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12 Tips to Excel at the Dosage Calc Exam

The nursing school dosage calculations exam can be intimidating, but you can conquer it with adequate preparation, hard work, and these 12 tips:

#1 Don’t Procrastinate – As soon as you find out about the dosage calc exam, get after studying for it. The exam is often the first day of nursing school and a near perfect score is almost always required, so this isn’t an exam to take lightly. Acquire the below information to jump start your study:

  • Put the date, time, and location of the exam in your calendar. This is the first milestone you are working toward in nursing school.
  • Find out if you can bring bring/use a basic calculator on the exam.
  • Obtain any blueprint, study guide, or practice problems your school offers as well as the rounding rules that your school uses.

#2 Do the Hard Work of Memorizing Facts First – There is no way to get around it: you have to memorize certain basic terms, conversions, formulas, abbreviations, and rounding rules to pass this exam. The benefit of memorizing these facts first is that you can begin using them by memory as you study and work on practice problems. The more you actually use these conversions and formulas by memory, the more ingrained they will be in your mind when it comes to exam day. That will correspond to greater confidence when taking the exam. Capsule RN’s Dosage Calculations Bundle includes a summary of the formulas, conversions, and abbreviations you need to know to do well on this exam – all in just 1 succinct page (click here)!

#3 Consistently Show Your Work – Showing your work requires you to use a standardized process (the process you should practice using in your study time over and over again), and good processes almost always lead to good results. It is easy to make careless mistakes when a good process is skipped if you decide to save time by doing a conversion quickly in your head rather than on paper, for instance. Don’t do that. Commit to using your process and showing your work on every problem, every conversion, every time – both when studying and on the exam. Going the extra mile in this way will help prevent careless mistakes.

#4 Regularly Practice a Prototype Question for Each “Core Concept” – If your nursing school gave you a blueprint for the exam, they may have broken it down into something like this: out of 30 questions on the exam you will have 2 questions on Insulin, 4 on Oral Meds, 5 on IV Dosages, etc. These are the general concepts they will be testing you on, so these are the concepts you need to master. The encouraging part is, these exams usually only test you on a handful of concepts that are pretty standardized. You can study a zillion questions, but when time is limited, less done well can actually become more. Here’s a solution: write down 1 prototype (a.k.a. model/example) question that encapsulates each specific concept you must know and practice regularly in order to be successful on your exam. Once you know how to solve for each concept, you simply plug in new numbers for all the varied questions that come your way that test for that same concept.  It’s that easy! If you want to make this really easy, feel free to check out CapsuleRN’s succinct 2-page “23 Core Concept Questions” in the Dosage Calculations Bundle (click here)!

#5 Create a Study Packet – One quick way to make this exam less intimidating without even studying is to create a study packet in which everything you need to study and review for success is in one place. Your packet should be comprehensive enough to touch on every concept that your school said will be on your exam (there should be at least 1 practice question for each concept in your packet so you can regularly practice solving that type of question) but that does not mean it has to be huge – it can be anywhere from 5-20 pages. Organizing, simplifying, and summarizing information into less pages can be helpful to make a more condensed packet. Just to clarify, what is in this packet is not everything there is to know about dosage calculations (that would be overkill) but only what you actually need to regularly review to be successful on this exam. Remember, less can be more here so that you don’t get overwhelmed. To make your study packet simply print, gather, and staple the following resources together:

  • Your school’s blueprint/study guide/practice problems and rounding rules.
  • Basic terms, conversions, formulas, and abbreviations.
  • Core concept questions and answers.
  • Any other resources that help you (some additional practice questions, explanations, etc.). For example, if you really struggle with IV dosages, it can help if you have a separate sheet of paper in your packet with this concept detailed out. That way if you get stumped when practicing this type of question, you have a handy resource ready to reference.

#6 Learn How to Solve Dose Calculation Equations – You will need to know how to use basic conversions to solve dosage questions. No one is born a nurse, so almost everyone will need some sort of tutoring on how to solve these types of equations – there is no shame in that! This is where you have options: you can reference the textbook/resource your school recommended, you can learn via YouTube videos, or you can purchase a study guide to aid your learning, study, and review (click here for CapsuleRN’s study guide that walks you step-by-step in how to solve for dosage calculation concepts). What is most important is that you choose what works best for you and your learning style!

#7 Regularly Review & Practice (i.e. almost daily) – Once you have memorized the basic conversions and learned how to solve core concept questions, all that is left is to regularly review what you know. The easiest way to do this is to stick with your study packet – regularly review your core concept questions (typically this will only be around 23 questions!). Here’s how: take a blank piece of paper and re-solve each question daily – make sure you show your work every time you practice. Then check your answers and star any core concept questions that you miss so you can put extra study and practice into these concepts.

