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How to Prepare for the CNA Test

Let’s face it, some people are very good at taking tests while the rest of us can find them to be a bit of a struggle. The truth is, one of the big reasons people struggle with tests is because they don’t prepare correctly. It’s not just about putting in the hours of studying, it’s about studying the right things the right way. Beyond studying, it’s also important to prepare yourself mentally and physically for a big test so that you perform at your best. The CNA Competency Exam (also referred to as the Nurse Aide Assessment Examination) is no different. With the right preparation, you can confidently conquer both the CNA clinical skills test and the written test. Here are some tips to set you on your way to success.

CNA Clinical Skills Test Tips
There are two key elements for succeeding on the skills test. First, you need to do your research so you know what to expect. Secondly, you’ll want to have a system for studying that maximizes your chance to succeed. The skills test portion of the exam requires you to perform multiple common CNA skills on either a mannequin or another exam student. Be sure you find out who or what you’ll be demonstrating these skills on in advance of exam day so there are no surprises.

If you know which testing provider is running your exam, you can find handbooks and test information online if your CNA course doesn’t provide you with those specifics. Your nurse aide training course should prepare you for any skills that will be required, but it never hurts to double check the latest information from the testing providers, so you have a full understanding of what’s expected of you on the day of the exam. Below are links to the providers and the states that they cover.

  • Headmaster: AZ, MT, ND, NH, NJ, NV, OH, OR, SD, TN, VT
  • Pearson VUE: AL, AK, CA, CO, DC, GA, LA, MD, MN, MS, NH, NC, ND, PA, RI, SC, TX, VA, VT, WA, WI, WY
  • Prometric: AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, HI, ID, LA, MI, NM, NY, OK, WY

Once you’re confident in exactly what you’ll need to cover during your skills exam you’ll want to come up with a system to make sure you can perform all the skills fluidly on exam day. Set aside time as part of your weekly schedule to go through each possible skill you’ll be tested on. If your skills test will have you performing on another person, you’ll want to find a live subject for you to practice your skills with outside of the classroom, so you become comfortable with performing the procedures on a live subject. While it’s helpful to have anyone play the part, having another aspiring CNA work with you can be even more beneficial as they can provide you feedback and you can share notes as they practice on you. If you’ll be performing on a mannequin, it can still be beneficial to practice with a fellow student so you can have a second set of eyes and ears evaluating your technique.

Many people also find it helpful to study each skill on flash cards and then talk through the processes as they perform them, essentially explaining the procedure as they go. If you’ve gone through the skills often enough you should have a mental checklist for each step of that skill, so verbalizing them can help ingrain them in your memory and make each step easier to recall on exam day.

If you’re studying at home and you want visual guidance on a specific skill, you can also reference online collections of CNA skill videos.

CNA Written Test Tips
While many aspiring CNAs focus most of their time on the skills exam, the multiple-choice test is not to be overlooked. Fortunately, there are many online resources that allow you to take free online practice tests to become comfortable with the types of questions you’ll see on exam day. As part of your weekly routine you’ll want to set aside time to take these practice exams and log your scores to see your progress. Make note of questions that you got wrong, if you discover areas where you’re struggling, spend more time reviewing your course material in those areas.

As you review your practice tests try these techniques to improve your performance:

1. Try answering the questions before reviewing the multiple-choice options. As your knowledge grows, you’ll be able to answer exam questions more quickly and confidently on exam day.

2. Review questions that require math or exceptions extra carefully. If a question says that all responses are true except one, you’re looking for the incorrect answer. If you speed through reading these types of questions you may miss the exception and get the answer wrong. Likewise, long worded math problems need to be examined carefully to ensure that you are calculating exactly what the question is asking for.

Setting Yourself Up for Success on Exam Day
These tips might seem like something your mother would tell you, but they’re worth thinking about in advance so you don’t sabotage yourself by overlooking some very basic things.

1. Take a few minutes to make sure you know exactly where you’re going and how much time you need to make it to the testing location with plenty of time to spare. You can’t pass the exam if you end up stuck in traffic.

2. Make sure your hygiene and grooming are up to snuff. Long hair needs to be pulled back and your nails need to be trimmed and clean.

3. Get a good night’s sleep and make sure you maintain a normal eating schedule before the exam. Your performance could suffer if you show up to the test tired and/or hungry.

4. Dress appropriately. Remember non-skid shoes, a watch with a second hand, appropriate clothing or scrubs, and avoid excessive jewelry.

Tests can be stressful, particularly with a potential new career on the line. However, with proper preparation and a solid game plan you can tackle the CNA exam confidently. Following these tips should put you on the path to a passing grade and a new career as a CNA.

About the author

Adam Henige owns and operates a number of educational and vocational testing websites including a website devoted to helping aspiring CNAs find free local training and free CNA practice test materials.