3 ways to ensure you get accepted to nursing school

Today, we need more nurses than ever before. Unfortunately, nursing schools can only accept a limited number of applicants due to issues such as a lack of faculty to teach and fewer clinical sites that allow students to gain experience in real-life nursing settings. These factors increase competition among those eager to fulfill their dreams of becoming nurses.

What can you do to improve your chances of getting accepted? One key way is to ace the nursing-school entrance exam, the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS).

The TEAS comprises multiple-choice and alternate item-type questions. Its aim is to assess your knowledge in 4 areas: math, reading, English language and usage, and science. Most nursing programs recommend you prepare for the test ahead of time — ATI recommends 6 weeks — to ensure you get the highest score. Don’t think you need to study beforehand? Some reasons to reconsider that approach include:

  • Schools can limit TEAS retakes. If you take the test and score lower than the school’s cut score (the lowest score the school will accept, which varies from school to school), you can retake the test. But some nursing schools only accept the score of your first attempt, while others may take an average of all your scores. You simply can’t count on a program accepting your highest score. So, getting your best score on your first attempt is the smart move to ensure you are above the program’s cut score.
  • A low score on the TEAS can indicate you won’t do well in nursing school. Research has shown that TEAS scores can tell a nursing program how well you’ll succeed in your classes. If you don’t get a score that shows you are at a level of “proficient” or above, that’s an indicator that — if they accept you — you’re not likely to do well in nursing school. A lack of success could lead you to become discouraged and drop out or could force the program to drop you. Nursing programs want students to succeed, so they want to admit the most promising applicants. They may not be willing to take a risk on students who don’t — or barely — meet their cut score.
  • Taking the TEAS multiple times costs money. If you can get the score you need on your first attempt, you’ll save money that you can put toward other needs.

Listen to a podcast to hear tips from representatives of ATI and Rasmussen University on improving your TEAS score and presenting yourself as the best nursing school applicant for the job.

Other reasons to prepare for the TEAS ahead of time are more basic, such as:

  • You get nervous taking tests, so practicing ahead of time will help put you at ease.
  • You aren’t confident about the strength of your knowledge in some areas.
  • You’ve been out of school for a few years, and the subject matter isn’t as fresh as it once was.

Of course, the TEAS is only the first of many crucial exams you’ll take in nursing school. So, developing a positive mindset can help you succeed not only on the TEAS but on future tests.

TEAS test-taker Colleen Keeven

Colleen Keeven

Being passionate about your future career is important too. We recently talked to some students who had taken the TEAS about why they chose nursing as their profession.

28-year-old Colleen Keeven, who lives in Denver, said, “Everyone deserves good, unbiased care, and I want to be one of the wonderful nurses in this world who provides that.” She pointed out that nurses help people “on quite possibly the worst day of their lives.” As a result, someone who can “show true compassion and listen to their patients’ needs is something that the healthcare system really needs right now.”

From her home in Little Rock, Ark., Ashley Bias, also 28, said she decided to pursue nursing to have a fulfilling career that helps others. “After years of working office jobs,” she said, “I always knew I was missing out on what my true calling was. I love nursing school, and I believe this is a great field to join.”

TEAS test-taker Ashley Bias

Ashley Bias

These soon-to-be nursing students also offered some advice based on their experience getting ready for and taking the TEAS. Follow their tips as you prepare for this important exam.

1. Prepare ahead of time with strong TEAS practice tools.

Colleen took the test on April 1. She said she relied on the ATI TEAS Online Practice Assessments, ATI TEAS SmartPrep Tutorial, and the Official ATI TEAS App to help her prepare. “I loved the app and how I could practice and study on the go whenever I had time,” she said. “I really liked the online study materials, as well. You take a test for each subject beforehand, and [it tells] you where you are lacking [knowledge], so you can home in on those areas the most.”

Shayla White, another TEAS tester, took the exam on March 24. She relied on the ATI TEAS Online Practice Assessments plus a book she purchased. “The practice test gave me an idea of the layout [of the actual TEAS] while also giving me insight into the areas I needed to study. This gave me guidance,” she explained. About the book, she added, “Instead of going through and reading everything, which is time-consuming and unnecessary, I was able to go to sections I know I needed assistance on.”

Ashley took the TEAS just a few days before Shayla. Like Colleen, she practiced using ATI TEAS Online Practice Assessments and the ATI TEAS App. “The app was easy to use while [I was] out and about,” she said, “and the practice exam accurately [represented] how the exam would be.”

2. Learn from others’ advice who have already taken the TEAS.

Colleen had some very basic, but crucial, tips: “Give yourself time to study! I would suggest no less than 3 weeks. Set up a plan and stick to it!”

Shayla’s advice was similar, but she went a little deeper. She said, “Use the practice test! That was the best form of studying I used. It gave me a good idea on how long each section [would take] me, how the test is laid out, and question format. This made the actual test day much easier.”

Ashley provided more direct guidance. “Focus on the subjects that seem familiar,” she suggested. “If you are looking at a question and have absolutely no idea what it means, skip it. Don’t drive yourself crazy — especially on the science portion — on every single detail. If it seems familiar, focus on that.” Make sure you are confident in your knowledge, she added, and then choose your answer.

3. Take steps to prepare for TEAS test day.

Colleen was confident on test day. “I think how extensively ATI broke down the areas within the science subject [helped],” she said. “I had a good idea of what was going to be on the test, so I wasn’t stressing too much. Plus, the dry run helped me feel comfortable.” Colleen took the TEAS remotely using an online proctor rather than visiting a testing center in person. The dry run allowed her to make sure that her computer, browser, and Wi-Fi/Internet access worked without any glitches that might have caused problems on test day.

Ahead of the TEAS, Shayla reminded herself to focus and not rush through the questions. Other steps that helped? “Taking my time with the test — reading every question carefully,” she said. “Also bookmarking any question I was unsure about or had a 50/50 guess. This way, by the end of the section, I … had more information or … got the answer for that question in my head. Or I [was able to] make a better analysis on the question.”

Looking for more advice on how to put your best foot forward in applying to nursing school and succeeding on the TEAS? Read our articles on pre-nursing prep.