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7 Rules for Answering SATA Questions in Nursing School

HESI TEAS test for nursing school

“I am currently struggling with SATA. I am trying to prepare for the NCLEX-RN.”

SATA-type questions has long been a dreaded feature of the NCLEX, but why does it get so much hate?

Seriously, why is it that a groan seems to be the universal reaction whenever someone brings up answering SATA questions? C’mon, it couldn’t be that bad! Think about it. You’re only supposed to pick all the correct answers from a list so tackling it shouldn’t really be that much different compared to answering a basic multiple choice question!

It must be because SATA questions are perceived to be shrouded in mystery, right?

Unraveling the Mystery…

I guess the seething hatred fear for answering SATA questions comes from being not accustomed to tackling this type of question. Yes, it’s that fear (or distrust?)of the unknown that makes answering SATA questions not something that NCLEX takers are looking forward to.

It can be very frustrating when a question would ask you to pick several correct answers but would not give you any point at all if you did not get all the possible correct options. Isn’t that so unfair? How can the BONs add booby-traps to an already difficult exam? Don’t they have a heart?

Well, think of answering SATA questions the same way as making some delicious fried chicken. Breading the chicken in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs is just half the work. One has to know how to fry it properly and get to actually frying it before you can enjoy some yummy fried chicken. Surely you wouldn’t want to pay your favorite fastfood your hard-earned dollars if you’ve been served someuncooked fried chicken, right? The same goes for SATA questions. There’s no credit given for half-answered questions or picking incorrect options alongside right ones. That’s not unfair, that’s just how things should be in real life.

What you should do then? Learn how to conquer NCLEX alternate format questions, of course! Here’s how you can show SATA questions who’s the boss:

#1 – Know Your Nursing Concepts by Heart

The best way to ensure that you’ll get the right answers in your exam is to really prepare for the NCLEX by studying. Yeppers, there’s no getting around it. You simply have to study, perhaps more than you did during your years in nursing school.

SATA questions suck for people who have not armed themselves with a solid foundation on the basics of nursing. Once you understand and comprehend your nursing concepts, you will always get the correct answers no matter how a question is asked. No tricks required!

#2 – Look Forward to SATA Questions

Wonder why are scary movies are not scary anymore after you’ve watched it once? It’s because the suspense is gone. The same goes for SATA questions. When you prepare yourself and made a mental heads up that you’ll come across at least a few of them during your exam, then they’d become just as ‘normal’ as the rest of the other questions.

#3 – Learn to Love It

You may not look at answering SATA questions as a compliment to your nursing knowledge, but yes they are! They are a part of the NCLEX question bank because they help the exam evaluate in just a single question just how good a prospective-RN is about a certain topic.

The NCLEX utilizes CAT (Computerized Adaptive Testing) – which basically means that questions are chosen based on how the exam taker is answering questions being presented during the exam. Seeing difficult questions (often SATA ones) is often a positive indicator because it can mean that you’re being given higher level questions because the exam recognizes that you’ll likely handle it brilliantly.

#4 – Strip the Fancy Strappings

The secret to answering SATA questions is really all about understanding what is being asked and then seeing if it holds true for each of the options. You see, it is nothing more than a modified True or False. A basic question masquerading as an ultra-fancy one.

Once you ‘get’ what the question is asking for, you’ll be surprised that you can often come up with answers even before taking a look at the options. That’s your awesome nurse mind harnessing your years of nursing knowledge! Sweet!

#5 – Resist the Urge to Group Options

No. Don’t do it. Just. No.

There is a reason why options are listed separately, and that is because they are individual options! Take each option on its own and see if it’s a possible answer. Do not try to associate one with the other even if they seem similar or share some common characteristics. For example, in the example below, 5 items are fruits but only 2 are citrus fruits.

Example SATA Question:

While teaching a patient with scurvy which food items are good sources of Vitamin C, the patient asked you what citrus fruits are recommended. Your teaching to your patient would include (SATA):

  1. Pumpkins
  2. Apples
  3. Bananas
  4. Oranges
  5. Eggplants
  6. Mushrooms
  7. Lemons
  8. Papayas

Correct answers are lemons and oranges because they are the only citrus fruits in the options(and yes, they’re rich in Vitamin C). Of course papaya may also have a significant level of Vitamin C but again, the patient was only specifically asking for citrus fruits.

In the example above, choosing items by grouping them such as picking all fruits or going for all orange-colored or all yellow-hued foods would be wrong because a common color or category does not necessarily make an option part of the correct answers.

#6 – Avoid Over-Thinking

To answer SATA questions, you are meant to understand what is being asked and then see which of the options apply ( and click all of those). You are not meant to force yourself to correlate one option with another or go back and forth between answers to change your first response.

Unless an answer you’ve previously picked is obviously wrong (example is if it is NOT what the question is asking for), then it would really be better to stop the doubt train and simply stick to your initial answers.

#7 – Mind the Unspoken SATA Rules

According to the NCSBN website’s FAQS on alternate format questions(go ahead, check it out), SATA questions have a minimum of 2 correct answers and there is no upper limit.

This means that all of the options could be correct… or 3, or 4, but certainly never less than just 2. The only time you should go back to re-read and rethink your answers is if you’ve only picked out 1 option after going through the whole lot. Why? Because again, there’s a minimum of 2 correct answers!

Remember, Practice Makes Perfect!

Nothing beats ‘ole good practice when it comes to getting the hang of things so be sure to take advantage of a good NCLEX preparation course to help you conquer the alternate format questions in your NCLEX. Courses based on the current NCLEX test plan are best and you can supplement that with other resources such as podcasts, apps, and tons of NCLEX practice questions.

Got a burning NCLEX concern? Then connect with us via social media or via the website to get answers!


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