Our Personal NCLEX Experience
Education and Background
We did our prerequisites at a community college for two years and then attended a university for another two years to receive our Bachelor of Science in Nursing, BSN. Many of you will be coming from a BSN program, but some of you will come from an and, or even overseas.
But it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or what degree you have. The NCLEX exam will still be the same. You don’t automatically become a nurse by graduating from nursing school. The NCLEX is your final step. Many people pass nursing school and get stuck on the NCLEX, and that’s okay. You can make multiple attempts, and you’ll succeed if you work hard and focus. There are also people that pass on their first attempt with the minimal amount of questions. The key takeaway is to get it done and pass.
How we felt about the NCLEX
In the beginning, we felt the same way as everyone else: stressed! Once you graduate, you realize that it’s time to study for and pass the biggest and most important exam of your life. Everyone is nervous! The best way to calm your nerves is to slowly ease yourself into it. Look up some free Qbanks online to familiarize yourself with the format. Remember, it’s just an exam. It isn’t going to eat you up.
Before you dive deep into studying, make sure you’re having fun in your free time. This will provide an escape from studying and thinking about the NCLEX. You have to be able to relax to pass the exam. Some nurses have struggled to pass the NCLEX because all they did was study and didn’t take time off for themselves. Learn what helps you relax.
Here are a few things you can do to relax:
- Work out
- Go to a sauna/steam room
- Do yoga
- Make a change in your environment
- Enjoy free time
Whatever helps you reduce your stress as your NCLEX date approaches is good preparation. You’ll feel more confident and be more likely to pass. Driving to the test center is not hard mentally, but once you finally walk in and sit down, your cortisol starts to increase. Remember to stay calm and understand that you’ve taken multiple practice exams almost identical to the one you’ll be taking. In general, we felt confident and both passed the NCLEX on our first attempt.
Once you’ve completed the exam, you have to wait a few days to get your results. Those days will be some of the longest in your life. We were nervous during those days as well, but once you get your results you feel a giant sense of relief. Finally, you can practice nursing! If you didn’t pass on your first attempt, that’s okay. You’ll get there.
Didn’t Pass the NCLEX?
We know tons of nurses that had to retake the exam, and they’re some of the best nurses we’ve ever seen. If you didn’t pass, it’s time to take a week’s break and then repeat the process with extra effort. You may need to devote more time to it or use multiple studying methods such as Qbank and audio formats or even reading. Don’t get discouraged. Study harder and smarter, and you’ll pass.
Overall, the NCLEX is a hard exam, and studying for it is not easy. Studying takes a lot of time. but it’s something you have to do. When it comes to stressing about the NCLEX, realize that it’s normal. You need to devote not only time to studying but for yourself as well. This will keep you motivated and prevent you from burning out.
Test-taking tips and strategies for the NCLEX
Here are some tips and strategies to help you pass the NCLEX on your first attempt. This is the last major milestone in achieving your goal of becoming a Registered Licensed Nurse.
Your goal should be to take the NCLEX as soon as possible after graduation and pass on the first attempt. Aim to write the NCLEX 1-2 months from your first study day and within 3 months of graduation. You don’t want to take it too early, because you need time to prepare. And don’t take it too late, because you may lose knowledge or start to overthink and stress yourself more than you need to.
Positivity is Key
The exam is tough and will require you to study! Having a positive attitude will naturally create more paths to success. Negativity only deters you from trying to achieve your goal of passing the NCLEX.
Six tips for passing the NCLEX
Know your study style
This may be for you, as you’ve already spent a few years in college understanding different learning styles. Are you a visual learner, an auditory learner, or you need to write things down? Of course, you can combine different learning styles to maximize your studying, like understanding the flow of blood through the four chambers of the heart. For me, drawing things out with red and blue colored-pencils helped me learn faster than just memorizing.
Your study materials will depend on your learning style.
Flashcards: You can take them anywhere. Separate the ones you know and the ones you get wrong and focus more on the ones you get wrong. These are great for labs and meds.
Sticky notes: Use these as another way to go over the things you struggle with. Write down what you keep getting wrong, and post them on your bedroom mirror or a place you commonly stay in.
