3 nurse educators share their top tips to prepare students for nursing exams

To prep for NCLEX and real-world nursing challenges, students must go beyond memorization; here are 3 ways to teach them to think like nurses

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Nurses have it tough, working long hours in a physically demanding job and responsible for two dozen patients a day, on average. To get there, their training demands that they master a demanding curriculum, taking exacting exams to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfil their high responsibilities.

These demands put a heavy responsibility on nurse educators, who must prepare the incoming generation of nurses for clinical practice and keep them inspired as they undertake intensive workloads and high-pressure exams. Here, three nurse educators share tips and tools they’ve used to help their students achieve success.

1. Help nursing students think like a nurse.

Mandi Mauck, RN, MSNWith nursing students under a great deal of time pressure, they can be tempted to start learning answers by rote in order to pass exams. However, scraping by on memorized-answers can have an adverse effect on student success. As such, more nurse educators are moving towards a concept-based curriculum.

For students, this means going beyond memorizing facts to understanding the larger patterns and relationships that define patient care and patient illness. This approach was embraced by Mandi Mauck, Program Coordinator at Columbus State Community College in Ohio, who explained:

I feel like with products I’ve used in the past, the students were memorizing answers. That’s what they got by on. If anything in there was altered, they couldn’t figure it out. There is no way we can teach them everything they need to know as a nurse, but we can teach them to think so they can act like nurses.

Mauck used Nursing Concepts Online in concert with other products to come up with ideas for a concept-based curriculum. In one example of an active learning strategy, the instructor of a pediatrics class had students bring their laptops to class, open a simulated scenario and order Tylenol for a patient. Meanwhile, the instructor provided infant Tylenol with purposefully mislabelled amounts. The students had to realize it was the wrong concentration of Tylenol and determine what to do, how to chart the discrepancy and whom to notify. Then the instructor provided the Tylenol in the correct dose, and the students had to to determine the correct dosage for the patient.

“If the faculty is comfortable with the concept-based approach, the students will feed off that,” Mauck said. “You can impress on them that we’re going to give you the knowledge, and this is how you will be able to think like a nurse.”

Read more about the use of a concept-based curriculum at Columbus state

2. Take advantage of the data.

Kathy Czekanski, PhD, RN, CNE, Dean of Nursing at La Salle University in Philadelphia (left), in a scenario designed to help students master the fundamentals of critical care.

When Dean of Nursing Dr. Kathy Czekanski of La Salle University in Philadelphia set out to tackle slipping pass rates for the NCLEX licensure exam, she found a better way to use the tools that were already in place. La Salle already used HESI, a testing, preparation and remediation solution, and found that by looking at the data it generated, the faculty could monitor student performance and have earlier interventions for students that were struggling. Taking that data-driven approach meant the faculty saw a 32 percent increase in the NCLEX pass rate.

In one example, the data indicated that students were weak in evaluation. It transpired that because the faculty had been spending a lot of time on pathophysiology, they weren’t able to get through the entire nursing process. In the new curriculum, a separate pathophysiology course was added, which helped allow time for the rest of the nursing process. Dr. Czekanski offered some advice to other nursing faculties:

Look at the evidence you have and come up with decisions. It was helpful to us to see what other folks were doing. It took time, and that’s why it took us several years to get our pass rates to where they are. But we knew we were making the right decisions, not rash decisions.

Read more about the use of data by the La Salle nursing faculty

3. Use data to drive continuous improvement.

Kellee Hayes, RN, MSNAt Kankakee Community College in Illinois, Director of Nursing Kellee Hayes uses data to drive a process of continual improvements to the nursing program. “We keep making up ‘new rules’ every semester,” she said, “and I think, ‘Wow, when are we ever going to get it right?’ But that’s part of improving. The changes have been incredible.”

For example, data from HESI indicated that fourth-semester students were struggling with fundamentals because they had not seen that material in more than a year. Hayes and her faculty decided to administer a second version of the HESI Fundamentals, Pharmacology, OB, and Medical-Surgical Exams to students in the last semester to ensure they retained the information.

“It has helped a lot, and we’ve put some meat behind it by giving it points,” Hayes said. “When (students) take these second versions, they’re worth three points, but that’s a lot in their world, so it’s in their best interest to go back to their HESI remediation study packet and see what they missed before they take it for the second time in fourth semester.”

That attitude, Hayes said, ultimately drives the students’ achievements. “The key factor in the success of the students is that the faculty know we always need to improve what we’re doing,”

Read more about continuous improvement at Kankakee Community College



Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

Written by

Abigail Amundson

Written by

Abigail Amundson

Abigail Amundson is a Senior Marketing Manager for Elsevier’s Nursing and Health Education unit, based in St. Louis.


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