Part One : DON’Ts
I am often asked “What can I do to become better at taking tests?”
Before delving into my answer, we need to take care of the obvious: if you don’t really understand the material then you should not expect to pass. But what about those who really study hard, put in the time, and still do not succeed? Frequently, the difference between passing and failing comes down to only 6-8 more correct responses in a 110-160 question test. Clearly, under such circumstances many people, even with a good understanding of the content can fall short of the passing criteria because of nerves and/or poor test taking abilities. How do you help students who are willing to study but are still at risk of a disappointing outcome?
In today’s blog I am addressing this from the viewpoint of what not to do in an ultrasound credentialing exam, with the To Do’s left for next week’s Part Two.
1) Over-reliance on memorization – I cannot adequately stress that memorization is a poor substitute for the required skills of understanding concepts, why they matter, and how these concepts are applied clinically. The value of any knowledge is in its application. Many students expend incredible effort trying to memorize rote facts. This approach generally leads to students coming within that small range of 6 to 8 questions away from passing. You must periodically challenge yourself (or your instructor) to address the underlying questions like: Why is this important? How does this affect the study I perform? How is patient care impacted? Being able to answer these will make many test questions much simpler to understand and answer.
How? , you ask … Realize that the underlying goal of most credentialing exams is to measure your ability to apply concepts, not restate facts from memory. Whenever you are reviewing facts and equations, make sure you can relate these to what is physically occurring during ultrasound studies … understanding that accuracy, consistency, and ideal patient care and safety represent the “value structure” of any exam.
2) Cramming – Anyone who has ever practiced shooting free-throws (in basketball) or putting (in golf) will understand that over time “muscle memory” takes over. At that point, an athlete is likely to feel they have achieved “their stroke”. This same principle applies in test preparation. Especially with disciplines or concepts that are not your strengths, repetition over time is the best means to develop a brain “muscle memory”. Imagine how you would feel if the outcome of the game came down to your free throw and you had not practiced shooting free throws over the season. Similarly, taking tests which can affect your salary, and sometimes even your employment can induce a level of panic that can only be eliminated by knowing what to expect on the exam through practice testing. What is preferable to cramming is executing a formalized exam preparation schedule. Knowledge builds in layers, which requires iteration, studying and reviewing content persistently over a period of time. Additionally, utilizing exam simulations that mirror your anticipated test logistics will work to alleviate test anxiety and promote more reliable access to your “stored” memory on test day.
3) Avoid the “linear approach” – From an early age, most of us have been conditioned to proceed in a linear (generally ascending) numeric order. We recite our A, B, C’s as … . Need I say more? So naturally, we barrel into our credentialing exam … Question 1 … Question 2 … Question 3 … Question 4 … ”Oh, no! I’m stumped on Question 4!” Bridges collapse, hearts stop, throats suddenly dry out … . You get the picture.
It takes a little practice and discipline, but treating a credentialing exam like the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle makes more sense than seeing it as a game of Hopscotch. Your benefit to this approach is two-fold. Firstly, it is not uncommon for information to be revealed in subsequent questions that can assist your resolving one you had previously passed over. Additionally, you will find that subconscious thought successfully accesses information that anxiety and pressure had “blocked” on your first pass through a question.
Obviously, you should always weigh your disposition for non-linear progression in a testing environment carefully. By that I mean, if you are not familiarized with the testing logistics, mastering this skill on a first-time attempt may prove problematic. As referenced previously, preparation using a well-designed exam simulation is very helpful in developing non-linear test-taking skills.
Next week, we will dive in to those To Do’s that can boost your effectiveness in credential testing.