Friday, August 14, 2015

WGU: Single Term Tricks of the Trade


I am frequently asked how I was able to complete the WGU so quickly and whether I have any advice for upcoming students. I can tell you exactly what I did to study and finish however keep in mind that this is what worked for me during my enrollment. You may study differently, your courses may be different, etc.

Below are my tips along with my insight into EACH course that I completed (I left a couple out that were missing pre-req's like speech but the general courses are here)

A note on the gist of things at WGU:
Learn to be flexible. Things change frequently with WGU- courses, course requirements, etc. During a single term I didn't have any course changes but I know several students who have been enrolled for a few terms who have had changes throughout their enrollment which has caused frustration here and there. Just be prepared for it. Focus on ONE course at a time. Usually any changes are typically in your favor, they'll adjust cut scores for assessments or they'll do things like cut down hours on your practicum (I WISH this happened for me... I did 90 hours and they switched it afterwards to 45). Try to be patient and if any changes adversely affect your progress be sure to speak up for yourself, typically you are able to argue your right to continue just as you enrolled without the changes if you choose.

OA's versus PA's
OA's are objective assessments, these are multiple choice tests that are pass fail based on cut score (which by the way equates to a "B" grade or competency level at a traditional school). You take these via a testing center or via a web cam in the comfort of your own home where you are actually proctored by real people. A little weird to get used to but once you work out the occasional kinks of the web cam this is great. The way the new software works you don't even have to schedule your exams out ahead of time you can literally jump on any time you'd like and take the exam at will. Highly convenient.

PA's are performance assessments, a nice way to say "papers or presentations". These in my opinion are horrid. It ends up being a BIG long redundant paper (some 35+ pages for example) that cover a million areas on a rubric that demonstrate your knowledge and competency on that particular course. Each course has a completely different set of rubric requirements, some have power points associated, some like Biochem require you to make models & drawings, but in the end it's essentially paper writing at it's finest. I loathe PA's which unfortunately make up 90% of the MSN program. (BSN is roughly 50/50 ish).

Which order to take the courses in
I tried to decipher each course when I started to see which I thought may be the best to take first, come up with my own schedule of completion, etc. I learned after speaking with my mentor the first time that while you can technically take the courses in any order you'd like there is a "typical" way of doing things and in the end I went along with this. No need to make waves if this was a good way of completing what I needed to do. Most mentors will suggest that you take Health Assessment and Care of the Older Adult first along with possibly Community and Population Health. (Course numbers will change but typically the course names do not, so learn both). This order was fine to get me into the groove of things.

My Personal Course Timeline:

I ended up taking each OA with about 2 days of prep time ending with the 3rd day testing. I outlined my schedule ahead of time to give myself 2 days of study on the material (granted I had small kiddos at home so a "full" day of study is relative). The 3rd day I spent the morning reviewing and cramming again and the afternoon taking the exam. For each OA my usual method of approach included skimming the Course of Study to find relevant points. Checking the course community gave me a lot of insight on what to study in fact many courses have their own "study guides" compiled by the course mentors that will really help you focus in on what is required for the OA. Outside of good documents like practice exams and notes that you can find in the course community you can see questions and answers from the mentors to other students which usually end up being your own questions. Browsing over these things in the community will give you a good vibe on how the OA is going to go.
UPDATE: Specific course communities apparently don't exist anymore to my knowledge... I'm not sure why they did this?? Instead on the right hand side of your course of study there is now what's called "course chatter" which serves a similar purpose but in my opinion is no where near as helpful. That said it is somewhat helpful if you can navigate around to find important documents and frequently asked questions. Do this before reading through your course of study, you can waste an awful lot of time if you actually go through the COS page by page, reading by reading, DON'T. Get the overall gist of things by surveying the course chatter first, also check out some of the online discussion boards especially Facebook, this will provide great insight as well and THEN you'll know what to study.

PA's were a little bit different story. I devoted one week to each PA, some went a little bit quicker, others a little longer but overall this was a good yard stick. I spent the first day pulling up the rubric and task instructions and outlining my paper. Then I would browse around the course of study to see where I could pull info for the paper that would meet the rubric requirements. Lastly, it was a matter of filling in each section of the rubric.

A guide to PA's.

DO NOT. I repeat DO NOT over-do the PA's!!! The task instructions can sometimes derail you into going overboard on what the task is actually requiring. At the end of the day you are being graded by the RUBRIC. Literally. Your course grader is given a copy of the rubric and your paper and that is ALL they grade from. So if you run off on a tangent in fluff that has nothing to do with a rubric requirement good for you but it will not really help your cause in the end. Keep It Simple. Answer the rubric questions/req's and be done with it. By outlining your papers based on the rubric sections you set yourself up to stay on topic, to the point, and you make it 10x easier for your grader to grade.
That being said when it is time for a PA. Pull up Taskstream so you can see the task instructions and rubric right there in front of you. Outline your paper with your name and course information at the top and block out each line of the rubric A1----- A2c----- B----- C----- etc. Fill it in as you go. IF YOU need to reference the course of study materials to fill in the paper sections do it as you're writing, do NOT go through and read a bazillion pages of text ahead of time, only scout out what you need to finish. Plenty of areas on rubrics and even whole PA's are based on your opinion requiring no real text involvement. If anything the interwebs are your friend to find info concisely to include.

