Beyond the Review Books: NCLEX Tips

Imagine your nursing journey. Does it start with you as a youngster, bandaging up Barbies and suturing stuffed animals and end with a dream nursing career and live patients?

There are, of course, a few things missing from the middle of that scenario – specifically nursing school and passing the NCLEX. While nursing school provides a foundation for becoming a nurse, passing the NCLEX is what actually allows you to practice as an RN or LPN.

Preparing to take exams can be stressful, so we’ve put together some NCLEX tips to help you feel prepared. You’ve likely heard helpful tips before, but below we share some that go beyond the importance of using review books and getting a good night’s sleep.

Prior to Taking the Exam

First, the obvious: You have to know what’s on the exam. You’ve likely gone over sample questions in your classes, but do you realize that the questions you’ll be tested on fall into just one of two categories?

TIP 1: Critical thinking and memorization are the main NCLEX question categories.

“For memorization, you need to know disease symptoms, normal lab values, drug side effects, etc.,” says J. Lucy Boyd, author of 101 Ways to Score Higher on Your NCLEX.  

She adds that you’ve likely learned all you can about critical thinking from your college classes but that memorization is something to focus on due to the range of available test questions that you might receive.

TIP 2: Don’t cram for the exam.

After being enrolled in a nursing program for up to four years, studying for the NCLEX may seem unnecessary. But if you’re considering cramming for the NCLEX, there’s only one tip: Don’t do it.

“Attempting to go over every detail you’ve learned in the last two years in a month is not going to get you anywhere,” says Allyson Torstvelt, dean of nursing at Rasmussen College. Instead, she recommends extra focus on areas you found difficult in your coursework.

Even if cramming for an exam has worked well for you in the past, you should realize that the NCLEX might be too complex for that technique to be effective.

TIP 3: Don’t overlook test categories because you think some are less important than others.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides students with test plans, so you know exactly which subjects will be covered on the exam.

But, Boyd says, sometimes students can overlook subjects that they know will be on the test – specifically patient education and patient/nurse communication – because they are seen as common sense.

TIP 4: Don’t plan a vacation between the end of classes and your NCLEX.

Although you’re understandably excited to be done with school, the hard work isn’t over yet. Even after classes end, studying for the NCLEX should remain a top commitment.

“We advise students at the beginning of their last quarter to prepare their families as well,” says Karen Guty, dean of nursing at Rasmussen College. “Families can’t wait until graduation and school is ‘over’ to get their family member back. It is not ‘over’ until past NCLEX!”

During the Exam

Even though being nervous is inevitable, don’t make the test harder than it has to be – be sure you follow the rules on exam day.

TIP 1: Arrive early, don’t wear jewelry or take large purses into the testing room and don’t bring your own paper.

To thwart dishonesty, bags are kept in a separate room and an erasable noteboard is provided to each test taker. While you can access your bag during breaks, don’t expect to check your cell phone – you’re not allowed to check any electronic devices during the testing period.

And finally, the exam room is not the place for nervous chewers – leave your gum at home.

 “I came in chewing gum and they told me to spit it out – which made me even more nervous!” says Rasmussen College nursing instructor Kayla Lorenz.

TIP 2: During the exam, take your time with each question and, if possible, visualize the situation.

It’s important to remember that the NCLEX is testing your skills as a new nurse and not as an experienced one.

“Don't assume for the sake of the question that you have 20 years of experience, Boyd says. “Just answer the question as if it pertains to an actual work situation you encounter three months into the job.”

TIP 3: After reading a question thoroughly, look at the potential answers as though they’re either true or false.

If the answer is false you can eliminate it right away and spend more time on the answers that make more sense, says Judy Cottone, a Rasmussen College nursing instructor.

The NCLEX tests your skills as a future nurse, not your ability to check monitors or ask doctors for help, and that’s important to keep in mind while looking at the answers. Remember: sometimes the one that seems the most obvious isn’t the correct answer.

“Most of the time ‘Call the doctor’ is not the right answer,” Cottone says.

TIP 4: The NCLEX exam uses Computerized Adaptive Testing, which means that the difficulty of test changes based on your answers. The minimum number of questions you’ll answer before definitively passing or failing is 75.

The NCSBN has identified 75 as the number to remember, as that number of questions can determine that your skills are either well above or below what you need to pass the NCLEX. Keep in mind that not everyone passes the test within the first 75 questions. Also know that the maximum number of questions is 265, so depending on your test-taking ability, you may be at the testing site for several hours.

Despite your level of confidence going in, assume you’ll be testing for the entire five hours, says Shantelle Smith, nursing instructor at Rasmussen College. “Bring a snack for your break,” she says. “A growling stomach will only distract your thought process.”

Hopefully you’re starting to feel more prepared for the exam after reading our insider NCLEX tips. Continue to study diligently and, if you have any questions or concerns, get some extra help from one of your instructors!

External links provided on Rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Rasmussen College. She researches and writes student-focused articles that focus on nursing, health sciences, business and justice studies. She enjoys writing engaging content to help future, current, and former students on their path to a rewarding education.

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