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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.

Nursing students ask us all the time for tips and strategies on how to successfully prepare for and answer SATA questions.

So 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.  Click here to learn more about NRSNG Academy.

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 Questions About 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 NCSBN (HERE) to see what they had to say about it.  Here’s what we found:

Multiple response items may require a candidate to select a single correct response, have more than one correct response, or require all responses to be correct regardless of the number of possible responses

From this response, it seems pretty clear that a SATA question will require AT LEAST one correct answer, several, or all.

This is from the most current update on NCSBN (December 2017).

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

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.

INTRODUCING: The 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.

It’s really important with SATA style questions that you don’t become biased and that you give each answer option an equal chance without comparing it to the other.

By evaluating each option individually you force yourself to NOT look for correlations between options.  

The trap many test takers fall into is trying to batch answers together rather than seeing each one as a mutually exclusive.  When this is done you are unable to give each answer option a fair chance.

When you turn each option into a true/false statement, you simplify the options and improve your chances.

Breaking the question down into a simple true/false statement helps you to remove bias and reduce your chances of misreading the answer options.

SIMCLEX®: Computer Adaptive NCLEX® Simulator

One challenge that many nursing students face is that prior to nursing school, we’ve never taken SATA style tests.

NRSNG Academy includes our fully computer adaptive NCLEX simulator called SIMCLEX®.  SIMCLEX is just like the NCLEX in that:

  • Computer adaptive (it adjusts to you as you take the exam)
  • 75-265 questions just like the real thing
  • Includes SATA questions
  • Includes image questions
  • Same layout and design of the NCLEX
  • 6 hour time limit
  • Detailed stats and question review post test
  • Unlimited attempts

SIMCLEX is included with your membership in NRSNG Academy and you get unlimited attempts.  We generally recommend you begin taking SIMCLEX as you approach the end of your nursing school journey and prepare for the NCLEX.

Learn More About NRSNG Academy

Conclusion

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 - Sep 8, 2018

Jon Haws RN

Written by Jon Haws RN

Jon Haws RN began his nursing career at a Level I Trauma ICU in DFW working as a code team nurse, charge nurse, and preceptor. Frustrated with the nursing education process, Jon started NRSNG in 2014 with a desire to provide tools and confidence to nursing students around the globe. When he's not busting out content for NRSNG, Jon enjoys spending time with his two kids and wife.