HESI A2 – Reading Comprehension

When I was a kid, I used to get in trouble for reading after bedtime.  I kept a flashlight in my bedside drawer so I could start reading under the covers after my parents tucked me in at night.  Of course, they occasionally came back up to check on me and discovered my nerdy disobedience!  But I suppose those long hours of reading have paid of, because to this day I love reading and can get through a book fairly quickly.  That’s just one of the reasons why I wasn’t to worried about the Reading Comprehension section of the HESI A2.

woman in glasses reading big book comes up with an idea

I’ve also taken many Reading Comprehension exams over my life:  3 PSATs and 2-3 SATs in high school, plus the GREs in college.  Oh, and I also taught SAT prep classes for a nationally known test prep company while I was in college.  So unlike some of the other sections on the HESI A2, I really wasn’t too worried about it.  Before I jump into the details of my HESI A2 Reading Comprehension experience, I 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…

What is the HESI A2 Reading Comprehension Section Like?

The HESI A2 Reading Comprehension section has 50 questions.  There isn’t a time limit for each individual section on HESI A2, but your school will probably have a time limit for the entire test so it’s important not to spend too much time on any one section.  I took 37 minutes and 7 seconds to complete Reading Comprehension, which means I averaged less than a minute per question (about 44-45 seconds per question, to be exact).  In reality, it probably took me even less time per question than that, because this also factors in the time it took me to read the selected readings that accompany each question set.  

What types of questions are on the Reading Comprehension section?

If you’ve ever taken the SATs or ACTs, then you already know exactly what the Reading Comprehension section will be like.  There are no tricks, as this is a pretty typical type of question on most standardized exams.  But in case you haven’t taken a test like this before (or even if you have, if it’s been a while), let me tell you the truth:  it’s a lot of reading.

You’ll be presented with 2-4 paragraphs and a question.  Once you answer the question, the next screen will show the same reading along with a new question.  You’ll only be able to see one question at a time (just like every other test section), but the reading that the question asks about will always be visible for you to refer to.  You’ll have the same reading for approximately 5-10 questions before the test switches to a new reading.

The readings are on a variety of types, such as opinion pieces, persuasive writings, and factual information.  There will also be a variety of topics, but it really doesn’t matter what the topic is about.  All of the information you’ll need to answer the questions correctly will be contained in the given reading.  You won’t need any additional knowledge (except, um, reading comprehension) in order to answer correctly.

That being said, there are definitely a few test-taking tips that you can use to improve your performance on the Reading Comprehension section.  As I said, there is a LOT of reading. Even some of the answer choices require more than an average amount of reading.  For example, some questions ask something like, “Choose the best summary paragraph.”  That means that you not only have to read the essay, but also an additional four paragraphs of possible answer choices.

Did I mention there’s a lot of reading in this section?

Here’s a simple test-taking strategy that can save you a ton of time.  Write “A B C D” on your scrap paper (yes, you’re allowed to have scrap paper and a pencil).  As you read each answer choice, if it’s definitely wrong then cross that letter off of your scrap paper.  Don’t read it again.  If you’re not sure, put a question mark.  If it sounds like the correct answer then circle it, but make sure that you finish reading all the other answer choices too, just in case.  But whatever you do, don’t waste time re-reading an answer choice that you already eliminated.  Using this strategy is great because it’s really easy to spend precious minutes reading (and re-reading and re-re-reading) because we’re anxious we’ll get it wrong, or because we simply forgot which choices we’ve already eliminated.  You really don’t have the luxury of time to waste on this exam.

Also, when you are reading, make sure that you do not read into the questions or the essays.  Nursing students are famous for reading too much into NCLEX-type questions, but it doesn’t produce good results so it’s not a habit you want to start now.  Just take the question at face value, and look in the essay for the exact information that is asked for.

Finally, keep your focus.  Standardized tests are strenuous, and the Reading Comprehension section in particular can be extremely taxing to your attention span.  Don’t let your attention wander.  If you find yourself reading the same paragraph multiple times, and yet you have no idea what you just read…well, then it might be time for a quick break. Sit back in your chair, stretch your muscles as best you can while sitting in that computer chair, take a few deep breaths, then refocus and get back to the exam.

So…What Was My Score? 

I got 48 out of 50 of the Reading Comprehension questions correct, which gave me a score of 96%.  To see how that compares to other HESI A2 test-takers, the minimum recommended score for the Reading Comprehension section 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 Reading Comprehension was an 85%, and the average of all HESI A2-takers at my school was an 88%.  So all things considered, I did pretty well.

There’s really no getting around it:  you have to be able to understand what you read in order to do well on this section.  If you’re a fast reader, then you’ll have a slight advantage. If you’re an English as a Second Language student, it probably will be extra challenging.

