How to pass a Red Cross written test

I’ve noted that some of the people who come to my website were asking at a search engine for a copy of the Red Cross written final test, or exam answer key for lifeguard training / CPR AED / first aid or for sample or practice Red Cross, American Heart Association, IC&RC or ICRC exam / tests questions.

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At the beginning of an American Red Cross Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation for the Professional Rescuer test it says:

INSTRUCTIONS: … Read each question slowly and carefully. Then choose the best answer and fill in that circle on the answer sheet…

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Here’s the advice I give my students before an exam:

Read the question.
And I get looks from the students as if to say to me…”well, duh, Mary!”

But when they think about it afterwards, most people realize that
not reading the question is the main reason they failed (if they studied!).

I tend to miss questions when I’m still thinking about the previous question. If it was about infant CPR and the next one changes to adult CPR, I’m sometimes still thinking about infants and answer it wrong.

When you fail to read a question carefully you might miss crucial words such as

not, always, only, sometimes, every, never, possible, most, usually,

immediately, quickly,

downward, upward, from the side, from the back,

before, or after.

Did the question refer to a person who is conscious or UNconscious, stable or UNstable ?

Supervised or UNsupervised?

Is the symptom normal or ABnormal?

Did it say partial or complete,

may result in, or always results in,

after giving care, before giving care,

a common cause or rarely a cause,

most serious, most essential,

primary concern?

There is a big difference between placing something on ice


wrapping something in a clean dressing, placing it in a plastic bag and then placing it on ice.

Is it asking you about an illness or an injury?

A primary responsibility or a secondary responsibility?


Another way to say ‘not‘ is …

involves all but which of the following
. . . or

. . . you should do all of the following except.. .


What kind of answer does the question want you to find?
Does it ask for the correct answer or the statement that is wrong?
Does it offer some fairly correct answers and ask you to choose the best one?

Red Cross tests (and AHA American Heart Association tests) ask for the best answer.
It might seem as though more than one is right, but only one is really best.

Some of the potential answers may be statements of fact. If you were to read them as a separate sentence you would think, yes that is true, or… yes, that is something I should do.

But are they the answer to the question? Read the question.

Don’t read more into the question than is actually printed. Don’t think, but if… then this would be different.

Read the question.

Statistically speaking, most people should not change an answer on a multiple choice test question unless they re-read it and realize they failed to read it properly the first time.



mosaic with flowers and butterfly

Lots of questions give you a situation and tell you what step you have just taken and ask you what to do next. If you think back through the steps you did during skills practice it should help. Sometimes you might have to think back to the beginning of the procedure to remember something in the middle, but that’s okay if it works for you.

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There are a number of strategies for picking the correct answer.
Some people read the question and try to think of the right answer in their mind before reading the answer choices. Then they look at the answers and pick the best one. Some people start by crossing off the obviously wrong answers and then choose from the remainder. (Except don’t actually write on a test you are not supposed to write on.) Some read the whole thing and pause, hoping the correct answer will pounce out at them.

Especially if a test has a time limit and the answer doesn’t pounce quickly enough, you need to budget your time. Go on to the next questions. Sometimes something in a later question can help you.

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In one class, out of 24 people, one didn’t fill in the bubble at all on one test question, and four were certain that the reason they missed an answer was because they filled in the wrong bubble by mistake. If you skip a question and want to go back later be certain you skip the bubble space on the answer sheet as well. Make it extremely clear which answer you picked if you change answers. Especially if you take an exam on a computer form like a Scantron, be careful to erase all extra marks before turning in the exam.

mosaic with flowers and butterfly

Read the textbook.
Some Red Cross, AHA (American Heart Association), YMCA test questions are worded literally with phrases from the textbook and if you just skimmed through the textbook instead of reading it, you might miss the answer to a question.

If you actually read the text you will be more likely to recognize a correct answer.


Many textbook chapters end with sample questions that are truly worth your time to review.
If you didn’t understand why an answer is correct, ask your instructor.


