How to pass the 2017 nursing written literacy exam...

How to pass the 2017 nursing written literacy exam and secure your university place

If you’re not a nursing student, you may have thought you could just waltz onto any university course offering a nursing degree, turn up for the odd lecture, and idle away three years before getting that coveted First Class Honours and NMC PIN. Well, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong I can only assume you went to uni to do an English/humanities type subject. Slacker. No, nurses are required to pass a literacy and numeracy exam before even being considered for an interview. And for some, that thought is terrifying.

Honestly, though, it’s not. Anyone who managed to get at least a C grade in their GCSEs will find it a doddle. But sometimes the unexpected, the unknown, is what gets you. So, what should you expect for your literacy exam? Read on, hopeful student.

What’s on the nursing literacy exam?

This really depends. It depends on why they’re testing you. Have a read for some sample questions I was asked when I had my nursing interviews.

Spelling and punctuation tests

At one university I had to point out all the spelling errors of a passage and offer their corrections. Want to test it out? See how many errors you can spot in the following little passage from rabbit horror series, Watership Down:

The rabbit’s minglled naturally. They did not talk for talkings sake, in the artificial mana that humanbeings – and sometimes even thier dog’s and cats – do. But this did not mean that they we’re not communicating. merely that they were not communnicating by talking

There are ten. Did you find them all? If not, perhaps refresh yourself on where apostrophes and other punctuation marks go, and double up on that spelling.

Grammar tests

The way that words work. How the same word can have two meanings. This test can really be an issue for non-native English speakers because the English language is literally waiting to trip you up. It’s full of idioms and rules that even someone who’s never spoken another word in another language can grasp. Think you can master it? Try the following:

If the nurse really wanted your help, he would ______ asked. 

a. of
b. have
c. not have


The patient is a fifty-eight-year-old male with CVD, hypertension, and DMII and ______ feels unwell.

a. they
b. she
c. he


You took her blood pressure, ______ you?

a. haven’t
b. didn’t
c. will


My mentor and ______ will be at the nurse’s station reviewing my skills book.

a. me
b. myself
c. I


The patient ______ absconded was wearing a green hospital gown.

a. who
b. that
c. which


Tough, huh? If you’re not sure of the answers, I recommend reading the hints. A lot of good grammar is needed for those 5,000-word essays, I promise you.

Critical Reasoning tests

These are like mind-bending questions that take a while to figure out. Basically, they’re word version of algebra and usually can be worked out in a similar way.

Example: Laura travels to New York or Bora Bora every month. If it is raining and windy then Laura goes to New York. If it is sunny and calm then Laura goes to Bora Bora. Sometimes, though, it can be raining and sunny.

Which of the following statements must be true:

a. If it is not sunny and it is raining then Laura goes to New York.
b. If it is windy and Laura does not go to New York then it is not raining.
c. If it is windy and not sunny then Laura goes to New York.
d. If it is windy and sunny then Laura goes to New York.
e. If it is raining and sunny then Laura goes to New York.

You can kind of work questions like these out with a little bit of maths. So, the weather MUST include both for me to travel.

NY = R + W
BB = S + C

Answer A, the equation is missing Wind. All we know is that it’s trying to say R + ? = NY. As we don’t know what the weather’s like other than ‘not sunny’, we don’t know if that is true. It can’t be this option.

Answer B, is W + ? = -NY. It’s Windy, yes. That ticks the first part of the equation. But I’ve not gone to New York. Remember, it must be both Raining AND Windy for me to travel. So it’s Windy and I’m not in New York, so therefore it can’t be Raining. It could be this answer.

Answer C is W + ? = NY. Again, we don’t know what ‘not sunny’ means. It could be snow, hail, tornado, but in the confines of this question, we don’t know. We do know it’s definitely not Rain though, so I can’t be in New York.

Answer D is W + S = NY + BB. If it’s Windy then I go to NY, if it’s Sunny I go to Bora Bora. We don’t know what happens when it’s both, so this can’t be the right answer as it combines both weather types and destinations.

Answer E is R + S = NY + BB. Ok, so the question admits sometimes it can be Raining and Sunny. But it doesn’t say what I do in that situation. Perhaps I flip a coin, or maybe I don’t travel. We don’t know so it can’t be E.

After looking at all the options, the answer must be B. Tough, no? Really tough.

Write for me…

A question I got on every literacy test was a simple open-ended prompt where I was required to write about 250 words by hand in pen. This is the best way admissions teams can see if you understand the language. Nursing is 75% notes and documentation (the other 25% is trying to figure out everyone else’s notes and documentation) so you need to prove your handwriting is legible and you can, well, document.

Questions I got given were:

– Why do you want to become a nurse?
– Explain the difference between care and compassion.
– How do you feel you would fit in at university?
– What does being a nurse mean to you?

See how random? Just ensure you have a nice pen, and you practice beforehand, and that’s really all anyone can say. Whether you can construct a sentence is out of my remit, really. But again, if you have a C grade at GCSE or equivalent, I’m sure it won’t be too difficult. Just make sure you keep it professional.

So, there you have it. Some universities are really nice and the questions are easy as anything. Others really put you through your paces and you leave feeling a little bit like you shouldn’t even own anything with a keyboard for your own sake, let alone anyone else’s. Just practice, relax and try your best.