Bottom Line

There aren’t any surprises on the Reading Comprehension section.  The official HESI A2 Review book (Update: check out the Resource page for all current recommendations) has some practice questions that are helpful to review, but if you think you’re going to need a lot of improvement to do well on this section then you should probably invest in an SAT or ACT review book that includes Reading Comprehension questions and test strategies.  But on test day, the biggest challenges are going to be staying focused on what you’re currently reading, and not getting bogged down by continuously re-reading essays or the answer choices.

If you think this information on the HESI A2 Reading Comprehension section is helpful, then please leave a comment below to let me know!

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19 thoughts on “HESI A2 – Reading Comprehension”

  1. Dana

    How many questions can i miss on the reading comprehension
    To get a 70 % ??

  2. Sukurat lawal

    I took the hesi reading comprehension and I had less than 70.it’s really time consuming .I hope this tip helps.

  3. Minakshi Das Baruah

    Yours tips are very helpful.

  4. Jakaylea Bennamon

    This is very helpful. You motivated me even more. The book you stated is the book that I have been studying. I did pretty good with the reading comprehension. I will definitely use your tips. Thank you!

  5. keisha

    Love your tips..I took it and failed with a 65 needed a 70 .reading us my weakness.do you think u should do that first or do the easy ones like math first ..? Thanks

  6. Valeria Pereira-Brown

    I’m really worried about ALL the English portion of the Hesi A2 because English is my second language. I really like math, so I am not worried about it. Should I take the reading comprehension portion first? Thanks for all your tips, they are very helpful.

  7. Amy lynn

    I took the HESI A2 test yesterday an I took it right after the math portion. I made a 78%, and needed a 79% to pass fir my school. My downfalls were conclusion an understanding, however some of the passages were only two paragraphs with two different topics, or that’s how I took it. I felt that the questions asked made no since. Also I was asked a question on where a country was an there was no explication in the passage for the question. I couldn’t understand why I failed, being the first time I took it in 2012 I made a 88%, but failed the math. So I studied harder for math an passed it with a 94%, due to failing I’m retaking the entire test again tomorrow at a different college. I’m very nervous due to tge 1 point let down. Any suggestions on how to understand the question they are asking. They seam to not be specific to main ideas,conclusions, details, tone,purpose and summary. Any information towards this would help. I think my brain was tired by the time I got to the reading. Also reading is not my best subjec. So I’m trying to decide if I should do it first.

  8. Mike

    I recently took my hesi exam and scored 88% on the Reading section. I only marked half of the “conclusions” questions correctly. Any advice on “conclusion” type questions?

    Thank you,

  9. Ashley

    This was really helpful. My main problem is time management. I normally spend too much time on one question. Which makes me very nervous. Do you have any useful tips that will eliminate this attitude? I did my Hesi A2 exam for the first time on October 23, 2014 and I pass math and fail English. I got a 68 percent. I only needed 7 percent to pass since my school allow students to pass with a 75 percentile or better. My school only allow student to do one retake. My next retake is next week. November 20, 2014. I’ve been practicing and reading comprehension passages online as well as doing sample tests. I really want to pass. And I am. I just want to know how to control my time.

  10. Tiffany

    Reading comprehension was the only section I failed, I recieved a 76%. I needed at least and 80%. I am re-taking it this tuesday, thank you for the tips I will use them. By the time I got to the reading comp my eyes were tired so, do you reccomend I do it first? Also why I scored so low, the conclusions. I felt like someone of the test stories were were one story but two examples of the story that was very confusing, any tips to stay on track for that?

  11. Katie

    Hi 🙂
    The way you described the question set-up, I was wondering if, after answering a question and moving on to the next, are you allowed to return to a question?

    1. Good question Katie. As I recall, you are not able to return to questions that you’ve already answered.

    2. Ashley

      No you can’t. You cannot go back. And if you leave a question blank, it will be marked wrong.

  12. Sydnie

    Great information on this page. Im so nervous to take the Hesi test and especially the reading comphension part. Thank you for sharing your experience and a great strategy.

  13. pandie

    Thank you, keep the suggestions coming!! Very basic instructions that I feel has given me a good insight on what to expect…

  14. Sun-Ah K.


    So the question I have is that, if I leave the question blank do they mark it wrong on HESI-A2?

    Well hope to hear from you soon.
    Thank you.

    1. Yes, if you leave the questions blank then it will automatically be marked wrong on HESI-A2.

    2. Kimberly Gayle

      You can’t leave the questions blank like the SATs.

  15. Jesse Kolberg

    Thank you for this! Reading comprehension is my weakness. I will probably use your tips on test day!

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