Earning your ACLS Certification card is a great accomplishment. It shows you know ACLS algorithms, rhythms, and doses inside and out. So, you know the ACLS Certification Exam will be no walk in the park.
Many people, especially those with advanced medical degrees, think it will be easy. But it’s only easy if you’ve thoroughly learned the material.
Below, we’ll discuss the areas many test-takers struggle with. We’ll help you more efficiently focus on what you need to know for the test. Finally, we’ll share some science-based study and test-taking performance strategies to give you the edge you need to pass your ACLS exam the first time and earn that coveted ACLS Certification.
Study Tips for Passing the ACLS Certification Exam
1. Take A Self-Guided Course
Self-paced ACLS courses allow you to guide your own learning experience. You can re-read, rewatch, and take breaks when necessary to enhance the learning experience.
This is in contrast to an in-person course where the instructor assesses the class learning as a whole without regard to individual needs. This often leaves learners with alternative learning styles behind.
Modern technology makes an at-your-own pace 100% online ACLS course experience possible.
2. Use the ACLS Study Guides
The ACLS study guides are up-to-date with the course material and have helped thousands of people pass their ACLS Certification test.
Don’t underestimate their importance, even if they feel a bit repetitive. They are directing you toward the things you need to know well to pass the exam.
3. Complete All the ACLS Megacodes
Megacodes give you a limited time to think fast and apply what you’ve learned in “real-life” digital scenarios.
ACLS Megacodes take the course material out of the realm of hypotheticals and into real-use cases you could encounter so you remember the materials better.
This is especially important for those who know they learn best by “doing”. Some people who take online medical courses feel they’re missing out on the “hands-on” experience in classroom training. Megacodes simulate that within a 100% online learning experience.
4. Study Algorithms
ACLS Algorithms seek to reduce the need for high-pressure decision-making by standardizing some of your actions based on science-backed best practices. To pass the test, you must memorize these algorithms. In the ACLS course, the algorithms to check off your list include the following:
- Adult Cardiac Arrest
- Acute Coronary Syndrome
- Adult Suspected Stroke Algorithm
- Adult Tachycardia With Pulse
- Adult Bradycardia With Pulse
- Adult Immediate Post-Cardiac Arrest Care
Once you’ve gone through all the course material, choose one to two algorithms to study that day. Memorize the steps and fine details. Then sleep on it to convert what you’ve learned into long-term memory.
Return to it the next day and quiz yourself by covering up the next step as you move through the algorithm.
5. Review Your ECG Rhythms
Unless you have a photographic memory, you may struggle to make a mental connection between the visual representations of the heart’s electrical activity and their names. But this is an essential part of passing your ACLS test.
Take some time here. Think about what’s happening to a natural person who produced this image, not just what you call it. This can help you make a more human connection to remember what each rhythm tells you and how you need to respond to help this person.
If you particularly struggle here, some find that an online ECG rhythm course specifically focusing on reading an ECG can help. Many say taking the ECG course (which is short) first helped them pass ACLS.
6. Memorize Your H’s & T’s
Coincidentally, you need to know many H and T words during a life-threatening cardiac event. Knowing this fact can help you pay more attention to these important words you will need to know for the exam.
- Hydrogen Ion (Acidosis)
- Hyper or Hypokalemia (High or Low Potassium)
- Tension Pneumothorax
- Tamponade (Pericardial Tamponade)
- Thrombosis (Pulmonary Embolus)
- Thrombosis (Acute Coronary Syndrome)
7. Rewatch Videos in Trouble Areas
You can rewatch videos as many times as you need on a self-paced online course to get the information. After you take a practice test, look at where you struggled. Come back to the relevant videos, training modules, and study guide sections to get targeted practice.
8. Memorize and Practice Recalling Precise Medications and Doses
Many people are surprised by how detailed the ACLS exam is. Even when it’s multiple choice, two or more answers could be very close, making guessing harder.
That’s by design. You certainly don’t need to earn your ACLS certification card if guessing is the only way you pass the medication portion of the test.
Some medications you’ll need to know include:
Here, we suggest writing down information and creating physical flashcards and then you and a co-worker who also needs to get their ACLS certification card can take turns quizzing each other.
Mnemonic devices can also be helpful. But what’s usually not beneficial is just reading the information repeatedly. That’s not going to help the information stick.
9. Take the Practice Exam
This online ACLS practice exam gives you a sneak peek into readiness without committing to a whole exam, which can take five or more hours.
It only has ten quick questions. But it highlights how detail-oriented you must be to pass the ACLS exam.
10. Get the App
The Medicode app from NHCPS includes all the ILCOR-aligned algorithms and practice tests. This makes it easier to review the information throughout the day and on the go.
Do you have a bus or train commute? Instead of scrolling through social media or news, you could be learning.
11. Teach Someone Else
The science is compelling. Teaching someone else what you’ve learned significantly improves how well you learn it.
But not for the reasons you might think.
A study published in Frontiers of Psychology demonstrated that the reason teaching others might be so effective is not that you’re teaching. Instead, it may be because you’re thinking like a teacher rather than a learner.
That is to say, as you review the materials, you intend to learn them well enough to teach them. Psychologically, this changes your relationship with the material, enhancing retention.
