The process of applying to nursing school places students under intense scrutiny, and there’s a lot of pressure to perform at the highest levels. This applies not only to the grades you need in your prerequisite classes, but to the score you need on your ATI TEAS exam. And when you don’t meet your target school’s criteria on this crucial entrance exam, it may lead to feelings of discouragement and even thoughts of giving up on your dream.

If this describes you, I want you to know that you are not alone and that I 100% believe you can achieve your goals. In this article I’m sharing five tips for moving past this obstacle so you can get the TEAS score you need and apply to your dream programs with confidence. 

Learn more organizing strategies in Crucial Concepts Bootcamp

Tip #1: Shift Your Mindset

Because nursing students are such high-achievers, there’s a tendency to take each and every shortcoming as a personal failure. This could not be further from the truth. The reality is, nursing school (and the process of getting into nursing school) is challenging and many very talented students don’t hit their goals the first time around. 

In no way does this make you a failure. I like to think of the word “fail” as an acronym meaning “first attempt in learning.” So, a key to bouncing back from this “first attempt” is to shift your mindset from one of failure to one of opportunity. And a key way to do that is to change how you talk to yourself.

A few years ago I taught a student how to reframe her negative self-talk and the results were extraordinary. This particular student had a lot of math anxiety, and constantly said the negative statement “I am bad at math.” After learning some reframing tips I shared with her, she changed that statement to “I am open to learning how to do math. I know this is hard, but I am practicing and getting better every day.” With this reframed way of talking to herself, she completely shifted her mindset around math, started practicing more, and ultimately passed her dosage calculations exams with confidence.

 You can apply the same principles to your situation, especially if you’re letting a lot of negative self-talk dominate your mindset. The key with shifting how we speak to ourselves is to replace the negative statement with something that’s true and attainable. For example, the student I mentioned above simply didn’t start saying, “I’m great at math” because she wouldn’t have believed that. Instead, she created a true and attainable statement.

So, if you’re saying things like, “I’m a failure, I’ll never get into nursing school,” how can you reframe that statement? Here are some ideas:

  • “I may have scored low on this one exam, but I am dedicated to working hard to achieve the score I need.”
  • “Many students retake the TEAS exam. What I’m experiencing is not unusual.”
  • “I am studying daily and will go into my next attempt with confidence.”

Take a moment before you move on to the next tip to write out a new statement you can use to talk more positively to yourself as you aim to improve your TEAS score. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how well it works!


Tip #2: Create a Study Plan to Improve Your TEAS Score

One of the great things about ATI is they truly want students to succeed. That’s why they provide detailed feedback after your exam so you know exactly how to focus your studying. When you receive your score report from ATI it includes a section titled “Topics to Review.” This focused review is directly linked to subject areas within the ATI TEAS Study Manual so you can go back and review just those things that need some extra attention. 

If you didn’t utilize ATI prep materials for the exam, I highly recommend you do so. Two key resources from ATI are the ATI TEAS Study Manual and the SmartPrep Tutorial. The focused review you receive after your exam links directly to the study manual, and the SmartPrep Tutorial provides a comprehensive and organized way to prepare for the exam. Learn more about these ATI resources here.

Need another reason to invest in these resources? Research shows that the average second attempt score can be increased by 7.5% when using the SmartPrep tutorial. In other words, drop what you’re doing right now and go get both of these resources! You can even save 15% on the SmartPrep Tutorial when you use the promo code SAN2023. Promotion ends October 31, 2023.

Once you’ve obtained your focused review from ATI, work your study sessions into your schedule over the next few weeks. Make sure your expectations are realistic by giving yourself enough time to review each key area before you take your next exam.

Tip #3: Switch Up How You Study

Sometimes the opportunity comes from changing how you study. Think objectively about how you felt as you were studying for the TEAS. Did you feel confident as you reviewed the material, or did you continually feel like the concepts weren’t easily understood? Now, think about the process you used to study and see if you can identify opportunities to make your studying more engaging. Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of reading passively, take notes as you go. Not sure where to start? A great way to take notes is to use the Cornell Method. Developed by a Cornell professor, this  method provides an organized framework for taking notes and reviewing them later. To learn more about the Cornell Method of note taking, check out this quick video tutorial.
  • If you’re more of an auditory learner, record yourself reading through your notes and explaining key concepts. Play these recordings as you drive, go for walks, or do chores around the house.
  • If you get a lot out of talking things through, meet up with another student and quiz each other using the ATI TEAS prep materials as a guide. Don’t know anyone else applying to nursing school? Join a Facebook group and offer to meet over Google Meet or Zoom.
  • Having a hard time remembering key facts? Make flashcards and sift through them when you have unexpected downtime, such as waiting in line at the grocery store or while stuck in traffic (only if you’re not driving, though!).

 Tip #4: Conquer Test Anxiety

Even the most prepared student can suffer from test anxiety, which can drastically affect your TEAS score. The first thing to understand about test anxiety is that a little bit of anxiety is actually a good thing. It heightens our awareness and makes us more diligent and careful. 

Too much, however, impedes thought processing and problem solving abilities. The signs and symptoms of test anxiety can manifest as behaviorally, physically and emotionally. 

  • Behavioral signs of test anxiety are fidgeting, pacing, and clicking your pen repeatedly.
  • Physical symptoms can include tremors, a rapid pulse, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, dry mouth and sweating.
  • Emotional symptoms include depression and feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy.