The Red Cross certification tests are multiple-choice. 80% is passing.
(For most Red Cross exams you can have two tries if you need them,
but they will be two different tests with different questions.)


Stay focused in class and listen to the lecture/video.
In some classes the often repeated phrases are literally the answer to a test question,
like Check, Call, Care (in that order!)


Face, Arm, Speech, Time.

Some Red Cross test questions are worded literally with words from the video, which are often repeated in the lecture. If you are busy texting a friend with your smart-enough-phone in your lap during videos you could lose out.

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Get sleep the night before a major exam. It does you more harm than good to stay up all night cramming. Go to bed, and if you must, set your alarm a little early for last minute review over a decent breakfast with complex carbs and protein, not sugar-covered-caffeine-fat-bombs. Have this meal a couple of hours before the exam so your body will be done sending your blood supply to your stomach for digestion and can have your blood supply and oxygen in it available for your brain.

During the exam, try to relax a little. Stretch. Wiggle your toes/fingers. Don’t let the tension build up to where you are not even breathing! (Please note that tapping your pencil, heavy sighs, moaning and groaning are all distracting to others taking the exam, and can be considered disruptive behavior.)


More advanced classes require that you know and be able to properly use more advanced vocabulary. If you have at first taken a lower level class and then move to higher level you can’t be complacent and think that you already know everything. A member of the public can call any wound a cut, but a person training in Emergency Response, Title 22 or lifeguard training should know the difference between an avulsion, laceration, puncture or abrasion.

As a lifeguard you might have referred to burns as first, second, and third degree, but in a higher level class such as Title 22 or Emergency Response you need to know the difference between superficial, partial thickness and full thickness.

Blood from a wound can come from capillaries, arteries or veins. Do you know the kind of bleeding from each?

Will you care for, (or not care for) this wound with a bandage, pressure bandage, tourniquet, dressing, universal dressing, occlusive dressing?

What is a normal heart rate, what is compensating,
and what is the rate of compressions for various kinds of CPR?

Are you familiar with specific vocabulary such as tissues, muscle, tendon, nerve, ligament, palpate, hypoxia, anaphylaxis, stimulant, depressant, hallucinogen, narcotic, synergistic, diastolic, systolic, syncope, placenta, amniotic, cervix, crowning, prolapsed cord, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, endocrine, esophagus, femur, patella, cranial, clavicle, larynix, epiglottis, stoma, auscultation, defibrillation, fibrillation, distal, proximal, embolism, transient ischemic, capillary refill, AEIOU TIPS, opqrst, BSI, DOTS, DCAP BLTS, STOPEATS, AVPU, SAMPLE, DNR, LOC, START, SIDS, ICP, TBI, RICE, AVPU, rule of nines?

Re-reading the glossary at the end of some of the texts can

really improve your chances of passing a test.


Some other licenses that require a multiple choice written exam (California Driver Class C, for example), have practice tests for you. My recent experience was that the online practice tests were much easier to pass than the actual test was, but worth doing along with fully reading the California Driver Handbook.

When you go to take your drivers license test, they warn you that one of the main reasons people fail to answer questions correctly is that they read the question and potential answers too quickly.

California Sample Driver’s License Knowledge Tests (regular or motorcycle) can be found at:

There are other online sample tests that you need to pay for that are virtually the same free test you can practice with from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The DMV also offers a “New to California” section:


Lifeguard training, swimming, CPR and first aid links includes links to free downloads of some Red Cross textbooks.


See also these study guides:

first aid Secondary Assessment

Times to suspect a spinal injury (symptoms, causes, signs of spinal injury)

causes of fainting, altered mental status, sudden altered mental status, unconsciousness

Seizures, causes of and basic care for

Concussion signs and symptoms, prevention

anaphylaxis quick facts

Bloodborne Pathogens quick facts

CPR quick facts

AED quick facts

What the AED says as you use it

Why did they change CPR?

Oxygen administration quick facts

First Aid for Public Safety Personnel study guide

wilderness first aid outline

Cultural issues in first aid

fast, basic neurological exam