Not good at test-taking? Change that.
Many self-proclaimed poor test-takers are really poor-studiers instead. Exams serve as a method of assessment of learning. If learning has not happened at a level at which you can apply what you learned, then you will have trouble applying learning to exam questions. The key is to focus on changing study patterns instead of testing patterns.
It is helpful to learn some test-taking skills, but in themselves, test-taking skills will be insufficient if you use some of the most common study habits. Memorization and cramming are ineffective at creating understanding. Although these strategies work for increasing test scores for simple topics, they do not result in long-term memory or understanding. Information learned this way will be quickly forgotten.
In nursing memorization is not enough, understanding is necessary. To be able to apply new ideas and information to a variety of patient situations you will need to understand the concept at a deeper level. You must be able to apply the information. Nursing tests (especially certification exams) require the application of information to a variety of clinical situations. Therefore, it is necessary to understand and apply new information.
The best study methods for learning at an application level are self-testing, frequent, short review sessions, reviewing several topics during the same study session, and teaching the concepts to others (Morehead, Rhodes, & DeLozier, 2016 and Weimer, 2018). Here is how an effective study session would look: you study for about 30 minutes every day possibly broken up into 10-15-minute sessions. During these sessions you will study important concepts from several topics while identifying areas of your clinical practice where that topic has application. These study sessions are followed by quizzing using an app like Quizlet. Finally, you teach someone at work about the concept you learned. Teaching reinforces learning and will help you to identify gaps in your learning.
Every week reflect on your progress and the study strategies that seem to help the most. Increase the use of the ones that are working and decrease the use of those that are not. This process is the opposite of what many learners do. If you are scoring poorly on exams, just increasing the frequency and duration of poor habits will not result in success. More than likely it will cause further frustration.
Try this: short, frequent study sessions reviewing several concepts at once, then self-test, followed by teaching the concepts to someone. Research tells us that although initially, it may feel awkward these strategies will improve your test results, increase your understanding, and ultimately improve your care.
Great resource: Successful Test-Taking: Learning Strategies for Nurses.
Morehead, K., Rhodes, M. G., and DeLozier, S. (2016). Instructor and student knowledge of study strategies. Memory, 24 (2), 257-271
Weimer, M. (2018). Study strategies: What the research tells us. The Teaching Professor Blog, retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/student-learning/study-strategies/study-strategies-what-the-research-tells-us/.