Powerpoints: If and when your course includes a power point, a random tip, you can use Google Drive to create a powerpoint without buying the software. You can also get Microsoft Office for free with your WGU student email (instructions to follow). Label each slide of the Power Point in accordance with the rubric, again makes it easier for your grader. KEEP it simple! No need to get all fancy and put pictures and 70 slides with fancy transitions and music to convey a simple requirement.

Taskstream Grading:
Not the quickest thing on the planet, thankfully they now show you the "queue" which they didn't have when I was doing it, at least now you can guesstimate how many days of grading you're in for although I'm not sure that helps you ha! Stalk away or just sign up for text notifications on your work.

Message Boards:
USE THEM! I used the RN to BSN Facebook page ALL the time to bounce ideas off of others and to help others. It is priceless insight that you'll gain there.Utilize the search feature on the page to check previous posts about the same subject matter. No one here is going to give you answers to your tests... I mean c'mon people (and YES people really do get on there thinking they may get this info??wth?) but they will help you troubleshoot things and give you similar tips to those you're reading here.

Pinterest:
I used some pinning to save important things I wanted to reference later, not a ton of info here but feel free to check out some of the things I compiled or start your own board to keep organized.


********COURSE BY COURSE TIPS & INSIGHT******


Health Assessment:
This should be no issue for anyone with prior medical experience. If it's been a while since you studied or Nclex'd be sure to brush up on your typical assessment stuff. I personally went through the chapters in the Course of Study and took the practice exams at the end of each which helped. This is going to be pretty typical black and white knowledge along with the application of "critical thinking" just like a good old NCLEX. As for your video, many people (including myself) put off the video part because, well it's weird to video tape yourself for someone to analyze... awkward. Take it from me, it isn't hard at all, just get it overwith! My best advice, print off the list of things you're supposed to do in your video and put it in a binder to use WHILE your taping yourself. I literally checked off each thing as I did it to make sure I didn't miss anything. I brushed up on assessment techniques via good old YouTube (since there are some interesting ones to cover that you don't normally do... hello jugular vein distention measurement???) and then did it.

Care of the Older Adult:
Again basic knowledge of elder care here, this will closely mimic your gerontology nursing class from back in the day. BUT, this is the one OA that I failed!! I was shocked. A little tidbit, outside of your general elderly medicine, variables, assessments, etc make sure you READ IN DEPTH on the dang Medicare and insurance crap... for some reason my assessment was about 70% Medicare questions (and I KNOW my insurance stuff, so this was excessive). Otherwise hope your version of the test isn't so pigeonholed into this arena. This is supposed to be one of the easiest and most remedial of all of the BSN courses.

Community & Population Health:
If you're planning to finish your BSN in a single term, better get this one going immediately. You cannot log practicum hours for your final practicum until this course is done. This one was my first PA course. It consisted of 4 "tasks" ie. 4 papers of various requirements. I did what was recommended and that was to finish the tasks in backwards order, so task 4 then task 3, saving task 1 for the end. Reasoning was that task 1 is pretty intense and long and it helped to get a few other writing tasks under your belt before jumping into that one. You get to see how the whole grading thing and Taskstream work along with getting used to the rubrics. The long paper is ultimately a set up of your final practicum, you research your specific community and look for deficits and things that you can essentially work to research more for the final practicum where you log all of your hours.



Applied Statistics:
Some people struggle with this one, not sure if that is because of the newer version of stats or just different learning styles. I thought Stats was not too bad. I read through the community advice to focus on Chapters 1-4 knowing them like the back of my hand. I read the chapters, took each quiz at the end and re-read areas that I missed on the quizzes. Lastly, I printed the course study guide (probably housed in the "course chatter box" now) which was compiled by the course mentors and made sure I knew all 100 of those questions very well. In my opinion the OA was identical to this practice study guide.

Nutrition:
I don't have the best advice for the nutrition OA simply because I know nutrition very well. I had 3 nutrition courses in my undergrad prior to this one and it's a lifestyle thing I've always been educated in. So that said, this was a very easy exam, basic principles of what to eat for certain populations ie. pregnancy, wound healing, etc. Which foods are high in specific nutrients, that kind of thing. A patient post op with renal complications should eat which choice of meal, etc. One area I remember being a little trickier was the vitamins and minerals, I had quite a bit of content on this which seemed a tad unbalanced, worth brushing up on.

Biochemistry:
I was a huge fan of Biochem! Some people hate it but I thought it was a welcome relief from multiple choice tests and paper writing. I mean how can you go wrong when your homework consists of making chemical models out of legos or candy... or k-cups ha! You don't need some fancy molecule kit for this one, using items around the house is perfectly fine as the course mentors will tell you. The subjects are quite complex that you are learning here, very detailed... especially DNA transcription and translation. In my opinion I had to actually pay attention to the content and videos to truly understand what I was doing and it was fine. It's mostly YouTube videos put on by the mentors that are easy to follow and the Thinkwell Guy. I LOVE the Thinkwell Guy, he's like an older version of Bill Nye the Science Guy talking about way more boring things but he makes it slightly entertaining :) Enjoy biochem, it's the only course in the whole shabang that is set up like this.

