The Worst Test-Taking Strategies

In yesterday’s blog post, I wrote about the problem of picking between two possible answer choices (and usually picking wrong!), so I thought that I would continue the test-taking theme this week by talking about the WORST test-taking strategies you could use.

1) When in Doubt, Pick “C”

Maybe it was useful when all exams were taken with paper and pencil, but the days when “C” was the best answer choice to guess are long gone in nursing school.  The theory was that teachers unintentionally made “C” the correct answer more often than any other answer choice, so you would guess correctly more often by choosing that option.

Now that almost all nursing schools use computerized testing, it’s definitely not true! Computerized tests can easily randomize all the answer choices.  That means that if you have four possible answer choices (A, B, C, and D), then each letter option will be the correct answer only 25% of the time!  So it really doesn’t matter which answer choice you guess when you’re clueless, they all end up having an equal probability of being right or wrong.

2) Pick the Answer that Uses the Same Words from the Question

I learned about this so-called “test-taking strategy” from an online assignment that my nursing school required my class to complete.  Now, I’m not going to mention this resource by name because it did have some helpful info in it, and so I don’t want to totally slam them.  But they were waaaay wrong on this particular point.

This strategy might work if your teacher is an inexperienced test writer.  But trust me…HESI and NCLEX test writers are not inexperienced test writers!  The questions they write are NOT going to test whether you can find similarities in vocabulary between the question and answer…it’s going to test if you know how to think like a nurse!  This strategy doesn’t help you succeed.

3) Always Choose the Longest Answer

Not necessarily!  The reason that this doesn’t work is the same reason why #2 doesn’t work…expert test writers aren’t going to make it that easy for you!  They want to know if you can think like a nurse, not if you can tell the difference between “long” and “short.”  Again, you might see some success with this “technique” when taking a classroom exam written by an inexperienced test writer…but for the tests that count in the long-run, it’s worthless.

The reason that some of these test-taking “strategies” are still going around is because they occasionally seem to work…but only on non-standardized, poorly written exam questions.  As soon as you are faced with a teacher who writes good exam questions, or a standardized exam like HESI or NCLEX, these horrible techniques will definitely not help.  The only test-taking strategy that works for these kind of exams is understanding what the test writers are trying to do, and learning to think like a nurse.

2 thoughts on “The Worst Test-Taking Strategies”

  1. Teneca Patterson

    I am having trouble accessing your blog on Trouble deciding between 2 answer choices, how can I get it. It tells me to hit the back button or to go to the homepage. It had a message 404 d or c. I don’t understand what I need to do. this topic is very important to me because I have completed my nursing classes but I fail the HESI exam twice. one of my main problems is choosing the right answer between two. It’s very frustrating and I have one more chance to take it. I need this problem solved before I take the HESI and the NCLEX. I have had many problems during my nursing program and now through your program I’ve learned it was because I was doing passive studying and not learning the basics. I pray that this program helps me out tremendously because I sure need a lot of help. Thanks, so far so good. This is day one. I just purchased the program and I’m already learning great tips. You’re got sent!

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