NCLEX and neuroscience... testing what?

I suppose many nursing students complain about the NCLEX-style questions they are forced to answer in nursing school. Today, purely by chance, I witnessed an interesting little correlation that I suspect sheds light on the nature of nursing exams.

In my Nursing Management/Leadership course this afternoon, we did an exercise where we were asked to come up with as many words as possible using the letters from "teamwork." For example, the words "team" and "work" are in "teamwork" as well as the words "tea" and "am." We had a time limit, and the most number of words one person came up with was 19. We then went around and added the words everyone else had come up with to make a total of 50-something words.

At the end of adding everyone else's words, the dry-erase board was a series of columns of mostly two- and three-letter words, with the exception of two columns that contained mostly words of four letters or more. These columns belonged to myself and one other student. She and I thought up mostly four-letter words, and almost all the four-letter words in the class were from the two of us. Interestingly enough, we two are the only older students in the class and the only ones with previous educations--I with an aborted almost-degree in humanities and she with an MA.

We two were very much in the middle of the group as far as the total number of words we thought up, but the type of words we were trying to produce involved a different level of anagrammatization (or whatever you call it).

Now, what's really interesting is that earlier in the day we had a post-test review in Psych Nursing, and on one particular question, this other student and I chose the "wrong" answer because we interpreted the question in a similar way that was different from the professor and the other students. When I tried to explain what I thought the question was asking, she looked at me confusedly like she thought I was crazy, and I guarantee I was thinking "you know, I'm not crazy."

I think--and I have always thought--that nursing exams really don't test knowledge (very well) or critical thinking skills (as they supposedly do) but, rather, whether or not you think the same way as the instructor.

Of course, you would guess that thinking like the instructor was "getting at the right answer," but I often don't feel that way. In fact, on more than one occasion, the "correct" answer on a test has also been the foolish or illogical interpretation in my view. (In this case, illogical means poorly thought out, not intuitive.)

Now, if I had just asserted my opinion, I suspect you wouldn't give it a second thought before dismissing it. However, given the difference in style demonstrated in the word test, you should consider whether the NCLEX questions don't just test the ability to sink up with the nursing instructors.

"Sink up" isn't a very rigorous concept, but I know that women who live together do sink up in other ways, such as their endocrine processes. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that women sink up in their neuro processes as well. Does this constitute "education"? I don't think so, but what does that matter since the whole field is dominated by women?

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