Notebook: Write down key topics and rationales. Separate them into categories so you’re not looking all over the place. Being organized is key. A notebook is a fine tool because you can quickly look back on rationales, key points, and information as a quick reference. Another benefit is you are writing what you’re learning, which is another study style that improves memorization.
Make a study plan
Create a schedule that reinforces your studying. For the next 1-2 months, your time must revolve around studying. Aim for 3-4 hrs a day. If you can manage more, even better. Studying for 4 hours a day gives you 120 hours of studying for a month. To give you some perspective, the average human life lasts a little more than 700,000 hours, and a typical workweek is 40+ hours.
Find a place to study that won’t have many distractions. The place we’ve found to be most beneficial is the library. Such a place enables you to separate your personal life from your study life. You go to the library for one reason only: to study. Once you leave, you’re done studying. Think of it as your 9-5 job.
- Look at some testing question examples online to familiarize yourself with the format and learn some strategies on how to approach the question. (Select all that apply, fill in the blank, drag and drop, landmarking, and auditory sound recognition).
Understand the NCLEX
The NCLEX format is computer adaptive testing (CAT). The test will continually give you new questions based on your performance on past questions. Try not to focus on the length of your exam. Plan on testing for 6 hours and completing 265 questions. If you have a long exam, remember that you’re still in the game as long as the computer continues to give you questions, so focus on answering them all to the best of your ability. The minimum the NCLEX will provide is 75 questions, and the maximum is 265 questions. If the test detects that you’re staying above the 95% confidence interval, you’ll pass!
We know that test anxiety can impair learning and hurt test performance. This might be the most important test of your career, but don’t sweat it! There are plenty of ways to manage stress. During nursing school, we learned about the effects of stress and coping mechanisms to lower stress. Can you apply the same stress management techniques to yourself? On the macro level, create a healthy balance between studying, work, family, and personal life. Sleep is the best form of self-love. Aim for 7-8 hours a night to keep your cortisol levels down. Exercise daily and master your daily routine to keep your stress levels manageable.
On the micro-level, make sure you’re prepared for the exam. Do not cram information at the last minute. Before the exam, take a day off to give your brain a break from all the studying. Have a hearty breakfast and plan to commute early, so you don’t stress yourself out. If you’re someone who gets cold easily, bring a sweater, as testing centers can be a little cool.
Practice questions are an amazing way to understand the areas where you need to brush up. The way to practice questions effectively is to list or write down all the questions you’ve answered incorrectly. Read and understand the rationales on why the question was answered incorrectly. A few days before my NCLEX, I opened my notes from the concepts/topics I answered incorrectly and focused on those problem areas.
Understanding the content on the NCLEX is important, as not knowing how the test is written can make you choose the wrong answer. Here are some test-taking strategies:
Look for cues in answers
- Doesn’t promote communication
- Discounts patient’s feelings
- May make patients feel inadequate or defensive
- Promotes open communication
- Uses of paraphrasing
- Acknowledges the patient’s feelings
Always think 1. Airway, breathing, and circulation. 2. Safety/Disability. 3. Communication 4. Nursing process.
The most important tip for the NCLEX
Most importantly, believe in yourself. You can do it! Deep down, you know you can do anything. Since starting nursing school, you’ve been preparing for this moment to become a nurse. All that’s left is to walk into the exam with confidence and know you will pass the NCLEX. Trust us, we’ve both passed the NCLEX, but we mentally scarred ourselves by making it this out to be a “giant test”. After taking the NCLEX and looking back as a nurse, it was funny how nervous we were compared to how difficult the test was. You got this! Don’t let any self-doubt creep ruin the dream you’ve worked so hard to achieve!
Studying for the NCLEX
Your goal should be to take the NCLEX as soon as possible after graduation and pass on the first attempt. Try not to add to your stress by not passing on your first attempt. Study hard and efficiently, and aim to take the NCLEX 1-2 months from your 1st study day and within 3 months of graduation. You don’t want to take it too early, because you need time to prepare. And you don’t want to take it too late, because you may lose some knowledge or stress yourself more than needed.
How to Prepare for the NCLEX
Familiarize yourself with the test
Look at some testing question examples online to familiarize yourself with the test format and learn some strategies on how to approach the questions. Look back at your prior exams or try to remember how they were worded. These are the type of questions you might see:
- Select all that apply
- Fill in the blank
- Drag and drop
- Auditory sound recognition
Where will you be studying?
