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Ep237: How to Answer Any SATA Question (the SATA Success Pyramid)

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Learning how to answer SATA (select all that apply) questions is one of the most crucial skills to nursing school success.  We are asked all the time for tips and strategies on how to successfully prepare for and answer SATA questions that we actually created an entire course around nursing school test taking inside our NRSNG Academy.

Inside that course I dive into 11 test taking strategies unique to the nursing school experience, but in this video I wanted to cover three tips for how to answer select all that apply questions.

What Are SATA Questions

Before we dive too much into the strategy, let’s talk about WHAT they are.

The NCSBN (the company that writes the NCLEX) refers to SATA questions as “Multiple Response Items”.  Essentially, these are any test question where you are required to select every correct answer from a list of 5 or 6 possible answer options.

They are structured like any regular item (question) except that at the end of the question you will see “Select all that apply” at the end.

We’ve discussed the general anatomy of NCLEX questions previously here.

Common SATA Questions

There are a few things that many students ask regarding select all that apply questions:

  • How many correct answers can there be?
  • Do I get partial credit?

How Many Correct Answers Can There Be?

This is an often debated question in nursing schools.  How many correct answers can SATA questions have?  Can there only be one correct option?  Can all the answer options be correct?

To answer this question, we went directly to the source (HERE) to see what they had to say about it.  Here’s what we found:

Multiple-response items that require a candidate to select two or more responses.

From this response, it seems pretty clear that a SATA question will require AT LEAST two correct answers.  If you only find one . . . keep digging.  The above quote comes directly from their website and references the most up to date NCLEX information as of 2017.

Here are a couple of other quotes found on NCSBN and learningext.com.

I think the only safe assumption for SATA or “select-all-that-apply” (also called “multiple response”) questions is that more than one response is correct.

and . .

Multiple response items are described as having five or six options with a minimum of two correct (key) options.  Items contain the statement “Select all that apply.” At this time, NCSBN requires the candidate to utilize their comprehensive knowledge to determine the appropriate amount of applicable maximum correct answers to each item.  In short, we disclose how many, at a minimum can be correct; however, we do not disclose how many at a maximum may/may not be correct.

While the wording in the last quote is a bit dated and that quote is only found on the learningext website and not the NCSBN any longer, the first quote essentially state the same information.

Do I Get Partial Credit?

Short answer: nope

Long answer: . . . nope

With SATA questions it’s all or none.  If you get all but one of the correct answers, you still are marked wrong for the entire question.

SATA Success Pyramid

SATA questions are generally seen as more difficult questions and as such it can actually been seen as a good thing if you start seeing a lot of them.  Learning how to successfully answer them will help tremendously in your nursing education.

the sata success pyramid by nrsng

To help in answering these questions, I’ve developed a three step process.

How to Answer Select All That Apply (SATA) Questions:

  1. Cover All Options
  2. Evaluate Each Option Individually
  3. Turn Each Answer Into a T/F Statement

By following these three steps, in order, you will greatly improve your chances of getting these difficult questions correct.

When you cover all the options you eliminate the chances you will become biased in your evaluation of answer options. By evaluating each option individually you force yourself to NOT look for correlations between options.  When you turn each option into a true/false statement, you simplify the options and improve your chances.


This post and video are a brief summary of how to answer these difficult questions.  Inside the NRSNG Academy and the Test Taking Course I go into great depth on exactly how to conquer nursing exams . . . we’ve also got thousands of NCLEX style questions (including SATA).

I want to invite you to get started with the NRSNG Academy.

Try the NRSNG Academy

how to answer sata questions in nursing school

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Podcast Transcription

What’s up guys, Jon Haws, RN CCRN, here with nrsng.com. Today we’re going to talk about everybody’s favorite topic SATA questions, Select All That Apply or multiple response questions, whatever you want to call them. Now if you struggle with test taking or you need additional help with Select All That Apply questions, I’d like to invite you to enroll in the NRSNG Academy. Within the NRSNG Academy we have an entire course on test taking with modules on Select All That Apply questions, as well as 4,000 NCLEX practice questions. You can find that over at nrsng.com or nrsng.com/academy.

Now real quickly, why do these matter so much? In your previous education experiences you usually don’t get questions like these. With these questions you’re going to get your question and then you’re going to get five to six answer options. You have to choose which of those are correct, so it’s just a little bit different than a normal question where you’re given a true/false statement or you’re given a question with a single answer. You’re having to select which of all the answer options are correct.

One of the most common questions we get about SATA questions is, “How many can be correct?” We dug into this, we really looked and tried to dispel all the urban myths and urban legends, and we went straight to the NCSBN website and dug through their website to figure out exactly the right answer for this. According to the NCSBN, which is the company that writes the NCLEX, at least two answer options are going to be correct. They don’t tell you how many can be correct. They don’t really like to give it to you, to say, “All of them could be correct,” but they’re going to tell us basically that at least two can be correct.

Here’s exactly what they say, “Multiple response items require a candidate to select two or more responses.” It’s pretty clear right there that it’s requiring you to select two or more responses, so at least two of the question items are going to be correct answers.

Another question we get a lot of times is, “Do you get partial credit if you get some of the answers correct?” Sadly, you don’t. Select All That Apply, or SATA questions or multiple response questions, are all or none. You have to select all of the correct answers and none of the incorrect answers to get credit for that questions. Because of this, generally these are the more difficult questions.

If you’re seeing a lot of Select All That Apply questions, generally you’re doing pretty well on the exam because this is all structured by Bloom’s taxonomy. Which means as you move to more cognitively demanding type questions they’re going to get a little bit harder.

Let’s go ahead and dive into some tips on how you can answer SATA questions. I’m going to give you three basic tips, I call this the NCLEX Success Pyramid. It’s really simple, three things that you need to do any time you see a SATA question.

The first thing that you do is you cover up all the answer options. Cover them all up, read the question and don’t look at any of the answer options yet. The next thing that you do is you begin to evaluate each answer option individually. You move your hand down or your paper down, one by one as you look at the different answer options. Not looking at all of them together, looking at them one by one. The last thing that you do guys is as you’re evaluating those answer options you turn them into true/false statements. Look at the question and try to break the question down into a true/false statement, does the answer option apply to that statement?

If you have a question about heart failure, say, “Would a patient with heart failure experience fluid volume overload?” Start to break it down like that, don’t read the question and try to apply the answer, turn the question into a true/false statement and see if yes or no that answer option applies to that question. If it’s true then you can select that, if it’s false then you move on.

Again, the three pieces of that SATA Success Pyramid are to cover all options, evaluate each answer option individually and turn each answer option into a true/false statement. If you can do these three things you’re going to find a lot greater success with SATA questions. If you find greater success with SATA questions you’re going to improve your testing scores and you’re going to see that you can pass the NCLEX in 75 question because you’re going to advance to those more difficult questions much faster and be able to pass in a faster rate.

It’s very possible to find success with these and to do well on Select All That Apply questions, you just have to work through the process.

Date Published - May 8, 2017
Date Modified - May 5, 2017

Jon Haws

Written by Jon Haws

Jon RN CCRN is a critical care nurse at a Level I Trauma center in Dallas, TX. His passions include learning about anatomy and physiology and teaching. When he isn't busting out content for NRSNG.com he loves spending time with his family.