How many of you know someone who has taken the CBET exam and not passed? Was that person you? Let me ask another question: How many of you know someone who did not pass the CBET exam but can fix anything in the hospital? Most BMET shops have someone like this on staff. This person is the go-to technician when all other avenues have been exhausted. Then why in the world would this technician have problems with a simple little 150-question test about their job duties and knowledge? A couple of reasons come to my mind right off the bat: It is a fact some people just take tests better than others, and it could be how a person studies for the test. After my last article on study techniques (December 2009 issue), I feel I would be remiss if I did not share more information on the art of preparing for the examination.

Over the years, it has been my experience that students preparing for the CBET exam like to break the information down into memorable facts about each category of the test. This is very understandable since this is the way our educational system works for the most part. This is the pattern, or model, we are most exposed to while receiving our primary and secondary education. This type of learning is a form of compartmentalizing learning. In this method, the student uses the brain much like a filing cabinet to store information. One cabinet could be used to store information about math, one for science, one for history, and so on. Ever since grade school we have been told what we need to memorize to pass the test. So our grade often reflects our memorization skills and not truly our mastery of a subject. This type of education is referred to as rote memory or rote education. I am sure many of us remember our weekly spelling test in grade school; this is a perfect example of rote education. In rote education the student relies almost entirely on fact memorization. The CBET exam just has too many possible facts to learn for a passing grade. Exam takers must discover ways to look at many of the test questions and figure out which is the best answer.

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A good example of rote education for an exam taker is memorizing what percentage of whole blood is plasma and what percentage of the blood sample is formed elements, such as RBCs and WBCs, etc. This form of education is needed for the exam, but probably not the best way to study for an exam that may cover so many different facts from so many different areas. Rote memorization promotes the following types of learning: organizes ideas into boxes, keeps subjects and concepts distinct, has few neural paths to the same idea, views concepts through one perspective, and aims to learn through repetition.

The Holistic Technique

Holistic learning is an education technique based on using the entire body, not just the brain, as an educational device. The holistic approach is a technique that is based on the concept that for anything to work properly, all parts must coordinate and cooperate with one another to function at its peak performance. An example of using “all parts” would be your sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and memory, etc. By no means is holistic learning a new educational approach to learning, but it is almost the opposite of rote education. Instead of memorizing facts, you attempt to create webs of information and understand how the information in the webs is interrelated. Holistic learning is the process of weaving the knowledge you are learning into everything you already understand. Several educational theorists believe that this is the essence of learning—tying new information to old information in a way that makes sense to you. Holistic learning promotes the following types of learning: organizes ideas into interconnected webs, interrelates subjects and concepts, has many neural paths to the same idea, views concepts through unique perspectives and senses, and aims to learn by relating.

As mentioned earlier, there is a place for rote memory for the CBET exam taker, such as the example with the blood. The same would be in effect with many safety standards such as the ground wire resistance and electrical leakage standards on medical equipment. This type of cognition is referred to in Bloom’s Taxonomy1 as “knowledge.” This classification allows the student to list, define, or label different things in a subject matter. This type of cognition does not really lend itself to holistic learning, but many areas or questions on the CBET exam do require holistic learning or holistic thinking.

Bloom’s Classification System

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of levels of cognition and some of the skills that come with the different levels. The lowest level in Bloom’s Taxonomy or hierarchy of cognition is the level of rote memory or “knowledge,” which again allows learners to list, tell, or label things about the material or subject. The next level is “comprehension.” This allows students to summarize, contrast, predict, and discuss the material. As we move further up the classifications we come upon “application,” “synthesis,” and “evaluation.” “Application” allows students to demonstrate, calculate, or relate information to other subjects. “Synthesis” allows students to combine, integrate, design, or generalize about a subject. The highest cognitive state is “evaluation.” When students have enough cognition to evaluate, they are at a level that allows them to decide, rank, test, measure, explain, compare, and summarize information. These are the three areas in which holistic learning would be beneficial to the CBET exam taker.

A good example of where holistic thinking could come in very handy for a CBET examinee could be pressure. We know from our basic science or physics course that pressure = force/area. This formula is at the level of “knowledge,” but if we begin our cognitive web about pressure, many other areas of the test may be revealed as we ascend up Bloom’s Taxonomy. When I think of pressure, I begin my web with pressure in a gas tank, atmospheric pressure, blood pressure, occlusion pressure, pressure ventilation, static pressure, hydrostatic positive and negative pressures, pump pressures, pressure transducers, positive pressure rooms, and negative pressure rooms. The list would surely grow the longer I thought about pressure. The benefit comes from taking one subject on “pressure” and seeing it in all the different ways it could be used in the health care environments. The more information I put in this web the tighter the information becomes, such as with gas pressure. I know there are four main gas pressure laws I must be concerned with in medical environments. Charles, Henry, Boyles, and Dalton’s laws of gas pressures are found in many areas of the hospital. These laws apply to mechanical ventilation, portable gas cylinders, what type of gas is used with an IABP, and again the list goes on and on. Knowing these laws affect pressure and the volume of gasses and solubility in a liquid, such as blood, can be very helpful in figuring out the correct answer on the exam.

So start making your mental maps of what you do know. You may find you already know many of the answers to the test if you could just retrieve the information, and I believe the holistic approach of making mental maps and connecting interrelated items may help. As an exercise, take the law of charges and see how many places you could see that information in the health care industry.

Study wisely, and best of luck on the exam.

John Noblitt, MAEd, CBET, is the BMET program director at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Hudson, NC. For more information, contact .


  1. The taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of educational goals. In: Bloom B, ed. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman; 1956.