I will be discussing my various contentions with Excelsior College in another post but to summarize I do not think the school has nor wants to work to have a good infrastructure for their nursing students. There are so many issues with the way the program is run and it culminates at the CPNE where you are expected to perform to perfection yet their own staff make the experience 100% subjective. You get 10 answers from 10 advisors and the only one who pays the price for ambiguity is the student. That's not right. On a variety of levels. Especially when your entire degree is riding on this.
When I was finally ready to apply to the CPNE I started to feel completely overwhelmed with HOW I was going to study for something that was so subjective despite the expectation to perform precisely. I just thought that I'd read the study guide and do my best to wrap my head around it and submit practice documenting to the school for feedback as was recommended by previous students. But I knew this wouldn't be enough the more I started reading the boards (I HIGHLY encourage people to get out there in social media land and talk to other students and those of us that have been through it, this is the ONLY real way to find out what to expect, what you're getting yourself into, and to learn some tricks of the trade that will be invaluable to you). SO I decided immediately that I was absolutely going to attend a workshop since this was the only chance I'd get at an actual look at what this CPNE looked like, my only hands on opportunity before the real deal.
I knew the school offered workshops along with allllll of their "online conferences"... I remember thinking when I first looked at this stuff wow that would add up quickly- a couple hundred here, a couple hundred for supplies, $700 for a live workshop, $150 for a skills conference or whatever, I mean damn if you really utilized all of the options they have to prepare for this thing you'd be DOUBLING your school costs! My opinion of all of this is that it's nonsense, if your students really need all of these things to even have a shot at passing the CPNE then it should be MANDATORY, it should be incorporated into the program and tuition. Otherwise your motivation is purely monetary.
This along with my personal experience of zero help or concern from the school over the past year cemented the idea in my head that the money uses this CPNE as a cash cow, and it is a highly effective cow folks! This process has been orchestrated to feed the cow and anyone that's gone through it can attest to that. As such, my theory was that I didn't want to spend ONE more dime at this place than I had to. To further my decision was the fact that the Excelsior pass rate sucks..... people doing the Excelsior workshops were still failing the CPNE left and right, but how could that be??? I mean they were getting their info right from the source, it should be a slam dunk..... Well the truth of the matter is this, in a normal scenario getting your info straight from the horse's mouth should give you the best possible chance to perform as the horse wants, in Excelsior's case the horse is schizophrenic.
Well what other options do you have then?? PRIVATE WORKSHOPS that are NOT affiliated with the school. I had heard of Sheri Taylor's workshop a million times, it kept popping up. It turns out I'd heard of it a LONG time ago when I signed up for her free video series for the CPNE right when I started taking my theory exams, I figured I'd save them for when I was done and ready to study for the CPNE. I'm so glad I did.
Everyone you ask raves about Sheri's workshop, and no we're not all on some cute groupie bandwagon, or because she pays us billions to send people her way (aha!!), we rave about her because her stuff works. She has nothing to do with the college (which in reality is probably why she is so good at it ha!) and she teaches you succinctly how to study, what to study, and how to dodge the curves they throw at you. She agrees that the way this exam is conducted is ridiculous, that it does not really evaluate how good of a nurse you are or will be, and that the info and exam requirements from the school are convoluted at best which adds to the ridiculousness.
After I realized that all of these people were obviously advocating for Sheri's workshop over any others and once I saw more and more people failing that were doing Excelsior workshops I decided ok there must be something to this. What sealed the deal? Pass rates. Sheri's collective pass rate is around 94-97% ish. Excelsior's........ well they don't give you a statistic on students who pass that have taken their workshops. Don't ask me why, because if it were good they should be shouting it from the rooftops, no? So you have to extrapolate some data...
Excelsior will tell you that the pass rate overall for the CPNE is 62% (which in my opinion is a lie, I can do math and I've watched the passing reports from students over several months, it's not 62% . Furthermore, that 62% includes people who have done these private workshops which skews their data upward and they don't disclose this detail). But let's give them their 62%, again this includes us passers from Sheri's workshop which bumps the average up, and it includes those who did not do any workshops (which may or may not lower the average) we'll just say that lowers it, so realistically their workshop average must be close to their stated 62% of overall passers in general.
Well what would you put your money on 62%.... or 94-97%.... it's a lot of money on the line folks especially if you have to repeat! So yah, I went with the better Vegas odds and I will tell you, like any good friend of yours should, you're STUPID if you don't do the same.
I found a way to budget in the cost of Sheri's workshop, the airfare, hotel, etc and made it work because this was my last chance to see what I was in for and in turn figure out how to study appropriately. I picked my workshop date for 2 weeks prior to my test date and figured that I would prepare at home as much as I could and then show up to the workshop as if I were showing up to the actual test and see what feedback I would get. Then I'd take the feedback and make the slight tweaks for the next couple of weeks until my test.
I then signed up for Sheri's online workshop figuring that I'd get a head start on everything so I could go into the workshop as prepared as possible using it as somewhat a mock trial cpne. I started watching videos for a couple of weeks before I arrived at the in person workshop. This helped me tremendously! I was able to actually see what it looks like to perform the labs, what the assessments look like and how to incorporate all of those outrageous details and critical elements into what I was doing. It was like having someone standing with you saying "yep do that, ok now you want to do this like this, and NOPE you'd fail for that so make sure you don't do this". I was able to see what it sounded like to talk your way through your areas of care, what to say to the patient, tips and tricks on which order to do things in, things to look out for, the what-ifs. I was able to ask questions on anything I needed clarification for and read questions and answers from other students that helped broaden my understanding of what was expected for the exam.
