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Dissecting NCLEX-RN Questions and Focusing on the Stem

Multiple-choice questions hog most of the space on the NCLEX-RN test because they're objective and efficient and can assess the depth and breadth of your understanding of curriculum content. Therefore, it's extremely important that you know how to break down multiple-choice questions in order to get to the "meat" of what's being asked.

A multiple-choice question is called an objective test question because the perceptions or opinions of another person (the subjective assessment) don't influence the answer. On the NCLEX-RN, the question is followed by four answer options, yet only one answer is correct, even if it asks you for the best option — technically, the "correct" option means the "best" option, which is only one answer. So you either answer the question correctly or incorrectly — it's that simple.

Each multiple choice question consists of two parts:

  • The stem: This is a statement that asks the question. The stem includes the situation that describes the client and his healthcare needs or problems. It also includes all the relevant information regarding those issues. The most important part of the stem is the question or incomplete statement that you must answer or complete.
  • The call options: These are the possible answers offered in the item. One of the call options is the correct answer because it answers the question asked in the stem. The other remaining options are incorrect answers; they're called distractors because they're specifically designed to distract you away from the correct answer to the question. The three distractors may be right and logical nursing care, but they aren't the best or ideal nursing care. They may be based on information in the stem, but they really don't answer the question.

Always focus on the information in the question and, more specifically, what the question is asking. Avoid reading elements into the question that aren't specifically included in the stem and options.

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