CVT, LVT, MPH, EdD
Dr. Christina Melvin works as a full-time high school biomedical science instructor and part-time general practice veterinary nurse in Northern Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Worcester State University, Master of Public Health from the University of New England, and Doctorate in Education for Health Professions from A.T. Still University. She is a CVT in Massachusetts and LVT in Virginia. Dr. Melvin’s professional interests include One Health, health literacy, and health education. She previously started and directed a high school veterinary assistant program in Massachusetts, and is passionate about introducing veterinary medical careers to young students.Read Articles Written by Christina Melvin
The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) is a necessary step in the credentialing journey for all veterinary nurses. Studying is crucial to preparing for the exam, but knowing where to start can be intimidating and the best approach to studying isn’t always clear. Empowering oneself through self-discovery builds confidence, motivation, and determination, a recipe for testing success. This article will review strategies and techniques to help veterinary nurses improve their study skills.
What About Learning Styles?
We learn in a variety of ways, combining multiple modalities to perfect our craft. When approached with the need to learn something new, we may benefit from watching a peer perform a procedure, reading about the procedure in our textbooks, watching a video for remediation, and listening to the professor explain the how and why. However, you have likely noticed that some modes of learning work better for you than others. Have you ever forgotten the terminology from a lecture you just listened to? Have your flashcards seemed brand new after reviewing them for an hour? This could be tied to your learning style.
Learning styles such as visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic have been used to categorize learners into a specific method of learning based on questionnaire or survey results.1 For example, if you are identified as an auditory learner, a recording of a lecture may be more beneficial to you compared to a visual illustration. If you are a kinesthetic learner, building a 3D representation of a cell could provide a greater learning experience compared to reviewing a picture of a cell. With multiple types of recognized learning styles and preferences, which one is most useful to you? Analyzing how you learn will help distinguish which learning styles and studying techniques are best suited for you.
Employ Multiple Modalities
While understanding your learning preference can be helpful in optimizing your approach to studying, it is important to not place yourself into a box. Research shows that compartmentalizing learning according to learning style is not necessarily beneficial and fails to enhance the learning process.2, 3 In fact, focusing on a single learning style may stifle the learning process and result in missed opportunities to engage in new study techniques.
Utilize Your Existing Knowledge
While exploring the use of different learning styles to create a well-rounded learning experience, it is important to not discount past experiences which contribute to exposure and understanding. Don’t neglect prior knowledge and situations regarding the subject matter. Consider what you already know and apply that to your situation, such as how to best navigate an interaction with a fearful patient. Observe the restraint tools and techniques you used in your externship. What was the item called? How was it used? When was it used? Reflect on the various cases discussed in class; experiences with previous patients; or information from textbooks, articles, lectures, or conversations. The material learned from those interactions comprise your prior knowledge.
Prior knowledge can also include anything learned from mistakes, errors, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. Negative experiences contribute to our expertise by appealing to our desire for problem-solving and resolving the matter. For example, failing a quiz or exam may have resulted in seeking the correct answer, learning, and reflecting from the initial mistake.
Develop Your Learning Style Over Time
Learning evolves as we get older, become more independent, and have more robust life experiences. As adults, solving problems and addressing responsibilities result in a need to learn in order to achieve a resolution, and the satisfaction of completing a task improves trust and conviction in oneself.4
The individualistic approach to learning includes self-reflection and determination, such as attempting to answer a problem until a resolution is found, help is sought out, or the source of the problem is addressed.5 Subscribing to only a single path may not be the most meaningful way to obtain the knowledge necessary to accomplish any task (such as passing the VTNE!). Use concepts of the various learning styles that work for you to enrich your competencies and skills.
Harness the Power of Reflection
Reflection, the process of thinking about or considering a past experience, is powerful and can improve learning. However, it also takes time and effort, and at times may be uncomfortable.6 Reflections that are profound, memorable, and momentous provide the greatest impact and best opportunities for learning from the past. These types of reflections can be connected to goals, encouraging progress in our personal and professional development as well as building confidence and motivation.6
There are several ways to compile these reflections, such as digital, verbal, and/or written journaling; supplementing entries on a regular basis; and committing to making changes. Reflection works best when revisited, and each time something new can be added and taken away.
Putting Strategies Into Action
Equipped with the knowledge of how you learn, activating prior knowledge, and using reflection as a learning tool, it is possible to improve your study skills. However, this will require a commitment of time, determination, and motivation. Understandably, time is not always as abundant as we need it to be, but consider it an investment and try to find a way to work studying into your existing schedule.
Set consistent, realistic goals, starting with the topic that is the most challenging so the maximum amount of time can be spent with that material. Start with existing resources rather than creating something new. There is a wealth of knowledge and resources already available for VTNE test preparation from various veterinary nurses and vendors, and you may have notes from your school, colleagues, and textbooks. Take the information you have in order to transform it into memorable, meaningful content that appeals to you.
