Medical Terminology and the NREMT Exam

By Dan Limmer

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a student who walked out of the NREMT exam and said, “I knew all the words on the exam.” I am sure I’ve heard hundreds of people come out of the exam and say there were words and diseases they’d never, EVER heard of.

So what’s the best way for a student to approach medical terminology when preparing for the NREMT? This is the advice I gave a student during my online office hours this morning:

You aren’t going to know every word or disease. Don’t throw in the towel and get shaken up if you don’t know a word.

If the term you don’t know is in the question stem, read the stem without that word. Look for important things like patient criticality or urgent situations that need to be addressed. Then look for an answer choice that matches what you know. It’s better than being freaked out and simply guessing.

If the term you don’t know is in one of the answer choices, look at all the other answers. If they’re all wrong, then maybe the answer with the word you don’t know is correct. Or, if there’s one answer that seems right, go with that one. Again, it’s better than guessing.

IMG_3913Remember, there are two ways to get a question correct. The first is to know the correct answer (this is usually preferred). But you can also get the question correct by knowing that three of the choices are incorrect—which leaves one choice as the answer most likely to be correct.

So how should you study medical terminology? The best approach is to pay attention to terminology during your class and to practice with terminology over time. If you’re already past that point, here’s what I recommend:

  • Keep a note pad and pen beside you while you study with quality exam prep products (like our As you take practice tests, write down every term or name of a condition you don’t know. Keep a running list and hen look up each term.
  • If you want to hit the books to study terminology, start by learning how to break down a medical term into its component parts. Focus on learning the major prefixes, suffixes and word roots commonly used in medical terms. When you know what a part of an unfamiliar word means, you can then make an educated guess about the meaning of the whole word.

Generally, I recommend you spend your time studying critical thinking and decision-making concepts rather than focusing too much on terminology. Studying lists of terms arbitrarily isn’t likely to prepare you for the one or two unfamiliar terms on the NREMT—but a smart study strategy overall can help you pass the exam.