Study Strategies for Health Professsional Students

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Using Practice Tests

Strategies for Students in the Colleges of Applied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health

  1. The primary purpose of working on practice questions and tests is not to learn a few last details. Your purpose should be to refine your question analysis, to improve your ability to apply logic and guess intelligently, and to analyze the reasons for your errors (see #3 below).
  2. Timing: Begin working on practice questions/tests after you have studied most of the material but two or more days before the exam. Working on practice questions the night before an exam can provoke anxiety at a point when you have no more time to study for the test. Save the night before the exam for a final content review.
  3. Do a set of about 20 questions and then correct your work by putting a check next to any question you missed. Do not read the rationale for the correct answer (if one is provided) and do not write in the correct answer. Now go back to all the questions you missed, try them a second time, and then correct your second attempt. Note the reasons for your errors. Did you miss a memorization question because you simply didn’t know that fact? Did you misread or misinterpret the question? Did you make a reversal error with a negative question? Did you fail to take into account a certain aspect when answering a judgment question? (For example, maybe you ignored the cost and/or invasiveness of a medical test and you need to do a better job of considering that factor when answering questions.) Ask yourself what logical reasoning you might have used to guess more intelligently on information you couldn’t recall.
  4. Analyze what happened when you narrowed your choices to two and then picked the wrong one. Did you rush your final choice? Some students rush their final choice as a way to relieve their anxiety. Don’t do that! Remind yourself that you have already invested a fair amount of time in the question and it will only take a little longer to continue thinking and thus increase your odds of getting the question right.
  5. Practice your anxiety control strategies. As you study, deliberately induce anxiety by saying to yourself some of the negative thoughts that might enter your mind during an exam (ie. “There’s no way I’m going to do well.”) Now perform the Anxiety Control Procedure. Remind yourself that you will probably experience anxiety during the test, but the anxiety won’t hamper your performance because you have practiced controlling it.
  6. Do some timed sets of questions, using the same amount of time per questions that you will be allowed on the actual test. You need to develop a pace that seems natural; that way you won’t have to obsess about time when taking the actual test.
  7. Some practice tests should be done on your own, but you might also try doing one with your study group. You could each work on your own test and then go over the errors together, explaining your rationales to each other. This can help you refine your analytical thinking.
  8. If you discover a pattern of missing questions on a particular content area, go back to that content and study it again – perhaps with help from another student.
  9. You might want to buy a Board preparation book well ahead of time and use the practice questions to help review for some of your courses.
  10. Read the handout on test-taking tips for additional suggestions.


Written by Cecelia Downs
UIC’s Academic Center for Excellence

1200 W. Harrison, Chicago, IL 60607