Date Published: November 9, 2018
We recently went live on the ATI Nursing Education Facebook page with a couple of our best nurse educators to help our students prepare for a successful finals and test taking season! Did you miss the session? Not to worry. We are sharing their tips below.
What is stress and anxiety?
To fully set yourself up for successful testing, it’s important to understand the difference between stress and anxiety. Why? Because these two factors affect everyone differently. Our educators explained the difference as follows.
- Stress: Stress is something that causes pressure such as clinical and classroom demands, balancing family and job responsibilities, learning how to approach Nursing assessments. For the nursing student, it may be daily life while in school.
- Signs of Stress: Sickness – such as headaches and nausea – that cause absence, fatigue and the feeling of worry.
Stress can motivate and drive achievement or it can lead to a spiral of mistakes, academic failure and loss of confidence. (Mannocchi, 2017)
- Anxiety: The response to stress or stressors. This is when your mind and body start to respond to the stressors. It can be positive if it remains mild, but moderate to severe anxiety decreases the ability to concentrate and retain information. Mental stress triggers the fight or flight response and physical symptoms start to occur.
- Signs of Anxiety: Increased heart rate, respirations and blood pressure, scattered thoughts, reading the same question over and over and still not comprehending what it is asking.
Test-anxiety then, is the body’s response to the stressor of the exam at a given time and intensifies quickly. It can be during exam prep or at the time of the exam itself.
What advice do you have for students who are stressed and anxious?
Our educators recommend a proactive strategy of POP – prepare, organize and practice.
Prepare: It is important to be proactive. A negative performance on one exam can contribute to poor performance on future exams. Not because of academic ability, but because of self-doubt and negative talk.
You can prepare by doing the following:
- Empty your brain, remove distractors. Make a list of to-do’s and attack each one individually.
- Gather information about the test (number of questions, types of questions, etc.), fully understand the objectives (check with your teacher, look at the unit objectives, check out the course outline). For example the NCLEX Detailed Test Plan is a good place to start when preparing for the NCLEX.
- Review priority test taking strategies
Organize: The next step is to ensure that you are organized, are following a plan and are setting yourself up for success.
You can get organized by doing the following:
- Plan out your studying, utilize a calendar and keep a routine. Use your calendar in your phone to set study times and stick to them.
- Organize or rewrite your notes, ensure notes are not scrambled or scattered
- Clean your environment, remove distractions (yes, that means your cell phone and Netflix)
- Consider using essential oils, research backs that the use of these can be beneficial – lavender for relaxation, bergamot for calming, and lemon for stress relief and brain energy
Practice: Lastly, practice! Building your confidence through practice will help set you up for success. We recommend you study for 50 minutes (without any distractions like your phone or social media) and take a 10 to 20 minute break after each session.
You can practice by doing the following:
- Work through practice questions
- Review identified areas of need remediation
- Practice timing – we recommend 1.5 minutes per question and moving on
- Mimic a test setting. Which is a quiet setting with no distractions.
- Utilize positive self talk.
- Try relaxation techniques, deep breathing, etc. Go to a happy place – an island or mountains.
- ATI students: Content Mastery Assessments, Practice Assessment, Learning System 3.0 all provide the opportunity for practice and allow for a focused review based on your results
- Non-ATI students: Answer questions at the end of your text chapters or the end of the book. Consider making an appointment with faculty to review missed
What should students do if they get to an exam and start to feel stress and anxiety? For example the feeling that they I did not have enough time to prepare or that they are going to fail.
This is when you will want to implement your default strategies! In other words, ways to look at the questions, refocus and successfully approach the exam if you’re having difficulty.
Take a look at the recommended default strategies here.
Finals and testing season, here you come! Utilize these helpful tips and techniques from our nurse educators and you will set yourself for success. Curious to see more of what our educators had to say? Check out the live videos on testing, NCLEX prep, study skills and so much more here.