CNA: Certified Nurse Aide Test Prep Course


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The Certified Nursing Assistant Examination Prep Course

The Certified Nursing Assistant Examination, referred to as the Exam , consists of both a written examination (the WE) and the clinical skills test (the CST). You must successfully pass both the WE and the CST to pass the certification examination.

Specific details on both the WE and the CST, as well as tips on preparing for each portion, follow.

Taking the Written Examination

The written examination (WE) is a computerized exam with a time limit, usually two hours. Test sites are regional or local, depending on the state jurisdiction.

Passing scores for the written exam vary from state to state. Expect to earn at least a 70% for a passing score. You might have to wait two to three days for results.

Taking the Critical Skills Test (CST)

To successfully pass the Critical Skills Test (CST), you must earn a score of at least 70% while following each critical step with 100% accuracy. You should be given the opportunity to correct any missed checkpoints or other aspects of the skill during your performance; however, when you have finished a particular skill and progress to the next one, you will not be able to correct a mistake made on the previous one. If you need to repeat any portion of the CST, you’ll receive directions from the evaluator regarding subsequent testing opportunities according to each state’s testing guidelines.

CNA Test Taking Strategies

Test-taking is a skill you can learn. Based on teaching experience, those students who use test-taking techniques are more likely to succeed on their examinations. The strategies suggested here are in no way a substitute for thorough knowledge of the subject matter.

If you study the review materials thoroughly and practice using the suggested strategies wisely while applying your knowledge, you can successfully pass the Exam. Remember the mantra: Practice, Practice, and Practice!

Answering the Questions

The following terms help describe the key parts of a test question, commonly called test items:

  • Test item: The question and the answer options (all possible answer choices)
  • Options: All possible answers to a particular question
  • Stem: The part of the test item that asks a question or states a problem
  • Multiple-choice test item: A question offering four options. Test items are designed to measure your knowledge, attitude, or ability, not to trick you. With the multiplechoice test item, it is possible that you might not like the question or any options in the item. However, you must choose the best option available and answer the question in the best way you can.

Strategies for answering test questions:

Take your time: A common problem observed in test-takers is failing to read each question carefully. You might already be thinking of the right answer (option) before you finish reading the question in its entirety. Slow down and force yourself to finish reading the question before you select the option; you might be surprised that the end of the stem contains the most important information needed to select the correct option you would have otherwise missed by hurrying to record your answer. In other words, take your time!

In your own words: Rethinking the question and answers in your own mind helps you translate the intent of the question, or what the question is asking and how you would answer it in words that mean the most to you. Once you’ve done so, look for the option that is closest to the one you thought about; ask yourself whether that option is the best one available of the four provided. If so, go for it!

Stay under the umbrella: Two or more options might be similar and, in your opinion, part of the answer; however, you can choose only one option. If this occurs, look for an option that contains a broader choice, an umbrella term, that includes those similar options and best answers to the question. For example, if the question asks you to measure the resident’s physical status, you would not select option A (temperature) nor option B (pulse), nor option C (blood pressure), but option D (vital signs) that includes the other options.

Key into key terms: Very few absolutes occur in patient care, especially when selecting the best test option. These answers are seldom, if ever correct. For that reason, look for key words in the options such as always, never, all, only, most, none, every, and except. If part of the option, choose another one!

Opposites attract: Look for opposite options; usually, one of them is correct.


 Question: When washing the perineum of the female resident, in which direction should the washcloth be applied?

A.  From the front to the back of the perineum

B.  From the middle of the perineum to the top of the perineum

C.  From any direction as long as the washcloth is wet and warm

D.  From the back of the perineum to the front


Option A is the correct answer. Option D is opposite from option A; thus, one of the two options if most likely the intended correct answer.

Feelings, feelings, feelings: When answering a communication-type question or one requiring a response, choose the option that acknowledges or deals with the resident’s feelings.


Question: A resident is upset and crying over being admitted to the nursing home. How should the nurse aide respond?

A. Tell the resident that this is normal and not to be upset.

B. Leave the resident alone to cry in private.

C. Change the subject to help the resident forget her current situation.

D. Sit with the resident and allow her to talk about her feelings.

Option D is the correct option because it acknowledges and focuses on the resident’s feelings.

Safety first: If a test item asks you for an immediate response or for deciding what to do first, choose the option that protects the resident’s safety or well-being. Look for cues in the question that describe priority actions you would take, for example, “The first thing the nurse aide would do is”; “the most important step the nurse aide would take is to…”; “the best action the nurse aide should take is to…”, “which of the following is the nurse aide’s best response?”, and so on.

Remember the face value: Avoid reading too much into the test item. You might be tempted to remember a particular work-related or resident experience or situation that was very different from the test option you encounter. Read the item at face value, selecting the best option from the information presented.

Educated Guess: You will encounter questions for which you have no idea of the answer. If so, and all of the preceding listed strategies fail, give it your most educated guess. The point is, you will not be penalized for guessing, only for not selecting any answer at all. With a multiple-choice question, you have four chances to answer it correctly.



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