There are more strategies than just “treat it like a true/false question” for Select All That Apply (SATA) questions. And it really bugs me when I hear bad advice for SATA and multiple-choice questions. Some of my strategies are very basic and some will definitely increase your chances of choosing the right answer (even when you aren’t sure). Here are some better strategies to answer SATA on the NCLEX:
1. Make sure you know what the question is asking
Remember, every question is a problem (or situation) and NCLEX wants to know what YOU are going to do about it. Remember you are (going to be) a nurse, you fix problems. Don’t be careless and miss important information in the question. And some students forget what the question is asking by the time they get to the end of the answers – just go back and re-read the question.
2. Be aware if you are looking for the GOOD answers or the BAD answers
I call this the caveman strategy (caveman voice: “good? bad?”). This is sometimes referred to as the positive or negative answers. Bad answers are when you are looking for answers that are “further teaching”, “immediate concern”, and “contact the HCP”. So many times, students will pick the good answers instead of the bad answers. Or by the time the student gets to the end of the question, they can’t remember what kind of answers they are looking for. Remember you are a caveman or cavewoman that fixes problems.
3. Pick answers that actually address what the question is asking
So many times, I have seen students choose answers that sound really good, but they have nothing to do with the problem that the question is asking about. If a caveman needs to build a fire, he needs dry sticks, not water even though water is still pretty important in general. If the answer is not related, don’t pick it.
5. Use the phrase, “Would this Help, Harm, or Do Nothing?”
When the answer choices are interventions for your client, then use the phrase, “Would this Help, Harm, or Do Nothing?”, instead of true/false. This phrase helps you think through the answers better and gets rid of those “do nothing” answers. It doesn’t really harm the caveman to get the water, but it doesn’t really do anything either when he is building a fire.
6. Use True/False or Yes/No
Sometimes using yes/no or true/false makes more sense, especially if you are looking for symptoms of a disease, side effects of a med or characteristics of a fire. It is true that the fire is hot, orange in color and potentially dangerous if it gets out of control.
7. Use your nursing knowledge and common sense to answer questions
Don’t always get caught up in “strategies”. Just use what you know to answer the question. If you really don’t know, then you can use the remaining strategies. Let’s not forget your vast life experience too. Of course, you don’t want to base your answers on crazy exceptions (“I remember Uncle Ug who lived in the cave having that weird symptom of ear drainage with gout – maybe I’ll pick that” – NOOOOO, don’t do that!). You don’t have use all the strategies to answer SATA on the NCLEX, just what makes sense.
7. Link answers for SATA
Linking answers means that two (or three) answers are very similar in that they have the same outcome or that you can’t do one without the other. This happens A LOT in SATA questions. If you go back over your answers and see that some are linked you will want to keep those answers or get rid of those answers. You can’t decide to keep one, but not the other. (This is when it is OK to change answers). Uncle Ug will need both big dry sticks and little dry sticks – that’s linking because the outcome is that they will both “BURN good”.
8. Don’t pick conflicting answers for SATA
Conflicting answers are when two answers are opposites. You clearly cannot choose answers that go against each other. However, once again, many students will choose conflicting answers because they are taught to treat each answer as a separate answer. It doesn’t occur to them to look back and see if they accidentally choose conflicting answers. If you have made this mistake, it’s OK to change your answer.
9. Choose safe answers when unsure
Remember, you won’t always know exactly what the problem is in the question. There might be a lab you don’t know how to interpret or you may not even know what the disease is. So if you are in doubt, choose answers that seem “safe”. It’s safer for Uncle Ug to build his fire in a clearing, then right next to his stick hut. Those two places also seem to be conflicting – how can he build them both in different places? – it’s probably one or the other.
10. Beware! There are some poorly written SATA questions
This is not a strategy but something to be aware of. And it’s probably the most frustrating aspect of SATA. You are doing the question and then you read the rationale and it doesn’t make sense. OR it goes against what you learned on how to answer SATA. What is happening is that you are either not applying the strategy correctly, don’t know the content well enough or the question is just a poorly written question. I HIGHLY suggest you post the SATA question below in the comments (along with rationale) and I will clarify for you.
These strategies to answer SATA on the NCLEX are much better than anything I’ve ever read about. Practicing SATA (these are free) and using the strategies above is the best way to get prepared for when they show up in the NCLEX.