Unlocking the Secret to Nursing School Exams: Bloom’s Taxonomy for Nursing Students

Remember when you used to be GLAD to see multiple-choice questions on your exams because you knew those were the easy questions? That was before nursing school. Now that you’re IN nursing school, those multiple choice questions are a whole new level of dread. Only you can’t quite figure out why…

Don’t worry–it’s not just you! This is a universal struggle among nursing students, and the explanation for why can be found by understanding two words: Bloom’s Taxonomy.

What’s Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s this framework that nurse educators use to determine the difficulty level of your exam questions. You can google it to see a picture representation, but I’ll describe it here too.

First, imagine a triangle. Then, divide it into 6 levels. If you start at the bottom, those levels are:

Levels 1 & 2: Remember and Understand

Levels 3 & 4: Apply and Analyze

Levels 5 & 6: Evaluate and Create

The bottom levels are the lowest, easiest levels of learning, because it usually only takes rote memorization in order to understand them. Basically, pull out your flashcards because that’s all you need to do to study for these levels.

But as you move up to the higher levels, the difficulty level increases, too. Which means that flashcards, rote memorization, and all the other passive learning study strategies that have always worked for you in the past will no longer work in nursing school.

Prior to nursing school, you were told what to study, you studied it, then then you were tested one what you studied. As long as you put in the effort, you did fine and passed.

But that stops in Nursing School. Here’s why.

Why Nursing Exams Are So Hard

Starting in your very first nursing class, the exam question difficult is increased to Levels 3 & 4, which is “application” and “analysis”. You may have heard your nursing instructors use those words, even if they didn’t explain to you what Bloom’s Taxonomy was.

Application and Analysis are more difficult questions to answer because they require more than simple memorize. Don’t get me wrong…there are definitely still things you need to memorize in nursing school. However, now you will be required to USE that memorized information in a new way. That’s what makes the exam questions more difficult.

Here’s how it usually plays out in Nursing school: you still get told what to study, you study it, but then you’re not tested on what you studied! Instead, you’re tested on how to think about what you studied.

That makes a HUGE difference in whether you can understand what the test questions are really asking you. The answers to questions like “What is the nurses priority nursing action” type questions can’t be memorized.

Instead you need to draw on your brain-bank of new nursing knowledge that you have memorized, combine it with the new information presented to you in the question scenario, then analyze or apply (levels 3 & 4 of Bloom’s Taxonomy) in order to identify the correct answer.

This also means that the way you’ve always studied in the past is now disconnected from the way you’re being tested. In order to get better grades and feel more confident that you’re learning exactly what you need to know to be a safe, effective, beginning nurse, you need to adjust your study strategy until you are once again studying the same way you are being tested.

Shifting Your Study Strategy

So, how do you need to change your study strategy for nursing school?

First, you need to make sure you engage in 2 phases of studying.

Stage 1: What to study (that’s the memorization part, and it’s really what people should mean when they tell you to learn how to identify the most important information)

Stage 2: How to think ABOUT what you studied (this is the more abstract part that can be harder to understand how to do unless you have someone mentoring you in the process, but it’s usually what people mean when they tell you to learn how to “think like a nurse.”

Silver Bullet Study System

The Silver Bullet Study System is the best way I’ve found to guide nursing students through both stages of studying (that’s why I developed it, lol). It’s a simple, 4-step process that is easy to follow so that you can become an independent self-learner.

Steps 1 and 2 are part of Phase 1 of studying, and help you with WHAT you need to know about the nursing content. This solves the problem many nursing students have of not knowing how to identify what the most important nursing information is…it’s the information in Steps 1 and 2.

Then Steps 3 and 4 force you out of your comfort zone into Phase 2 of studying (the phase that most nursing students don’t even know how to do!). This solves the problem of how to practicing “thinking like a nurse”, because you will automatically be thinking that way as you study in these steps.

If you want more info about how to study with the Silver Bullet Study System, I have a free video that explains all 4 steps.

Bloom’s Taxonomy: Final Thoughts

Nursing school is challenging, but it shouldn’t feel hopeless. With your new understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy to explain why nursing school questions are so much harder, I hope you realize that there’s no reason to feel dumb or stupid if you’re not yet getting the grades you want. All it means is that you still need to master a new skill…the skill of studying like a nurse!

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