Top 20 Test Strategies for EMS Students

Top 20 Test Strategies for EMS Students

By Rommie L. Duckworth, LP Jul 10, 2017

EMS challenges us all in countless ways every day. Similarly, as an EMT student, you will be faced with quizzes and exams of different types throughout your EMS education. Knowing and using the tools you have in your toolkit will prepare you for all of them.

All Exams

  1. Whether it’s a short quiz on a chapter from your textbook or your final exam, always read the entire question before forming an answer. Not reading carefully enough can lead you to “jump to an answer” and it may not be the one actually asked.
  2. Don't over-complicate the question. It can be easy to get tangled in the web of new knowledge that’s spinning itself in your mind. Just remember that every question contains all the information necessary for you to answer. If it seems like information is missing, you may be approaching the question incorrectly.
  3. Reviewing your answers at the end of the test to make sure you didn't actually put down something incorrect can be good. Constantly questioning your choices and changing answers back and forth is bad. When in doubt, stick with your first answer.

Multiple Choice, True-False

  1. When answering a multiple choice or true-false question, answer the question in your mind before looking at any of the options. The pressure of test time can make every answer seem plausible (and all are designed to look a bit right), so answering the question to yourself first can eliminate that confusion.
  2. Read every available answer carefully. Be sure not to accidentally change what the answer says on the page to what you think it should be in your head. It can be easy to take a handful of words that would make up the right answer, and read it as correct, but be diligent—you need to make sure you are not mistaking key words for an actual correct answer.
  3. Be sure the answer you select actually answers the question as written. Take a quick moment to ask, “Is that the question they were really asking?”
  4. Eliminate any answer options you were 100% sure are incorrect before selecting the answer you think is right. If you can cross off one or more of the answers, then even if you aren’t completely sure, you are narrowing in on the right one!
  5. For questions with “all of the above,” “none of the above,” or true-false questions, watch out for the key words and qualifiers that will make any individual answer true or not true. One “different” answer will help narrow your choices.
  6. Read True or False answers word for word. If you read too quickly, you may “correct them” in your head.
  7. Likewise, do not select “none of the above” if you are fairly certain that one of the answers is actually true.
  8. Read every answer in a multiple choice question. If you don’t you’re likely to answer the first “possible” answer instead of choosing the “best” answer.


  1. If you encounter an essay question, stay on point. Write clearly and answer the question(s) asked. In the body of the question, put a number next to each of the questions asked, if there are several. Cross them off as you address each one.
  2. If you have time, sketch a quick outline. Break out the essay question(s) and address each one with brief information to support your answer. Give examples and illustrations to explain and support your answer(s).
  3. Budget your time. If you have 20 minutes to write your answer, don’t spend 15 minutes giving background on the topic before you get to the actual answer(s).
  4. Write in clear, concise language. Flowery filler won’t distract your instructor. Remember, your instructor wants you to do well. Write clearly and make it simple for him or her to give you a good grade.

Psychomotor Skills

  1. Take the time to use the information they give you. Sometimes you will know exactly what they expect you to do before you walk into the room, while other times the scenario may be completely unknown to you. Don't make the mistake of setting yourself on track for what you think you were supposed to do and remaining blind to what’s actually going on around you.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the resources available to you to perform the skill(s). Use anything available (including any “helpers”), but remember that you don't have to use everything in the room. There is often additional equipment you won't need. Feel free to ask questions to gain further information if appropriate.
  3. Verbalize AND perform the skill. A common mistake is for a student to either verbalize part of a skill, but not actually perform it, or to visualize performing something in their head (like considering whether a patient is critical or not critical) but forget to let the evaluator know.
  4. Don't be afraid to correct something. Whether it’s a major or minor issue, whether it is something you did incorrectly or failed to do, or even if it is something that you notice a “helper” doing that must be fixed, take a moment to correct it. Feel free to verbalize the issue: “I realize I forgot to ask the patient whether they are on any medications. I would like to do that at this time.”
  5. Keep moving forward. If you feel that you've made a mistake, don't let it throw you off. If you can, take a moment to correct the issue, but maintain your momentum and keep moving forward with the station. You are not just testing, you are preparing for real-life scenarios, so get comfortable with yourself as a provider who corrects mistakes and continues care to the best of their ability.

Whether you are taking a pop quiz, being tested on all the new psychomotor skills you’ve learned, or are taking the National Registry exam, the best thing you can do is study smart and be prepared, relaxed, and confident. Having these tips at the ready will help you to test the best you can.

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EMS challenges us all in countless ways every day. Similarly, as an EMT student, you will be faced with quizzes and exams of different types throughout your EMS education. Knowing and using the tools you have in your toolkit will prepare you for all of them.
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Reviewed this Month

Airway Management in Disaster Response: A Manikin Study Comparing Direct and Video Laryngoscopy for Endotracheal Intubation by Prehospital Providers in Level C Personal Protective Equipment.

Authors: Yousif S, Machan JT, Alaska Y, Suner S. 
Published in: Prehosp Disaster Med, 2017
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