Hitting the books: What does that really mean?

By Dan Limmer

I recently talked to a student who had failed the NREMT exam several times. I asked him how he’d prepared between attempts. He said what most students say: I hit the books.”

It turns out students mean a wide variety of things when they say they hit the books—many of which don’t turn out to be particularly beneficial when it comes to exam preparation. I’m not saying books are a bad way to prepare—I’ve written several textbooks myself—but often students just go back and read the same stuff over and over again. If this is your strategy, you can do better.

If you’ve finished a course and are about to start studying for the NREMT or state exam, this is how I recommend you use the textbook:

  1. When you go back to your book, do so in short bites. Retention of material from reading is notoriously low. Choose one topic per sitting (e.g., anaphylaxis or suctioning). If you want to brush up on another topic, come back later.
  2. Use the features in your textbook that require you to apply the material. For example, my Emergency Care EMT textbook has a feature in every chapter called
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    “Critical Decision Making.” Whatever book you’re using, go to each chapter, find the application or critical thinking feature, and use it to test your knowledge of the material. If you find you don’t know it, go back to the chapter and reread it. Look for any questions that require you to apply information—this is what the NREMT does. Answering simple recall questions isn’t enough.

  3. If you’ve used an app or other exam preparation product and have identified areas where your knowledge is weak, go back to your book and reread the corresponding sections.

The textbook is an essential foundation for acquiring knowledge during an EMT course. When used properly and wisely, it can help you prepare for exams. Knowing how and when best to hit the books will make exam preparation efficient and dynamic.