a month but I am freaking out about the a&p section. I have started to study but I don’t know exactly how much in detail I should be reviewing the systems. I am currently trying to learn the bones but it is so much information I am afraid I am spending too much time on sections reviewing details that will not be on my exam. So my question is how much detail should I be reviewing for my test?

    1. I am taking my exam in a month as well….I am going over all the chapters with the help of you tube and AP podcast.

    2. ValeRie and Lisa,
      How well did you guys do with the HESI and what do you believe would be helpful for a future HESI A2 test taker like me? I will be taking the exam in October.

      Thank you in advance!

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