Reviewing vs Prepping

As I talked about briefly last week I was recently asked to work a little bit with a paramedic class.  My purpose for being there was two fold.  I was expected to help them review for their National Registry EMT test, and I was also asked to prepare them for the test.  Personally, I feel that these are two completely different things.
Way back in 1999, my paramedic instructor told us something very early on.  He said when it came to the paramedic exam and the Massachusetts Office of EMS, “the sky is purple.”  That is to say how we feel about a question and whether we think its answer is right or wrong based on our real world knowledge is a moot point.  We had to be book paramedics, and as far as the book was concerned, the sky was purple.
This is not the fault of the authors.  They produce information in a clean form, and one that cannot possibly be updated as fast as the field moves. Revisions take time, and information in industry publications is moving and evolving faster than that in books.  Study the books for the test material (purple sky) but also educate yourself outside of that when the time is right to prepare yourself for the field (blue sky).
When we review for a test, we make sure that the information is in our heads.  We talk about things sometimes to the point of exhaustion to make sure that we understand mechanisms, why things work, and concepts behind information that we are expected to know.  Reviewing information makes sure that it is in our head, and that we have retained the right stuff.  Test prep is a completely different animal all together.
Test prepping prompts us to then take that information and apply it in answer form to whatever questions are being asked, whether it be multiple choice, narrative answer or true and false for example.  We know the knowledge and information is there and now we need to put it into a readable form that lets someone know that we “get it.”
Multiple choice test taking specifically is a skill that one must have if they are going to walk into any National Registry test.  First off, one must remember that they might not be looking for the right answer, but instead they are looking for the best answer especially when it comes to putting treatments in a certain order.  Having one treatment there versus another and in a more correct order can make all the difference when one looks at a series of answers.
The first tip I gave to everyone was one that I had picked up from Steve Whitehead: read the last sentence of the question and the answers first before reading the full question, since that will tell you exactly what you are looking for.  Far too often, this sentence is overlooked and a test taker is leaving “free points” on the table because they read something too quickly.  I saw that far too often while doing test prep when someone would be asked, “why did you pick that answer?” and the only excuse that they had was “I did not read the full question.”
Next, take a look at all of the information that you are given as well as the answers.  Chances are there is something in front of you that can be immediately eliminated and reduce your answer choices from four to three.  Now, you just need to work through the remaining answers and figure out which one is the best response to the question.
Another great tip that Steve Whitehead shared was to take your time.  On the National Registry test you only get one shot at each question.  There is no going back, or skipping something and leaving it for the end.  You cannot see an answer ten questions down the road that reminds you of what that previous answer really was and then go back and change your response.  That question that is in front of you will be there until you answer it.  You will not get another shot at it.
Since you only have one shot, and you have a total of two hours to take the test, take your time.  Take a good hard look at the question and the available answers.  I remember plenty of times when I would be sitting in class and would see someone get up and turn their test in and walk out the door.  Its distracting and it is hard not to think, “well, if they got that so easily why am I struggling with the answers?”  Ignore that urge to have that thought.  Keep your head down, tunnel in, and work on the answers at your pace.  Don’t worry about time, you’ll most likely have plenty of it especially if you do well on the test.  Make sure your answers are right before you move on to the next question.
Finally, practice in the environment that you’ll be testing in.  Eye fatigue, posture, and your overall surroundings are going to be different if you are taking a computerized test like the National Registry exams.  While review books are useful, I found online apps and websites to be more beneficial.  The two that I found myself on the most were Dan Limmer’s Paramedic Review site which offered some great test questions as well as clear and concise feedback on performance and the site which offered a number of tests and kept track of scores so improvement could be seen.
One thing to keep in mind when studying on these sites is do not let yourself start answering questions because you remember seeing them before.  While the style of these questions are accurate to the National Registry test, the actual questions differ so memorization with test prep will not be as helpful.  Instead, take a look at each answer that you give.  Verbally state aloud why the answer you picked is correct and also why the other ones are incorrect.  That way you can answer the questions based on the knowledge that you have reviewed that is in your head and not because you have seen an identical or similar question in the past.
Stick to your guns, do not over study and definitely do not over prep.  Things will come with time.  Review and let the information sink in.  Then, take the time to prepare yourself for the test.  Find as many resources and ask as many questions as you can.  Plenty of people have been through this before and many will be happy to help.