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Reading Comprehension on the HESI® Exam

The HESI® Exam’s Reading Comprehension portion is designed to assess your ability to understand and analyze information delivered in written form. To do well on this section, you must be able to identify, understand, distinguish between, and analyze the main parts of a piece of writing. Below are some tips for what to expect, what to review, and how to approach this test.

What to Expect on the HESI® Reading Comprehension Test

The Reading Comprehension portion of the exam consists of 47 multiple-choice questions based on a variety of reading passages and is estimated to take an hour or less. This section of the exam will include multiple reading passages of varying lengths and difficulty levels with multiple questions about each passage. Passages may be literary texts or informational texts and may take the form of a newspaper article, an academic essay, a speech, or an excerpt from a novel. Regardless of the type of passage, the questions that follow each text require you to not only answer questions about the content of the passage, but also to make inferences about author’s purpose and apply understanding beyond the text itself.

What to Review Before the HESI® Reading Comprehension Test

In preparation for the HESI® Reading Comprehension test, take some practice tests to gauge your skills. Questions on the test will assess your ability to identify the topic, main idea, thesis statement, and supporting details in a text. You may be asked to determine the meaning of words or phrases based on the context in which they are used in the passage. Being able to identify and analyze an author’s purpose and tone are also critical skills, as is the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. Some questions will require you to make logical inferences or draw conclusions based on what you read or to summarize the author’s overall message.

There is some use of literary terms within the questions (e.g., “The passage is told from what point of view?” with answer options of “First person/Second person/Third person/Both A and B”), so be sure to review terms like these:

  • point of view
  • hyperbole
  • onomatopoeia
  • tone
  • rhetoric and rhetorical devices
  • styles of writing (narrative, persuasive, informative, and descriptive)
  • structure of text (compare/contrast, problem/solution, sequence, description, etc.)

Test-Taking Tips for the HESI® Reading Comprehension Portion

1. Practice ahead of time

You don’t know what you don’t know until you take a few practice versions of the HESI® exam and find out which areas might need more attention before you take the actual test. Complete some HESI® practice tests online and see where your strengths lie, where you might need some additional review, and generally familiarize yourself with the structure, style, and format of the test.

2. Time is your friend

When it comes to practicing for the exam, time is your friend. You can create a study schedule for yourself that will allow you to allocate time well ahead of your testing date to take practice tests, review your answers, and brush up on areas of need. However, if you procrastinate on studying and try to pull an all-nighter the night before the exam, well, it won’t be pretty and your scores aren’t likely to be too high. Plan ahead and do a little practice each day rather than a huge chunk at the last minute—more of what you review will stick with you if you build little by little than try to cram all at once.

3. Time can be your enemy

Although not strictly enforced, the test sections of the HESI® do have recommended testing durations. When you are taking the exam, time could be your enemy because there is a sense of time pressure in which you are trying to completely but carefully answer all of the questions. To prepare for that pressure, when you practice, consider setting a timer to more fully emulate the actual testing experience. And, during the exam itself, don’t spend too much time on any one question. It’s generally a good idea to plow through the questions you know the answers to and, for the ones that cause you trouble or on which you will need to expend more time, come back to them if there is time at the end.

4. Read carefully

Test makers are out to try to trick you, adding unnecessary information or distracting answers to throw you off course. Be sure to read the questions and all answer options carefully before selecting your response. Watch out for words like best, most, least, etc. as they change the scope of what you should be searching for as an answer. If you come across an except or a not, you are no longer looking for one right answer, but for the one answer that is wrong. It may be that several answer options could be correct, but if they question asks for most nearly or most likely, it means that other answer options are okay, but there is one that they are specifically asking you to identify. Answer options that include absolutes, words like always or never, are seldom the right answer because they are too limiting.

5. Find out which tests you need and take them in a strategic order

While most schools and programs require nursing applicants to take all sections of the HESI®, not all do. Check with your desired program for their specific requirements. Once you know which tests you will need to take, consider signing up for them in order of easiest for you to the most difficult; there’s no required order in which the tests must be taken. Some people excel in English skills, while others are more mathematical in their thinking. Knowing your strengths in testing subjects, start with the ones you are more likely to find easy and not need as long to prepare and review for and then schedule the more challenging ones for later dates. This gives you more time to prepare and solidify your skills before you take the tests in those areas.

6. Trust yourself

Testing can be a stressful situation. When an ounce of doubt enters your brain, you might start questioning your answers and second-guessing your responses. Trust your initial response. Unless you find an obvious mistake in the answer you selected when you review your responses, don’t change any of your answers.

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