The first weapon in your arsenal against test anxiety is to understand why it’s happening. In fact, there are a lot of reasons why you’d be anxious about your ATI TEAS exam, and all of them are valid. Sometimes just knowing that it’s normal to feel a certain way makes managing those feelings a lot easier. So, what are the reasons you might feel anxious about your exam? 

First off, the ATI TEAS exam is a high-stakes exam. And, if you’ve scored below your goal in the past, feeling anxious heading into your second or third attempt is completely normal. The key is to keep your anxiety at a manageable level. Here are a few tips: 

  • Every time you sit down to study for your TEAS exam, start by taking five deep and calming breaths. This habit will start to train your brain (and body) to associate the TEAS exam with this calming activity. And when you sit down to take the actual exam, take five deep breaths before you begin. Since you’ve already conditioned yourself to use deep breathing as a calming exercise, it will help reduce anxiety when it’s go time!
  • As you take your exam, be aware of your thoughts. The moment your thoughts start to head down the pathway of negative self-talk, there’s a huge risk they could spiral out of control. Instead, make a conscious effort to bring your focus back to reality. A quick way to do this is with the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. Depending on the testing environment, it may be a bit more challenging to utilize the final two steps, but even just doing a partial grounding technique can work wonders for easing anxiety.
    • Acknowledge five things you can see around you (ex: the keyboard, the desk, the chair, a window, a door). 
    • Acknowledge four things you can feel around you (ex: the chair under your legs, your pen in your hands, your hair touching your neck, the computer mouse, the edge of your shirt touching your wrist).
    • Acknowledge three things you can hear (ex: the air conditioner, traffic outside, the creak of your chair).
    • Acknowledge two things you can smell (ex: the scented lotion you wore today, coffee).
    • Acknowledge one thing you can taste (ex: mint from your morning toothpaste).
  • Release physical tension from your body. With your feet flat on the floor, grab the underside of your chair with your hands. Push down with your feet while pulling up on the chair for a count of five. Release and relax for a count of ten, then repeat one to three more times.
  • Avoid watching the clock. Because the ATI TEAS is a timed exam, you may feel a compulsion to constantly check the clock which can greatly increase anxiety. If you must check the clock, make an agreement with yourself that you’ll only check the clock every thirty to forty questions.

Another reason you may experience test anxiety with the TEAS exam is associating your performance with your self worth. Nursing students tend to be high-achieving individuals, and when you don’t meet your goal with this important exam, it can be a significant blow to your self esteem. The key with attacking this root cause of test anxiety is understanding that you are not your grades and your grades are not a reflection of you. 

And one more reason why you may have test anxiety is because you’re actually afraid of disappointing others. After all, you’ve been working really hard toward your goal and expectations are high. Plus, if you’re supporting a family or a spouse, they’re counting on you and you definitely don’t want to disappoint the people you love. 

The truth is, nursing school is going to be full of exams that are just as high-stakes as the TEAS. The key with attacking this cause of test anxiety is to put it in perspective. This type of exam is going to become routine when you’re in nursing school, so think of it as one exam of many, not your entire future. 

 Tip #5: Remember Your “Why”

In order to bounce back from an exam shortfall, you must remember your “why.” It’s going to take hard work and dedication to continue studying for the TEAS exam and to walk back into the testing center with confidence. But you can do it.

Before you let yourself even think about giving up (and I certainly hope you don’t!), take a moment to reflect on why you want to pursue nursing as a career. Use these journaling prompts to help you get to the core of why you dream of being a nurse.

  • What does being a nurse mean to me? 
  • What will I feel like when I see RN, LVN or LPN after my name?
  • What will my life be like when I’m working as a nurse?
  • How will being a nurse fulfill me mentally, spiritually and/or emotionally?
  • What am I going to do to ensure I continue on this path?

While everyone’s reasons for becoming a nurse are unique, some universal positive aspects of the career are: 

  • There’s a wide range of opportunities and roles in nursing. If you’re the type of person who likes to explore different career options, then nursing will open so many doors for you!
  • Variety variety variety. After working as a registered nurse for over eleven years, I can honestly say that no two days are the same. It’s one of my favorite aspects of my job!
  • Job stability is another key benefit of working in healthcare. I’ve never once visited a hospital website and seen zero jobs posted for nurses. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that registered nurse employment is expected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031.
  • The impact of doing meaningful work cannot be overstated. It’s rewarding to know that at the end of the day, you’ve had a direct impact on someone else. If living a purposeful life is important to you, this may be at the root of your “why.”
  • For many nurses the flexible schedule is a key draw. As a nurse, you might work a regular 8-5 schedule, three 12-hour shifts a week, per diem or for a few weeks at a time on a travel assignment. The flexibility allows many nurses to attend their kids’ activities, go on trips, or explore outside passions and hobbies.
  • Being part of a dynamic team is another benefit of nursing. If you enjoy working with others to achieve common goals, then nursing can be a highly rewarding career for you. When you work in an environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration, going to work can almost feel like you’re hanging out with your friends all day…and who doesn’t love that?

Before I go, I’ve got one more bonus tip for you! Just because you received a “no thank you” letter from a school does not always mean it’s game over. If you’re on the borderline with your TEAS score and you didn’t get into your school of choice, keep in touch with the admissions department. Not all students who receive an acceptance letter will attend that program, and additional spots may open up. So stay positive while you continue to review and study for your second attempt.

I hope these tips help you feel empowered after experiencing a setback with your TEAS exam. Click here to learn more about how ATI can help you succeed with this crucial exam.

Want even more tips straight from ATI and Rasmussen university? Check out the podcast episode here! 

A big “thank you” to ATI and Rasmussen university for their generous sponsorship of this post.