So, even if you don’t have a study buddy to whom you can teach each algorithm, let’s pretend.
12. Mix Things Up
Reviewing information repeatedly, especially in the same environment as the home office, can cause the brain to shut off. Try mixing up your study routine by studying for a couple of hours in a coffee shop, park, or car.
Tips When Taking the ACLS Certification Exam
13. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
There’s still a lot science doesn’t know about why sleep impacts memories. But according to NIH.gov, current research indicates that sleep strengthens memories and getting a good night’s sleep improves memory recall the next day.
Sleep appears to improve “procedural memory”, a specific type that involves completing steps in a particular order—such as playing a new song on the guitar or remembering the steps in an ACLS algorithm.
Light sleep, the stage people spend most of their sleep time in, has also proven important for learning new information. So, good sleep when reviewing course materials and on test days is essential to passing your ACLS certification exam.
14. Reduce Stress
Studies such as this on Nature.com’s Science of Learning Journal, show that stress can help people form memories. But it makes recall more difficult.
You’ll need to recall a lot of information, so it’s vital to apply stress-reducing strategies that you know work for you, such as doing these before you sit down to the test:
- Eating a wholesome breakfast with some complex carbs and healthy fats (brain food)
- Going for a walk
- Lifting weights
- Enjoying a yoga session
- Listening to inspirational or relaxing music
- Watching a funny cartoon
- Playing with your kids or pet
15. Don’t Overdo Caffeine
A little caffeine is good for test-taking for most people if consumed right before the test. It can boost performance according to research, such as this controlled study published in the Frontiers of Psychology.
But a lot can increase cortisol, heart rate, and breathing rate so you feel more stressed. Be sure not to eat or drink more than what’s typical for you before you take the test.
And remember, these include coffee, tea, chocolate bars, energy drinks, and other sources. Caffeine can add up quickly.
16. Find the Perfect Test-Taking Environment
You want to find a comfortable place where you won’t be surrounded by noise or distractions.
Taking your ACLS exam on a mobile device can come in handy here. If your home or office is noisy, you could sit in your car or on a park bench. You can even use noise-canceling headphones and head to a coffee shop if that works for you.
Low hydration levels can raise blood pressure and reduce cognitive performance, so keep that water bottle on hand during the test.
Studies have shown that people who drink water before and during a test perform better on the exam than the control group on average. Scientists think this may be because the brain is almost all water or due to the de-stressing effects of drinking water.
18. Use a Worry Stone or Fidget
Some people rub a worry stone to stay grounded in the present and mentally focused on the take at hand. Fidget devices like bubbles and spinners can have a similar effect. These tools are beneficial if you have test anxiety (NIH.gov). They can reduce stress for improved recall.
However, small controlled studies have shown that tools like these are not helpful for those with ADHD, as some have claimed. With that said, science should always accept that individual differences can exist. So, if it works for you, use it.
19. Skip the Hard Questions to Avoid Mental Exhaustion
Spending too much time on a tricky question can deplete your brain power for other questions. At the same time, overthinking can cause a mental block, so you don’t see the answer even if it’s right in front of you.
When you return to it after breezing through easier topics, you may find the answer was obvious all along, OR answering the other questions jogged your memory.
20. Take Your Time
This isn’t a timed test, and you’ll have plenty of time to take it. It’s better to take your time and think about your answers. Like so many things in life, rushing could lead to more mistakes and needing to take it over again.
Frequently Asked Questions about Taking the Exam to Get Your ACLS Certification Card
Is the ACLS Certification Exam Hard?
Like many medical exams, you must memorize and recall precise information. Some people find this easier than others.
You’ll likely find it much more complicated if you’re a non-clinical professional challenging yourself to learn advanced medical techniques. Some terminologies may even be outside your everyday vocabulary, so you must simultaneously learn new words and concepts. But it will feel all the more rewarding when you pass it.
Does ACLS Have Any Prerequisites?
You don’t have to take any course before ACLS. But if you currently don’t practice in the medical field or you need continuing medical education (CME) credits, some courses you might want to take first include:
- ECG Rhythms Course. Many students who pass the test say that taking an ECG Rhythms course first enhances their understanding of ACLS Certification course materials.
- Essential Life Support (BLS). This course sets the stage for the more detailed Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS).
- CPR & First Aid. This course is perfect for people with no medical training.
What If I Don’t Pass My ACLS Exam?
You can retake it. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind as you’re doing it. Obviously, you want to pass it the first go-round. But realizing you don’t have to can reduce the stress so that your memory works better.
How Long Does to ACLS Exam Take?
Most people will need five to six hours to complete the test. You can break this test time up into two to three sessions if you wish.
Is the ACLS Test Multiple Choice?
It certainly is. But don’t take this for granted. It’s designed to make you think about your answer and remember what you’ve learned to obtain your ACLS Certification card.
Follow this link to watch the video to enhance your ACLS exam preparation with a concise overview of the key tips discussed in our blog post. Your success matters to us, and we’re here to support you on your journey to acing the ACLS certification exam!
Ready to get started? Check out our 100% online, self-guided ACLS course experience.
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