Find a place to study, ideally a place that won’t have many distractions. (We prefer the library.) This way, you can separate your personal life from your study life. You go to the library for one specific reason: to study. Once you leave, you’re done studying. Treat it as if it’s your office and your 9-5 job. Other great places to study include:
- Study room
- Coffee shop
- Anywhere with a quiet environment
NCLEX study schedule
Create a schedule that reinforces your studying habits. For the next 1-3 months, your time will revolve around studying. Aim for 3-4 hrs a day. If you can manage more, even better. Studying for 4 hrs a day gives you 120 hrs of studying a month. Just to give you a little perspective if you think that’s a lot of studying: the average human life is a little over 700,000 hrs, and a typical work week is 40+ hours. You need to determine what schedule works best for you. Will you be going for 4 hours straight, or in increments? Most people study for 1 – 1.5 hrs, then take a 30- minute break.
Your study materials will depend on your learning style. What worked for you in nursing school? Did you prefer more auditory learning than visual? Did you learn more from the lecture, or straight off the PowerPoints?
Here are a few methods you can use when studying for the NCLEX:
- Flashcards: You can take them anywhere. Separate the ones you know and the ones you get wrong and focus more on the ones you get wrong. These are great for labs and meds.
- Sticky notes: Use these as another way to go over the things you struggle with. Write down what you keep getting wrong and post them on your bedroom mirror or a place you commonly stay in.
- Notebook: Write down key topics and rationales. Separate them into categories so you aren’t looking all over the place. Being organized is key. A notebook is great because you can quickly look back on rationales, key points, and information as a quick reference. Another benefit is you’re writing what you’re learning, which is another study trick that improves memorization.
- Qbanks: This is the best studying method. Uworld is a great way to study. It asks you NCLEX style questions, gives you exams, and also offers rationales. You can create quizzes based on the topics you struggle with, so you can just focus on those. UWorld breaks down your exams based on the topic percentages of the NCLEX. It even separates the questions you got wrong from the ones you answered correctly.
Studying for the NCLEX is no easy task. You need to properly prepare because this will be one of the most important exams you’ll ever take. The NCLEX is not something to treat lightly. Studying begins days after graduation, and you’ll need to devote at least 3 months to it. The best way to prepare for the NCLEX is to familiarize yourself with NCLEX-style questions, create a study schedule, and pick a place to study and a study method. The best way to study is by using a Qbank such as Uworld. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. You might have to use other methods as well.
What is the NCLEX?
In this series of blog posts, we will help you master what is needed to pass the NCLEX. At first, the test seems like a giant standing in your way to becoming a professional licensed nurse. Trust us, we had the same feeling. But it’s now what it seems like. But what, exactly, is the NCLEX exam?
The NCLEX, also known as the National Council Licensure Examination, is a standardized test
That helps every state’s regulatory board determine whether a candidate is ready to become a licensed nurse.
The NCLEX is used to figure out if it’s safe for you to begin practicing as an entry-level nurse.
It is substantially different from an exam in nursing school. Nursing school exams test your knowledge; the NCLEX tests your ability to apply and analyze using the nursing knowledge you acquired in school. In the NCLEX, you use critical thinking to make nursing judgments with one sole purpose in mind: to determine if it’s safe for you to practice entry-level nursing.
The NCLEX exam is a computerized test made up of multiple-choice questions that must be answered in multiple formats: “one correct multiple choice answer”, “select all that apply”, “fill in the blank”, “drag and drop”, “landmarking”, and “auditory sound recognition”.
All the content you learned in your nursing program is fair game. You will have a maximum of 6 hours to complete the test. Keep in mind that there is also a tutorial at the beginning that shows you how to take the test.
NCLEX-RN: A minimum of 75 questions, with a max of 265. You will also be given 15 experimental questions that do not count for or against you. They are simple test questions for future exam questions.
