Critical thinking on the NCLEX is nothing mysterious. It’s actually quite simple. You need to know two things: 1) content and 2) understand how to apply that content.
Last year, I attended the NCLEX conference. I met a nursing professor and was telling her about how I was able to get students that had failed the NCLEX multiple times finally pass the NCLEX. She said, “I have a really hard time getting my students to critically think.” This was not surprising to hear because professors like to make nursing sound complicated when it’s not. I replied, “Really? I don’t find it difficult”.
Everyone needs to know, critical thinking on the NCLEX is NOT rocket science! It’s not brain surgery! It’s not some mysterious concept! And it’s definitely not complicated, as much as your teachers would have you believe otherwise. Critical thinking is a fancy word for putting TWO and TWO together.
The Basics of Critical Thinking
Here are the basics of critical thinking (which in reality, is just thinking):
- Use knowledge to make an informed decision
- Ask yourself, “why would I do that?”
- “Why is this happening?”
- “What would happen if I did that?”
- “How can I help in this situation?”
Before you can “critically think”, you need to know stuff! You need to know nursing content! As Mark Klemik says, “you can’t apply what you don’t know.” In other words, you have to know stuff in order to apply it and critically think.
Here’s an example of not knowing enough stuff and not being able to critically think:
Your patient is telling you they are feeling a little dizzy and you notice their oxygen is low. As a brand new nursing student you might have your patient sit down and then you call the nurse because you have no idea what to do. You don’t know enough yet to critically think! You could even be in your last semester and still have no idea on what to do because you didn’t learn the content well the first time! However, if you have a few pieces of knowledge, you would know what to do.
What if you had a really good pharmacology class? You learned about how many cardiac meds lower the blood pressure and heart rate causing low oxygen and dizziness as a result.
What if you had a really good med-surg class that talked about EKGs? You learned that heartblocks and brady rhythms can lower the blood pressure and heart rate causing low oxygen and dizziness as a result.
You know content now! You can critically think now!
So, as the nursing student, what do you do now when the patient tells you that they are feeling dizzy and the oxygen saturation is on the low side? Ask yourself, “why would that be occurring?” Go and check to see what meds the patient is on. Then, check their history for any heart blocks. Look at the EKG monitor for any dysrhythmias. Assess the heart rate. Is it really low or really high?
Now you’re on your way to critical thinking! Then the next step would be to fix the problem by doing some immediate interventions. Then later, you would teach the client how to avoid those problems in the first place. When doing NCLEX questions, these are the types of questions you will get.
BUT, how are you supposed to know all that if you are super confused on meds and EKGs?!?!?!
Content and Critical Thinking Skills Simplified
As an NCLEX tutor, I truly aim to simplify things for you. I teach you content in a simple way. Then I teach yow how to apply that content with basic critical thinking skills.
Next time when I hear from a nursing professor, “I have a hard time getting my students to critically think”, I’m going to tell them this:
Stop making everything seem so complicated!