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  • Writer's pictureJoshua S. Farquharson

Measuring Blood Pressure: Simple Techniques and Practice Activities to Improve Your Skills Quickly

Audience: Healthcare Students | Level: Beginner

A hand holding sphygmomanometer dial.


Are you looking for answers to these questions?

  • How do I read a blood pressure dial quickly?

  • What sounds do I need to pay attention to when measuring blood pressure?

  • What numbers should I document when taking blood pressure?

If so, this guide is for you. Don’t worry, this isn’t about learning everything there is to know about blood pressure. Instead, we’ll focus on specific skills that many beginners find challenging—observing the dial and listening to Korotkoff sounds to determine blood pressure readings.

Why Blood Pressure Measurement Skills Matter

Imagine if you recorded a patient’s blood pressure as normal when they were actually at risk for a stroke. Inaccurate readings can have serious consequences. When taking a patient’s blood pressure, it’s essential to accurately coordinate what you hear with what you see.

What You’ll Learn

Here are the new skills you’ll gain after completing this guide:

  • Reading the Sphygmomanometer Dial. Learn to interpret the values based on the indicator needle's position.

  • Listening to Korotkoff Sounds. Identify the systolic and diastolic pressure sounds and document them properly.

  • Determining Blood Pressure Readings. Coordinate listening to Korotkoff sounds with identifying dial values to determine accurate blood pressure readings.

Tips for Successfully Completing this Guide

  • Use headphones: Preferably in-ear headphones, for the videos and simulation activities.

  • Have a pencil and paper: Jot things down quickly if needed.

  • Find a quiet place: Free from distractions and turn off device notifications.

  • Take breaks: After each lesson, take a five-minute break. Stretch or walk to give your eyes a break from the screen.

  • Use a desktop computer or large display device: Access the content on a desktop or large display for the best experience.

Remember, go at your own pace and build your skills with the activities. Practice as often as necessary to master the skills. You are going to do great!


Identifying Values on the Sphygmomanometer Dial

Indicator Lines

The manual blood pressure dial, or aneroid sphygmomanometer, measures blood pressure in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The indicator lines on the dial, or graduation marks, vary in size and value. The values increase in a clockwise direction.

Review Indicator Lines

Instructions: Select the play button and use the arrows to view each slide in the interaction.

Indicator Needle

Like the hand on a clock, the indicator needle points to units of mmHg. Based on its position, you will determine the value of the line.

The three examples below illustrate how the indicator needle's position determines the stated value.

Example 1

216 mmHg

BP dial showing 216 mmHg

Example 2

112 mmHg

BP dial showing 112mmHg

Example 3

88 mmHg

BP dial showing 88 mmHg


Practice Activity: Identifying Dial Values

Instructions: Review the indicator needle's position on the dial, then type the value of the line in the space provided. Select SUBMIT to proceed to the next question.

Tip: To enlarge the activity, use your browser's zoom settings to zoom-in.


Practice Activity: Play the SpeedDial Game

Improving your speed in identifying line values will help you take blood pressure readings more quickly. Play the Speed Dial game to boost your speed, accuracy, and confidence.

Instructions: Look at the dial, state the value aloud, then select the correct answer. It may take a few tries to master, but you’ll get there!

Tip: As you play, look at the dial, state the value aloud, then select the correct answer. It may take a few times to master it, but you'll get there!


Listening to Korotkoff Sounds

Systolic and Diastolic Pressure

Imagine you’ve inflated the cuff on the patient’s arm to the appropriate level and begin to deflate it. You see the indicator needle moving slowly in a counterclockwise direction and start listening carefully for the thumping sounds.

Here’s what you need to pay attention to:

  • When you hear the first thump, note the needle’s position on the dial and record the number. That’s the systolic pressure.

  • As the cuff slowly deflates and the needle drops, you will continue to hear the thumping sounds. Listen carefully for the last thump.

  • When you hear the last thump, note the needle’s position on the dial and record the number. That’s the diastolic pressure.

Documentation example should 110 over 70 setup like a fraction.

Blood pressure documentation example.

Watch and Listen: Blood Pressure Simulation Examples

In the following examples, notice the blood pressure readings documented above each video in the example number area. When you watch the videos, keep the readings in mind as you hear the thumping sounds and view the needle's position on the dial. The simulation examples will help you discover what you need to focus on during auscultation.

Tip: Replay the simulations as often as necessary until you have a clear understanding of why the documented readings align with the Korotkoff sounds and dial values.

Example 1 

120/80 mmHg

Example 2 

210/170 mmHg

Example 3 

96/62 mmHg


Practice Quiz - Listening to Korotkoff Sounds and Identifying Dial Values

In this activity, you will determine several blood pressure readings using the skills you’ve learned. When you answer a question, the correct answer will appear. Your answer must be within 4 mmHg of the revealed answer to be considered accurate. For example, if the revealed answer is 120/80, and your answer is 122/78, your answer will be marked correct because you are within the acceptable range of accuracy.

Instructions: Watch each blood pressure simulation, then type the blood pressure reading in the space provided. Select SUBMIT to proceed to the next question.

Tip: If you do well with this activity, it's a great indicator that you'll do well with the skills assessment, so take your time and practice and much as you need to.


Skills Assessment

Now you're ready to test your skills! This simulation-based assessment has 10 questions. Remember, as long as your answers are within 4 mmHg of the assessment's answers, you are within the acceptable range of accuracy.

Tip: In some simulations in this assessment, you may notice the indicator needle jump nearly in sync with the thumping sounds. The jumping needle is a common occurrence when measuring blood pressure with patients. Do not focus on when the needle jumps to determine your measurement. Just as you did with the previous practice activities, focus on the needle's position when you hear the first and last thumping sounds.

Be confident. You're going to do great!



You've completed this guide. Accurately reading blood pressure is a crucial skill for any healthcare professional. With practice and patience, you’ll master these techniques and provide excellent care for your patients. Thank you for participating!

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