Congratulations on making it through the CNA training program! But before you cross that finish line to gain a license and become a Certified Nursing Assistant/Aide (CNA), you must complete the CNA exam. This consists of two sections: cna practice test, in which you would need to achieve a passing score of 70-80%, and a clinical skills test. This helpful guide will give you insights and tips on how to pass the CNA.
Most students are more concerned about passing the CNA skills test – this is because, unlike the written exam, the test is performed in front of an evaluator who assesses your demonstration of the skills and critical duties of each skill they request.
Students are required to cover 3-6 different skills out of the 30 skills required of a nurse aide that you would’ve been taught in previous training; note that handwashing is always included as one of the skills (please note that this step is very important in performing proper hygiene practices. If you make a mistake, you may fail the skills test).
You are only given 30 minutes to demonstrate each task on your ‘patient’. The patient is usually an actor but in some cases can be another nurse aide.
You will not know which of the 30 skills you will be required to demonstrate and so it is important that you have the best head start possible, which is why we have compiled a list of ten steps to help you pass the CNA skills test.
Here are ten practical steps to help you pass the CNA skills test
Step One: Know the skills like the back of your hand!
This may seem obvious, but the biggest mistake students make is not being proficient in every skill. There is no way of knowing what skills you will be tested on, except hand washing, and so the most important out of all these tips is that you will be confident performing any of the 30 skills.
- indirect care
- measuring output from a urinary bag
- measuring blood pressure
- measuring body temperature
- measuring and recording pulse
- measuring and recording respiration
- moth care:
- in patients with dentures
- in unconscious patients
- ambulation with a gait belt
- transferring to a wheelchair
- changing and occupied bed
- toilet assistance with a bedpan
- foot care
- hand and nail care
- changing position in bed
- perineal care:
- partial bed bath
- dressing a patient with a weak arm
- catheter care
- body positions
- applying elastic support stockings
- a range of motion exercises
Making sure that you know and understand each of these CNA skills means that on the test day you can have more confidence in the fact that you are well prepared.
Step Two: Find an efficient study method that works for you
As the age-old saying goes, study smart…not hard.
Everyone learns differently, and the key to memorizing large amounts of information and how to use that information practically is all found in the way you study.
To learn and retain knowledge, many academics suggest using audio and visual resources usually in the form of videos. There are many free sites and youtube channels that are related to helping first time and repeating student nurse aides achieve their certification by passing the CNA exam. Some helpful YouTube channels include ‘All Health Careers’ and ‘SacMed Training Video Tutorials’.
Another study method is using flashcards. The tasks can be written on one side of the flashcard and how to perform the skill can be written on the other side. This form of active recall is especially useful if you find that you don’t have much time to prepare before the test.
Alternatively, if you prefer a bit of accountability when studying, study groups are always a fun way to study! In this case, a study group can be used to practice each skill on each other and receive feedback before the testing day.
Step Three: Know your state
Although you will most likely have learnt all 30 skills required of a certified nursing assistant in your CNA course, some skills tested can still differ depending on the examination board used by your state. In some states, there may be more or fewer skills that you are required to learn.
Examination board by state:
- American Red Cross: IL, IN, KY, MA, ME, UT, WV
- 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
*take time time to read through any test documents available so you know exactly what to expect on the test day.
Step Four: Make sure you understand the proper handwashing procedure
Yes, this has been mentioned before but honestly, it needs its own section. As previously stated, failure to complete this step correctly results in failure of the entire test as infection control is crucial in the work of a certified nursing assistant CNA. Whenever you go to wash your hands, practice each step carefully. The more you practice this the more natural it will become, and the less likely you are to miss steps during the test.
Step Five: Practice taking and recording measurements
With all the different measurements and methods of taking them you are required to learn, it is worth making sure that you brush up on those areas. The worst thing that could happen is forgetting how to measure radial pulse during your skills test.
Good ways to learn these by memory are again by using active recall techniques like flashcards. These can be used anywhere and at any time to refresh your memory – even a few minutes before your skills test.
Step Six: Practice the test scenario
A few days before the test day, set aside 10-20 minutes a day for CNA skills test practice. In this time, practice introducing yourself. Take time going over each of the 30 skills and practice explaining each procedure as you would explain them to a patient. This may also be an opportunity to go over hand washing protocol as well as general practice such as recognising equipment or making sure the patient is comfortable in a clinical setting. This practice may be done best in a group study scenario as previously mentioned in tip 2. This will build your confidence and help you feel better prepared for the CNA test.
Step Seven: Dress the part
A huge part of confidence comes from the way we look. Making sure that you appropriately dress could help you to perform better; having a smart, professional appearance will reflect your character well on your evaluator. On the morning of your test, make sure that you’re dressed in clean, pressed scrubs and closed-toe clinical shoes. Make sure your nails are short and clean and that long hair is tied back appropriately.
Step Eight: Read any information provided carefully!
When at the test site you may be provided with a list of the 3-6 skills that will be tested. Make sure that you take your time reading through them. Don’t rush. Ensure that you have read each term correctly and understand how to perform it. Think back to this study guide and training that was given to you on your course. Make sure you don’t confuse your measurements or muddle up the steps of a procedure.
Step Nine: Ask questions
Once the testing has begun, you will not be able to ask questions. So make sure you take the opportunity to survey the room and read the list of skills you are about to perform carefully. Ask any questions you have before the evaluator asks you to begin – perhaps there is a skill that is phrased differently from what you are used to? Or maybe there is a piece of equipment that you can’t quite remember how to use?
Step Ten: Arrive early and stay calm
Arrive early at the site on the day, make sure you’ve eaten and have had enough to drink. Take a quick last look at your study notes and revision cards, speak to other students to calm your nerves.
You have done all that you can to prepare. Now is the time to put all your knowledge to use. There are many other students in the same position as you, some of who may not have come across a free guide as helpful as this. Believe that you have done all that you can to get a good score and achieve the certification you’ve been working so hard towards. Think back to all the resources you used – the videos, your course, your training and trust that it is enough to perform well.