I'll say it again, these videos were critical for me, I had been out of direct patient care for about 3 years so even doing simple assessments was not something I was used to doing and you forget things! The lab videos were equally as important because it gave me a visual on how to set up my own supplies, I had no clue where to put things or the most efficient way to practice, I learned this in the videos by observing and I learned even MORE in person.
At the actual workshop you have 3 days to cram it all in, I wouldn't advise going until you feel pretty confident in what you're doing because it'll all be over your head and you wont get as much out of it. That's my opinion, unless you're able to take the workshop twice, once at the beginning and one right before you test, I highly recommend going AFTER you think you know it all so that they can pick you apart and say "you're close but you need to do it like this" and that way you're just polishing the rough edges and getting the much needed confidence boost that you do have a grasp on it! Otherwise you're going to take the tough love the wrong way.
I love that Sheri and Greg are no nonsense, that's the way I am, I tend to be pretty straightforward not a lot of beating around the bush and as much as you may want someone to coddle you and hold your hand through this thing that will not help you. So they tell you where you're screwing up and tell you how to fix it. When they tell you to stop doing something a certain way don't try to argue and rationalize your point, just shut up and do it the way they tell you because the CE's on your exam day won't want to listen to your story either, they'll tell you too bad you failed. So don't be defensive about their critiques, it's like a mathematical formula 1 + 2 = 3 if you want to argue that it could be 4 you're going to fail your exam but go ahead and argue all you want, in the end it's 3. This is what Sheri and Greg will try to impress upon you throughout the weekend, just take it all in and adapt what you're doing.
The most valuable thing I got out of the workshop was careplanning, I really had a pretty decent grasp of it beforehand thanks to her weekly feedback on practice careplans (another bonus of the online workshop) but I was able to REALLY get down to the details in person. I learned how to write a bulletproof careplan that no one could argue with in a short amount of time. I learned to take a Kardex and glance at my assigned care areas and know what labels to go with in about 5 seconds. I finally learned how to pick a label based on my areas of care and what I was assigned to do so that I wasn't adding more work for myself. I learned to write those careplans with a limited amount of information so that I could write a careplan even EASIER when I had the whole chart at my disposal. These are the things that are invaluable, that you won't find in the study guide. Being able to hear "sure that nanda label will work, but I'd go with this one instead because of xyz" when you pick a label for a patient that you think would be great because the alternative label makes your experience in the patient's room easier and gives you a much better footing for evaluation. It's the whole start to finish thinking that she really brought home for me, instead of focusing right there on the planning labels you better be thinking about the eval statements and doing so may mean picking a different label that works just as well that will be easier in the end.
We also went over all of the areas of care one by one while Greg demonstrated and pointed out the critical elements of each one and how those related to the mnemonic for that AOC. This whole thing felt just like our lab time in actual nursing school, I loved it. After doing this distance program so isolated without any interaction with other other students, only having my non medical family to talk with about things while they looked at me like I had 3 heads, it was great to finally chat with other people I could relate to! To commiserate, to laugh, to bounce ideas off of one another. To mess with equipment that I hadn't touched in years. All of which provided amazing support and clarification that I needed. It was kind of like a pep rally for me and I had such a good time with all the other people there that I was ready to head to the hotel and have a bbq volleyball hang out session each night after we were done.... everyone was too busy studying and practicing unfortunately.... party poopers :) Perhaps I'll have to go back down another time to volunteer to help and I'll rally the troops for some de-stress fun time each night.
Labs were also great! I will admit I had purchased my own supplies at home, I had them sprawled all across the table and had messed around with drawing up meds and attempting the wound maybe a handful of times but I didn't really practice start to finish because I didn't have a clue how to set it up efficiently.... I mean I really wasn't sure how to do it so I would just stare at everything and pick up a syringe one night and then mess with the tubing another night, complete waste of time. At the workshop I got to see the 'right' way to set up each lab station, how to label the meds, how to fill out the paperwork, where to put your supplies, all of this stuff that I was half assing at home. So when I finally did get home I spent the next 2 days labeling my vials, printing off recording forms, and setting out each lab just as I had seen at the workshop so I could finally practice things! This is what I reference in my preparation post because I had no clue how to really do things logically until I saw it first hand as silly as that sounds.
My ONLY complaint, if you could call it a complaint, was that there wasn't enough time to do a full out mock trial of a PCS or lab check off start to finish so that I could truly be put to the test as if I were at the CPNE itself. I really wanted someone to just stand over my shoulder and give me that experience so that I could put my nerves to the test but we didn't have time to really do this. I did do this with other students and I would highly recommend others do the same early in the morning or during lunch, this really helps. If there were any way to add another day to the workshop I would've loved to do this!
Bottom line, it was worth every single cent I paid to get to that workshop, for my actual skills and also for my morale. I walked away knowing exactly what I needed to tweak to be 100% ready and felt like I finally had a pretty damn good shot at this thing. While I will tell you there was never a point that I felt completely sure of myself, not even going into day 3 at the cpne, this was the most confident I felt throughout the whole ordeal and I surely would not have passed unless some crazy intervention came about without doing this workshop. I even watched videos while I was AT my cpne, in the hotel room before our lab checkoffs and watched videos on the AOC's throughout the weekend to make sure they were still fresh in my brain.
I'm proud to be part of the 94-97% and because of that I continue to be a Sheri groupie. Given the choice of workshop options until Excelsior's pass rate can contend I don't see how you could argue with it.
And NO I do not get some sort of kick back for promoting for Sheri, there is no referral fee or any other compensation here just my opinion of the best resource to use to tackle this thing!
This is part of my post series on Excelsior College's ADN nursing program and the CPNE experience. See all related posts over here.