Avoiding “HESI-tancy” in the HESI Examination

By Aly Sicat

If you are currently a pre-nursing student (or are thinking about becoming one), you’ve probably heard whispers and rumors about the new entrance exam.

The HESI A2 examination stands for Heath Education Systems Incorporated Admissions Assessment and acts as a way to test a student’s potential success in an intense nursing program. The University uses the scores from the exam toward the end of the selection process; while your GPA earns you an interview spot, ultimately, the result of your interview and your HESI score determine whether or not you get into the nursing program.

The exam has six sections, but in this blog I’m just going to focus on  the reading comprehension and grammar sections.

Some people might assume that a nursing program admission exam would focus primarily on science, but the English language portion of the HESI exam is over half of the exam’s graded score. The reading comprehension and grammar sections are 55 points each, making the English portion a total of 110 points. In comparison, the math section is 55 points, while the anatomy section is 33. This means, in addition to knowing STEM-based subjects, pre-nursing majors must also brush up on their written language mechanics, including their ability to read and analyze passages, their vocabulary and general knowledge, and their grammar, including parts of speech, important terms, and common grammatical mistakes.

It can sound scary to have half of your test determined by your ability to spot grammatical errors, especially if you aren’t confident in your writing and reading abilities. However, don’t worry: this blog is intended to give you a quick overview of how these questions might appear, what types of knowledge you will need to succeed, and how you can study for these sections of the HESI exam.

Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension segments are composed of two primary elements: a passage, usually half a page to a page long, and a series of questions related to that passage. These sections can be very time-consuming, as you have to read the whole passage and then refer back to it during the questions. With that in mind, I want to give you some pointers for answering the questions as easily as possible.

  1. While you’re reading, think about the main idea of the passage. What is this author trying to say overall? What’s their point? There are very often questions about the main ideas of passages, so this should be a big focal point.
  2. Use this main idea you’ve come up with to summarize the passage in your head. What are the biggest ideas in the passage? If you read a passage about how the heart works, what might be important to know if you were telling this to a friend?
  3. Think about the purpose of the passage. What is this author intending to do with this writing? Who is their audience? Is it to inform or persuade?

In addition to these larger ideas, here are some different question types to watch out for.

  1. Missing detail: questions asking for what is not present in the passage
  2. Word meaning: questions asking you for definitions of words in the context of the passage
  3. Information: questions asking you to remember and state information you learned in the passage


Unlike reading comprehension, there are no long passages to read in the grammar section. Instead, you will need to know a variety of grammatical concepts and answer short questions, often with sentences or clauses as answers.

Some of the types of questions you might be asked include

  1. Best word: questions asking you which of the following words will fit best in the sentence
  2. Incorrect/correct sentences: questions asking you to identify which sentence (out of four sentences) is either grammatically incorrect or grammatically correct
  3. Parts of speech: questions asking you to pick out the word in a sentence that is a particular part of speech
  4. Substitutions: questions asking you which word would be the correct substitute for an underlined word in a sentence


Studying for these sections can be daunting the task. After all, much of it seems like stuff you “just know.” Luckily, there’s tons of information for the HESI A2. First, there’s a great variety of free resources and apps on the internet. Not only are there prep materials throughout the web, but there are also free applications on your phone that will give you questions to practice with.

Second, the official HESI exam prep book will give you the best understanding of the types of questions you will be asked and the knowledge you will need to answer those questions. It comes with explanations and example problems broken down to show you how to work through finding the correct answer.

Finally, the Writing Center is working on some new resources specifically for preparing for this exam. In addition, all of our consultants are happy to work with you in an appointment through example problems.

Hopefully, with the prep and the new knowledge you”’ gain, you can go out and ace the HESI grammar and reading comprehension sections!

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