The HESI specialty exam gauges how well you learned the content in a nursing course, while also familiarizing you with NCLEX-style questions. Consisting of 55 NCLEX-style questions, HESI specialty exams are computerized and timed.
1. Hit the Books on Day 1
Chaka Brittain, manager of the Center for Academic Success (CAS) at Chamberlain’s Atlanta campus, recommends students use the course HESI study guide (available on the online course shell) to guide their preparation throughout each course. Her general rule is that you should be studying for an hour out-of-class for each hour in class. Whether or not that is feasible for you, there should never be idle time, Brittain said.
“There’s always something to study,” she said. “After Week 7 and finals, give yourself a break, and then it’s back to it in Week 1.”
For extra assistance, students are encouraged to visit the CAS, where tutors can help identify areas of need and provide study materials, practice questions and extra help.
“Use your time wisely,” said Brittain. “You only have seven weeks for class. By week 2, you should know what you need help with and seek out that help. You don’t want to get to the HESI and realize you don’t get the cardiac system.”
2. Train for Test-Taking
Brittain estimates that students should spend about 40% of their study time on content review and 60% of their time on test-taking skills and NCLEX-practice questions.
“Practice questions are the best way to study for HESIs and boards, hands-down,” she said. “A lot of students have the information, but when they see those questions, it throws them totally off. They want the question to ask for the definition. That’s not what it’s going to say.”
Atlanta campus student Plax Mandibaya, who recently received the highest score among her peers on a course HESI, aims to complete 40 NCLEX-style questions every day in preparation, in addition to having a firm grasp on the content.
“You need to read to understand, not to memorize,” she said. “That way, however they ask the question, you already know the answer.”
3. Don’t Settle for Less than 900
A March 2013 study from the Journal of Professional Nursing found that the odds of passing the NCLEX were significantly higher for students who scored 850 or higher on their HESI specialty exams. For instance, students who scored 850 and up on the critical care HESI were 11.16 times more likely to pass their boards than those who scored lower than an 850.
While the benchmark score is 850, all students should shoot for 900, says Brittain.
“You want that 900,” Brittain said. “We know that if you consistently get 900s, the probability that you’ll pass boards is very high.”
While students will often calculate the score they need on the HESI to pass their course, setting your sights too low can hurt you when it comes time to take the HESI Exit Exam and NCLEX. Mandibaya says it’s important to treat every test like it’s the Exit Exam.
“I aim for 100% all the time. I always take it seriously,” Mandibaya said. “Yes, I do calculate, but I don’t look at that number. I need 100. Aim high.”
4. Learn from Your Mistakes
Immediately following the course HESI, students are offered the chance to see the rationale for their wrong answers. The rationale will show the question, all answers, what kind of question it was and the rationale for the correct answer. The opportunity to review wrong answers is invaluable for future success, says Brittain.
“Students can take as long as they want to go through those answers and really understand where they went wrong,” she said. “That’s a really good tool because that’s the only time they will see those questions until they get tested again.”