Organize and Categorize
Prior to transforming your material, organize and categorize your information in a way that will allow you to best optimize your time. For example, you can sort by subject (e.g., medical math, pathology, radiology) or discipline (e.g., clinical skills, medical terminology, laboratory techniques) or group according to difficulty of topics. Use bright, easy-to-read labels and keep the materials in a location that is easy to access.
Time and Location
Decide on where and what time of day that studying is easiest to manage and most realistic for you. Working in a low-traffic area (e.g., a home office, bedroom, quietest room in the house) reduces distractions and increases focus. Choose a time of day that is convenient and set a timer not to exceed 45 minutes in 1 study session. For instance, if you work nights, studying when you first get home in the morning may be too overwhelming due to exhaustion.
Make your time meaningful by setting objectives and goals for the study session. Spend the first 3 to 4 minutes setting a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) goal. SMART goals combined with action and follow-up help accomplish tasks. SMART goals can also be adjusted for more time, increased relevancy, and altered content, as needed.7 While this sounds time-consuming, once you have a template, it is easy to adapt it as needed. An easy template identifies the timeliness of the goal, the task to be accomplished, and how it will be accomplished. An example of a SMART study session goal would be: “By the end of this 1-hour study session, I will define 10 vocabulary terms with use of my notes. I will accomplish this by trying a new study method today.”
Modify Your Materials
Once you have organized your notes, found a comfortable location and timeframe, and created a SMART goal for your study session, transform your materials to encourage motivation and engagement. Do you prefer flash cards over watching a video? Would you choose acting out a clinical skill versus reading about it? Rather than focusing on 1 or 2 learning styles, incorporate the features of the various types of learning styles. In other words, combine multiple techniques to get the most benefit out of your materials and study session. This will not only increase your resources but provide additional learning strategies which were not initially considered. For example:
- Flash cards can benefit from pictures, drawings, mnemonics (e.g., King Hector Died Unexpectedly Drinking Chocolate Milk is the mnemonic for metric system conversion), digital conversion, and origami.
- Audio lectures can be transcribed manually or digitally; acted out individually or in a group; or transformed into diagrams, charts, or graphs.
- Recording yourself practicing medical terminology, sounding out challenging pharmaceuticals, or practicing a skill and then evaluating your recording can help you identify inconsistencies or errors.
- Creating a 3D model of a pathogen to label can be helpful to identify structures.
Work in Groups
If working in a group is an option, this can increase resources and opportunities to practice, improving learning prospects. Groups should create a team objective or goal for the study session. They can use various methods to communicate and share information, such as a modified think-pair-share (without an instructor prompt) or game creation using one of many free online platforms such as Kahoot (kahoot.com), Quizizz (quizizz.com), or Gimkit (gimkit.com).
Members of the group can also plan to take turns teaching each other specific topics. Teaching a topic requires learning enough about the material to adequately share the information to the audience, increasing memorization. Feedback from the rest of the group can help support additional learning of both the person leading the lesson and the “students” observing the material from different perspectives. This also helps boost each group member’s confidence by becoming more familiar and comfortable with the material and witnessing any successes or approval of the group.8
Take a Look Back
Reflect at the end of your study session. How did you do? Did you accomplish your goal? Does your goal need to be adjusted for the next study session? Would it be beneficial to repeat the same goal for the next session, or were you successful and need a new goal with new material? If you did not accomplish your objectives or goals, take note of how you can improve (and if you don’t know, state that), and consider trying a new technique for the next study session.
Although it takes time and experience to build up confidence, self-exploration and discovery can help improve study skills and preparation for any exam, evaluation, or assessment veterinary nurses may encounter in their careers, especially the VTNE. Taking charge of your learning can be empowering, especially when it leads to successes—however great or small. Remember to be strategic about the learning styles you deploy when studying, that you know more than you think through prior knowledge, and that reflection on your experiences can produce valuable learning.
- Chick N. Learning Styles. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Published 2010. Accessed March 21, 2023. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/learning-styles-preferences/
- Newton PM, Miah M. Evidence-Based Higher Education – Is the learning styles ‘myth’ important? Front Psychol. 2017;8:444. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00444
- Pashler H, McDaniel M, Rohrer D et al. Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychol Sci Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x
- Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy. University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service. Published 2022. Accessed March 28, 2023. https://www.uis.edu/colrs/teaching-resources/foundations-good-teaching/pedagogy-andragogy-heutagogy
- Halupa C. Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy. Transformative Curriculum Design in Health Sciences Education, 5, 143-158. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-4666-8571-0.ch005
- Bailey JR, Rehman S. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self-Reflection. Harvard Business Review. Published March 4, 2022. Accessed March 31, 2023. https://hbr.org/2022/03/dont-underestimate-the-power-of-self-reflection
- Dowdy SM. Get SMART With Your Veterinary Team. DVM360. Published May 28, 2019. Accessed 4/2/2023. https://www.dvm360.com/view/get-smart-with-your-veterinary-team
- Paul, AM. The Protégé Effect. Psychology Today. Published June 13, 2012. Accessed 4/2/2023. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-to-be-brilliant/201206/the-protege-effect