In addition, regularly review the basic terms, conversions, formulas, abbreviations, and rounding rules – you can use flashcards if you like, but you can also simply put an index card over the answer side on your study page and test yourself that way too. Focus a lot of attention on what is hardest for you so it becomes easier, but also don’t neglect what is easy for you as you don’t want to forget the basics either.

Lastly as time allows, do some additional practice questions (questions outside of your study packet) to quiz yourself and build your confidence. Remember that no matter what new numbers an outside practice question throws your way, you should be able to solve the question because you know how to solve for that concept. There are many free nursing dosage calculations practice questions online. It can be helpful to put a daily time limit on review in order to maximize concentration and efficiency (e.g. 30 minutes on reviewing my study packet and 15 minutes practicing outside study questions each day). Gauge how prepared you are by the number of questions you are getting wrong and right and then shorten or lengthen your study and review time as needed.     

#8 Give Them the Answer They Are Asking For – Sounds like a no-brainer, but it is oh so easy to give the wrong answer on an exam simply because we use wrong data, answer the wrong question, use the wrong unit, or fail to round correctly. An easy way for you to catch these mistakes before they happen is to start doing these 3 simple steps as your standard practice when solving dosage calculation problems:

  • Underline key information in the question – It is easy to get sidetracked or confused by extraneous information that is given to you in the question, but that isn’t necessary to solve the equation. By underlining the facts & numbers that are actually important to solve the question being asked, you can stay on track and solve the right question the right way.
  • Circle what the question is asking you to solve and also your final answer – Make sure these two circles match (including the units) before you head to the next question.
  • Place a check mark after your circled answer once you have correctly rounded the number to match your school’s rules – who wants to get a question wrong on the exam just because of careless rounding? Round, recheck your rounding, and then place a check mark next to the answer to show you have done your due-diligence in rounding this answer correctly.

#9 De-stress with Proper Knowledge – Since this exam is often on the first day of nursing school, most likely you aren’t well-versed in the mechanics of this school and this can cause unnecessary stress on exam day. Eliminate this added burden by doing these things before the day of your exam:

  • Drive to your school and know where to park (do you need a parking pass?).
  • Locate and visit the exact room you will take your test so you feel confident in knowing where to go to take the exam and what the atmosphere will be like.
  • Review what time you need to be at the exam and give yourself plenty of flex time for traffic and other things to occur.
  • If your school offers an optional dosage calculations review before exam day, do everything you can to attend this review session. Go prepared, ready to participate, and write down any questions you have ahead of time.

#10 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Your Professor for Help – As you prepare, if you have questions or uncertainty about how to solve any types of questions that will be on the exam, do not be afraid to email your professors or visit them during office hours. It’s actually a great opportunity to meet your professors and the sooner you dispel any fears you have in asking for help, the better. Always make sure you’ve tried to figure out what you are seeking help about before asking your professor, but if after you have down your own research and you are still unsure, definitely reach out with confidence and ask your questions!

#11 Don’t Rush – Since most dosage calculation exams will be timed, you can’t take all the time in the world, but at the same time, don’t rush! In addition, if at all possible, re-check your answers before turning your exam in. Here’s a good game plan for tackling this exam: go through your exam at a reasonable pace. If you get stuck on any question, circle the question and move on for the sake of time. Once you get through all the questions, go back to the ones you circled and answer them. After every question is answered, go back through the exam in its entirety and re-check your work. Then turn in your exam. Here’s a thought to remember: it isn’t a bad thing if you are last to leave the exam room. What matters is if you pass this exam, and taking all the time you are given to do well and catch mistakes is actually quite a smart thing to do.

#12 Get Good Sleep and Refresh Your Knowledge Bank on Exam Morning – Since you didn’t procrastinate in studying for this exam, there’s no need to cram now! You are prepared. That’s the confidence you have when you start early and prepare well. Go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the exam and get some good sleep so your brain can be in optimal shape for the exam. The morning of the exam, get up early enough to dress for success (whatever that means to you personally), eat breakfast, hydrate, and review your study packet one last time so everything is fresh in your mind. Then put your study packet away and don’t take it out again (that’s right, not even as you wait to take the exam). You can go into that exam confidently knowing you have already prepared. There’s no need to panic, fret, or fear; your work is done preparing.

As you wait to take the exam, choose to think on a thought that isn’t exam-related but is encouraging and hopeful (it’s helpful to have practiced this thought before exam day!). This might sound crazy, but I would actually look forward to exam day because I saw it as finally arriving at the milestone I was working, training, and studying for. If you possibly can, get into a mindset that exam day is celebration day. Choose to think in a way that gets you excited rather than tempts you to be anxious. And certainly celebrate after – even before you know the results! You are celebrating more than the result – you are celebrating a milestone achieved by finally arriving after working the system diligently, exercising self-discipline day after day, and enduring right up until exam day. Today’s the day you get to show you prepared for this, worked for this, and are ready for this!

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I have a passion for helping aspiring nurses study smarter not harder and to thrive on their journey!