May 7, 2018
A comprehensive review that includes what to study, how to study, and test-taking strategies that will prepare you to knock your ACLS exam out of the park.
Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is an essential aspect of emergency medical treatment. Most healthcare providers are required to get their ACLS Certification or Recertification to ensure they are capable of handling various emergency situations. In order to receive your certification, you must take a course, and ultimately pass an ACLS Certification exam that is accepted by your specific provider. Each year, thousands of healthcare providers set out to pass their ACLS exam. If you are one of these people, don’t fret – we’re here to help. Countless other doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, etc. were once in the same position as you are. Passing your ACLS exam is not something you should stress about; but it’s definitely not something to take lightly. As always, fortune favors the prepared. This post will walk you through some proper studying tips and test-taking strategies to ensure you are fully prepared to pass your ACLS Certification exam with ease.
Review case scenarios.
A large portion of ACLS Certification course will cover a few select cases that you will likely encounter at some point in your career. The information and procedures are the product of continuous research, testing, and analysis resulting in periodic updates expected to improve the effectiveness of ACLS given changes in medical technology. In addition to having the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms present for a specific situation, understanding treatment procedures is critical. There is no way to study only the particular scenarios that will be on your exam, so it is important to review several case scenarios in order to be comfortable addressing various situations.
Memorize the algorithms.
A large portion of your ACLS exam prep will be spent studying the different algorithms associated with the course. The algorithms you will learn are simply a flowchart of procedures to follow in order to treat specific situations. ACLS exams aside, knowing the algorithms can be the difference between life and death; so knowing these inside and out is mandatory. How you learn them is up to you. Everyone has a different learning style and preference, so play to your advantage and choose a method that works best for you.
Algorithms to review:
- Adult Suspected Stroke Algorithm
- Adult Tachycardia Algorithm
Know the medications and doses.
Another aspect of memorizing the algorithms is being able to identify the medications and doses that correspond to certain situations. Obviously, knowing the correct medication and dosage is vital to any medical emergency situation, where mistakes can be fatal. Once again, it is important to study the ACLS medications in a manner that suits your learning style. That having been said, one method that is popular among many test-takers is the use of mnemonic devices. The use of this technique triggers quick memory retention abilities that are very helpful when taking the ACLS exam – and are critical in emergency situations. For example, a common mnemonic device used to help recall the possible treatment options (in no particular order) for various forms of Bradycardia is “ Pacing Always Ends Danger,” which simulates: Transcutaneous Pacing, Atropine, Epinephrine, and Dopamine.
Learn the H’s and T’s
Sticking with the mnemonic device theme – remembering your H’s and T’s are crucial to your ability to fully comprehend the ACLS algorithms in their entirety. The H’s and T’s are the possible causes that may be present in your patient. They are as follows:
- Hydrogen Ion (Acidosis)
- Hyper or Hypokalemia (Potassium)
- Tension Pneumothorax
- Tamponade (Pericardial Tamponade)
- Thrombosis (Pulmonary Embolus)
- Thrombosis (Acute Coronary Syndrome)
For a those of you who are visual learners, here is a fantastic video on the H's and T's of ACLS.
Understand basic ECGs
The ability to understand and react to ECGs is a major component of your ACLS exam. The patient’s heart rate and rhythm are key elements of any situation that requires ACLS training. Luckily, most people studying for the ACLS exam already have experience with ECGs and are familiar them. However, if you are not yet comfortable with your grasp of ECGs, there are several ways to improve your understanding. YouTube videos and ECG simulators are great ways to refresh or enhance your knowledge, but if your prior experience is minimal, then I would recommend taking an ECG course before attempting to earn an ACLS Certification.
Take Advantage of Practice Exams and Pretests.
Practice exams and pretests can be extremely valuable. Not only are they a great resource for studying the material and gauging where your current knowledge level stands, but also in terms of familiarizing yourself with the structure of a particular exam. Here are NUMBER practice exams that can be very useful tools in your quest to pass your ACLS exam:
Answer the easier questions first.
Try not to get stuck on one question that you are having trouble with. If you do not know the answer, then move along for now and come back to it – especially if there is a time limit on your exam. Don’t get caught up on one question to the point where you become frustrated and stressed, thus affecting your ability to answer the rest of the questions on the ACLS exam.
Take your time and read questions carefully.
In exams like ACLS where the information is dense and technical it is important to slow down and read each question carefully. The slightest misinterpretation will typically result in an incorrect answer. Don’t let those miscues be a result of you rushing. Take the time to make sure you fully comprehend each question before answering it and moving on.
This is perhaps the most simple, yet significant piece of advice I could give you when preparing for the ACLS test. Studying the algorithms and medications can be overwhelming. However, when it comes time to take the test it is important to remain calm and trust that you are fully prepared for anything it can throw at you.
Online ACLS Certifications and Recertifications are a widely accepted alternative to the traditional method involving live-instruction. Make sure you choose a program that is evidence-based, efficiently structured, and designed to prepare you by validating your knowledge, comprehension, cognitive application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of Advanced Cardiac Life Support.
When you are ready to dive into ACLS for the first time, need a refresher, or just need to prove to yourself or your employer that you know what you're doing, we'll be here.
Explore eMedCert's online ACLS Certification and Renewal options here, or visit the AHA's website for directories and schedules of live-instruction ACLS programs that fit your schedule near you.