Professor Sarah Craig demonstrates a concept with sim lab director Ryne Ackard in her nursing skills class.
Craig, who likes to infuse classroom lessons with stories, simulation demonstrations, and lively ways to learn and remember concepts, is an award-winning professor and critical care nurse.

An icon of an open book to signify scholarship in teaching and learning. Craig, an assistant professor, critical care nurse, and director of the Clinical Nurse Leader program, is an award-winning educator beloved for her storytelling, mentoring, and for mixing things up in her classroom. So, when COVID struck this spring, cancelling the planned NCLEX practice exams for both prelicensure students in the BSN and CNL programs, Craig sprang into action, making up her own test, expanding virtual office hours, and boosting connectivity with students to boot.

“Typically, in their final semester, students take several versions of a comprehensive-style exam,” explained Craig, “and the practice gives them time to reflect, and a chance to practice that high-level testing with a lot of application and analysis level questions.”

“Every summer we’re here for you, but this summer, we want to especially be here for you.”

Sarah Craig, assistant professor and CNL program director

While it’s a review, added Craig, it’s also a “chance to do a pulse check on where they are before they graduate. It’s not meant to be anxiety-provoking, but to build their confidence and show them that really, they’re ready.”

After exploring several different existing options for practice exams, including several costly software programs, Craig opted instead to make up her own, and keep the cost burden down. With the help of assistant professors Beth Hundt and Christian Simmers for content, Craig pulled from lectures, teaching scenarios, and her bank of existing test questions.

Though most of Craig’s practice test, like the NCLEX itself, is multiple-choice, some are short-answer and require critical thinking.

“Some are really straightforward questions like, ‘If you have to give a flu shot, what sized needle do you use?’ while others require more analysis, like, ‘Your patient’s heart has stopped. What do you do first?’” explained Craig.

She even created structure for them to reflect on questions they got wrong: had they misread it? Were they unfamiliar with the content? Or did they dismiss the question by accident?

Though it’s of her own creating, Craig’s practice test is pretty close to the real thing. Students sign the honor code at the outset, tackle a single question at a time, are unable to toggle between, skip, or go back to questions, and have a set, if variable amount of time to answer each question.

There is an important way, however, that Craig’s NCLEX prep differs: hers peppers in a bit of UVA Men’s Basketball trivia and details from the Corner, just to lighten the mood—an important feature for test-takers with nerves.

“These exams always evoke a lot of stress,” said Craig, “and we’re always telling students to prepare for a marathon, rather than a sprint, trying to pump them up.”

Craig’s office hours—which have been expanded through the summer so students prepping for NCLEX can drop in and take part—help, too. And as NCLEX testing slowly begins ramping up again this summer, after months on hiatus, Craig says her support’s not going away.

“Every summer we’re here for you,” she said, “but this summer, we want to especially be here for you.”