Professional Roles & Values:

This one is very blah. A good one to get over with, it's not hard it's just very boring. The whole course is essentially about nursing theories, how to decipher them, ethics, professional accountability, playing the role of a scientist, detective, and manager, ugh... You will end up writing about various aspects of this in your portfolio but no need to over-do this one, just study what you need and get done with it.

Info Management & Technology:
The exam for this one was pretty challenging I thought. I figured it would be a general application of how technology systems integrate into medicine, it was NOT. This was a very detailed exam asking you to know the differences between certain technology systems, how to troubleshoot them, how they apply to different facility uses,etc. Lots of informatics specifics, electronic record ins/outs, HIPPA regs, etc. I did much better on the pre-assessment than the actual OA for what it's worth, the only course this happened.

Evidence Based Practice aka The Beast:
This one sucks, it really just sucks. The only thing worse is having to do it AGAIN (for the most part) in the MSN program... dreadful. There are a couple of tasks for this one. First you learn about types of research and write a paper about that while you classify a few examples into the type of research the represent. Then you take some case studies and write about them. And then you're ready for the BEAST. For the last task, you are picking a problem to research, compiling this research into an annotated bibliography, summarizing your findings, discussing how this can relate to your current place of work, how you'd present it to the big wigs there, etc. That's the simple version. The extended version is that it is LONG, monotonous, repetitive, and annoying. My best advice for this one is to do it all in one or two sittings. Find your research during one and write the ENTIRE thing during the next, don't stop and start this one or you'll never finish. Pick a topic that is SIMPLE, use the examples you find in course notes or message boards. DON'T try to reinvent the wheel or impress your graders by finding some fabulous specific NEW idea that is actually interesting to you, they won't care. You won't find your articles, you'll want to punch yourself later for doing this. Stick to the tried and true- handwashing, CAUTI, actually just those 2, pick one of those and you'll do fine.


Organizational Systems & Leadership:
This one will sneak up on you. You read the rubric and think it's not too terrible, 2 tasks. The main drudgery with this one are the IHI Modules. No idea how to explain those to anyone who hasn't read through a couple so I won't bother. Just remember this, log in, start the modules and skip to the tests. Don't sit there through all of them intently or you'll be there for 57 weeks. Seriously they are awful and there aren't any shortcuts other than skipping to the tests, taking them, if you fail skip back to the end again and take it again until you pass. You can't finish the BSN without doing these dang modules, you'll need your IHI completion certificate for your portfolio. Your big paper consists of completing a LONG root cause analysis with all the components.... not my cup of tea. You'll be glad when this one is done.


Leadership Experience:
Leadership is the whole point of the BSN as most BSN-RN's are more in management and they have to "lead" people. The paper here consists of an investigation into a specific problem at your workplace that you intend to research and propose a fix for. Your fix will explain a lot of things including a cost scenario and you'll present this whole thing for your "key stakeholders" at work. You'll need them to sign off on your presentation. It isn't a bad task but it can be a bit tricky to coordinate this "presentation". Again pick a simple solvable problem, you don't need to show them how to travel to the moon just pick something common and relevant- staffing shortages, technology deficits, etc.

Portfolio:
I thought this one was odd, almost like putting together a resume for your school experience, a lot of kumbayah this is what I learned, this is how I grew as a professional... weird. Nonetheless, super simple task. You're basically reviewing a lot of your coursework, including excerpts from some of them and writing a synopsis of their relevance to your career.

Community Health Practicum:
The dreaded practicum. You are now at the end and revisiting that very first community health project you did. You'll take the problem topic you chose and now spend a bunch of hours out in the community investigating it so you can write about it in depth. I had 90 hours to do and I did this whole course in about 2-3 weeks time. I spent about one full week making site visits around everywhere I could possibly think of to log time, each day about 6-8 hours of traveling around and then about 1 full week to write the whole thing. A bit of fudge factor in between. If you start early getting on everyone's calendars for meetings this won't be too hard to do in a short amount of time,otherwise better plan on 4-6 weeks of consistent work on this one, especially if you can't devote a block of time for a week to knock out those hours. I specifically picked access to mental health resources and found a TON of resources, had no trouble getting my info or hours. There are a list of topics to choose from, as I've said a dozen times don't reinvent the wheel, pick one and go. Don't overcomplicate it. As soon as you're done with Community Health 1 jump on these hours and start looking ahead.



That's the long and short of it.... those courses can seem to be quite overwhelming but they're doable. Get a schedule together with a goal of completion for each one. Allow time for grading and revisions... taskstream graders aren't exactly the quickest, my longest paper took nearly 7 full days to post! Always keep about 3 courses in your field of vision if you're planning to accelerate so you can work on them somewhat simultaneously but pick one at a time to finish, then go to the next. One day you'll turn around and your circle will be completely BLUE! YAY.


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