6.21.2008

Authorized to Test

A couple of days ago I received my ATT (Authorization To Test) form from the National Council on Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

I'm scheduled to be examined on July 28th at 2PM.

I'm excited to take this test, I think Computerized Adaptive Testing is interesting, and I love a good challenge. I've been flipping through my Lippencott-Williams training materials on my PDA-Phone pretty regularly, I solve maybe 100 questions or so a day. I feel pretty confident that I'll pass it on the first try, but just in case I'm going to spend the last couple of weeks leading up to the examination pouring over my nursing texts, especially the Pharmacology and Critical Care texts. Maybe I'll crack open the ol' Martini Anatomy & Physiology text, just for old times sake. Maternal and Child Health, strangely enough, seems to be my strongest content area. The ERI coach and some of the faculty make a big deal out of men not being as well prepared for this material as women, but I think I actually have an advantage by not taking it for granted and studying it seriously (some of my classmates imagined that they knew it well enough to not have to study, having undergone the gestation process themselves).

Now let me ramble a little bit about what I know about the Test.

Anyone interested in what the NCLEX is all about, how Computerized Adaptive Testing works and why it's "better" than traditional testing (where all candidates are given the same questions), your first stop is to check out the candidate bulliten here: http://www.vue.com/nclex/bulletin_08.pdf, it contains all of the information I'm rambling about below.

Arguably the most difficult and frustrating part of the examination is actually registering for it. You have to send a 200 dollar fee to the national council, then you have to send 90 dollars and a notarized form to your state board of nursing or department of public health. Next, you have to have your official transcript sent to your state agency, at which point they send you back an authorization to test form. Once you receive this form you can log on to the vue.com site and select a test day. This procedure caused a lot of confusion and trichtotillomania (compulsive tearing out hair) among my classmates, myself included.

When you arrive on test-day, you can't bring -ANYTHING- in with you except a picture ID and your ATT form. No wallets, watches, scarves, jackets, weapons, phones or electronic devices. You'll be photographed and fingerprinted when you arrive. You'll also be fingerprinted EVERY time you get up from the computer and EVERY time you sit back down at it. Scratch-paper is forbidden, but a whiteboard is bolted to the table with a dry-erase marker attached to it. You will be audio and video recorded at all times during the examination and break times. Any odd behavior is grounds for forfeiture of the exam and associated fees, at the discretion of the test center staff (which is a shame, because I always like to put on a good show when I know I'm being monitored).

Computerized Adaptive Testing is very different from the sort of static, linear tests that most people pursuing academics are familiar with. Traditional tests give the same questions to everyone. Strong candidates have to waste their time answering a lot of easy questions, which doesn't tell the examiners much about their ability, while weak candidates still have the chance to answer a difficult question correctly by guessing 25% of the time, which doesn't tell us much about them, either.

Strong or weak, pass or fail, most people, on average, get half of the questions right. Let me rephrase that. Pass or fail, everyone gets around 50% of the questions right. The computer considers the difficulty of the question you answered (determined by shuffling the question in previous years exams to determine it's "difficulty" by comparing it to the scores of the candidates that answered it while not actually giving them credit for it good or bad, since the question is "Experimental" at that stage), and gives you an easier or harder question depending on if you answered the question correctly or not. In this fashion, the computer keeps giving you questions that you should have about a 50-50 chance of answering correctly.

The test may have anywhere between 75 and 265 questions. When the limit of 265 questions has been reached, time has run out, or the computer is 95% certain if you passed or failed, the computer shuts off and you're all done. Some candidates mistakenly believe that the fact that they're being asked all 265 questions means they are not doing well, and so then rapidly guess out of frustration. This is a BAD IDEA, the adaptive nature of the test will lead to this drastically lowering the score.

I'm pretty good at outsmarting tests, but this is a wily one. I'm excited.

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