Tips for Surviving the Skills Exam

Jenny Ewen, BA, NREMT

Tips for Surviving the Skills Exam

While most of us are used to taking tests that consist of multiple choice questions, essay questions, or short-answer questions, that all gets flipped upside down when it comes to the skills exam. Being an EMT requires textbook-based knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge within medical situations where you also use certain techniques and equipment to save lives. This combination of knowledge and physical skills results in an exam that has to test both – a little thing known as the NREMT Psychomotor Skills Exam.


While some people might be more terrified of the cognitive exam than the skills exam – I’m talking to you, outgoing, no-stage-fright people – the skills exam can be pretty nerve-wracking to most people. It’s important to not let your nerves get the best of you – this is where deep breathing comes in handy. You’ve been in the course for 12 weeks so by now you should know the skills so well you could practically do them backwards. This is why trying to get a last minute look at your skills sheet in the thirty seconds after being called to the skill and actually going there isn’t all that helpful.


Now is the time when you have to trust your muscle memory and your knowledge. This is why it’s really important to practice as much as you can in class and outside of class – even if you don’t have the equipment, you can just mime the motions. If you have to commute to work or school, use the time in your car to go over the medical and trauma skills out loud. It’s good to practice writing out the skills to make sure you’re remembering the order of the steps, but saying it out loud will help you even more, since that’s what you’ll be doing during the skills exam.


Remember that the examiners are not allowed to give you any indication of whether you’re doing things right or wrong. They can ask some clarifying questions, but don’t take those as any sign of how you’re doing in the skill. Often at the end of each skill test, your examiner will ask if you have anything to add – this does not mean you have forgotten something. Take the opportunity to think through the skill in your head to decide if you need to add or clarify anything. 


As you finish each skill and go back to the classroom to wait for your next skill test, don’t waste too much time trying to figure out if you missed anything or beat yourself up for missing something. There’s nothing you can do to change it at that point! Instead, focus on mentally preparing for your remaining skills.


Overall, during the skills exam is when you need to feel confident about your ability to perform as an EMT based on all your practice and education throughout the course. Be positive and don’t let your own thoughts drown you anxiety – keep yourself in the present moment during and between each skill. Good luck!

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