The NCLEX is scored using logits, which are units of measurement that evaluate the relative difference between a candidate’s estimated ability and the difficulty of the questions they answered. The passing standard for the NCLEX-RN is 0.00 logits, while the PN is -0.21. The exams are first evaluated using the 95% Confidence Interval Rule. After you’ve answered the minimum number of questions, the computer will assess whether or not it’s at least 95% certain that your ability is above or below the passing standard. The test continues until the computer reaches at least 95% confidence in your result.¹
However, if you end up answering the maximum number of questions, then you’ll pass or fail
based on the final estimate of your ability, regardless of whether the computer is at 95%. If you run out of time and have answered at least the minimum number of questions, this same alternative method is used. If you run out of time and haven’t answered the minimum number of questions, you automatically fail.¹ The passing rates vary each year and by each state. In 2018,
the pass rate for 1st-time test-takers with a Bachelor’s degree was about 92%, compared to an 85% pass rate for those with an Associate’s degree.
This sounds like a lot of information. But you won’t need to worry, because you’ve studied four years for this. This will be the icing on the cake. Remember, think, and you’ll become. You also need an awesome study guide to prepare you with the knowledge you need to pass the NCLEX. Check out our NCLEX study guide here.
Client Needs & Expectations of the NCLEX
The NCLEX is broken down into 4 major categories, which are broken down by percentages.
Safe and effective care environment
- Management of Care: 17-23% of the NCLEX.
- Some of the nursing actions are Advanced Directives, Advocacy, Case Management, Client Rights, Concepts of Management, Confidentiality, Continuity of Care, Quality Improvement, Delegation, Establishing Priorities, Ethical Practice, Informed Consent, Legal Responsibilities, Referrals, and Supervision.
- Safety and Infection Control: 9-15% of the NCLEX.
- Nursing actions include Accident Prevention, Error Prevention, Hazardous Materials, Surgical Asepsis, Standard Precautions, and Use of Restraints.
- 6-12% of the NCLEX.
- Nursing actions tested include the Aging Process, Ante/Intra/Postpartum and Newborn Care, Developmental Stages and Transitions, Disease Prevention, Health Screening, Lifestyle Choices, Physical Assessment Techniques, Health Promotion Programs, High-Risk Behaviors, and Self-Care.
- 6-12% of the NCLEX.
- Nursing actions include Coping Mechanisms, Grief and Loss, Mental Health Concepts, Spiritual Influence on Health, Sensory/Perceptual Alterations, Stress Management, Support Systems, Therapeutic Communication, Chemical Dependency, Behavioral Interventions, Crisis Intervention, Coping Mechanisms, End of Life Care, and Family Dynamics.
- Basic Care and Comfort: 6-12% of the NCLEX
- Nursing actions included in this subcategory are Assistive Devices, Elimination, Mobility, Non-Pharmacological Comfort Interventions, Nutrition and Oral Hydration, Personal Hygiene, as well as Rest and Sleep.
- Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies: 12-18% of the NCLEX
- Nursing actions include Adverse Effects, Contraindications, Blood and Blood Products, Central Venous Access Devices, Chemotherapy, Expected Effects, Intravenous Therapy, Medication Administration, Pharmacological Pain Management, Total Parenteral Nutrition, and Dosage Calculation.
- Reduction of Risk Potential: 9-15% of the NCLEX
- Nursing actions include Diagnostic Tests, Laboratory Values, Potential for Complications from Surgical Procedures and Health Alterations, as well as Therapeutic Procedures.
- Physiological Adaptation: 11-17% of the NCLEX
- Nursing actions include Alterations in the Body Systems, Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances, Hemodynamics, Medical Emergencies, Pathophysiology, and Unexpected Response to Therapies.
How to Register for the NCLEX
If you’d like to sit for the NCLEX, the first thing you need to do is complete the registration process. You’ll need to apply through your state board of nursing. That board will authorize you to register.
Once you’ve been authorized, you can register to take the NCLEX. Usually, this is done through Pearson testing services. You’ll be required to pay for all registration fees. It also costs $200 to take the exam.
What if I fail the NCLEX?
We all have that “what if” feeling about certain situations, fears, and new things. That’s okay. If you fail the NCLEX, take another shot at it and pass it on your next try. Check the official NCLEX website for the number of days permitted before a retake. If you fail, you’ll receive a report outlining your test performance. Draw up a schedule for yourself and study your problem areas. Focus on your weaknesses – and then rock the NCLEX!