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!