Nurses Share 13 NCLEX Exam Tips That Helped Them on Exam Day
You’re at the point in your quest to become a nurse when passing the NCLEX is becoming a source of some anxiety. You’ve taken this long, intense journey to reach your nursing career and you definitely don’t want the NCLEX exam to throw a wrench into your plans.
So you’re researching everything you can on how to study for the NCLEX, gleaning advice from teachers and other students—and you’re going to bring your A-game when the exam arrives.
It’s a safe bet that most nurses have lost some sleep over how to pass the NCLEX. But those exact professionals have been there, conquered and are the perfect sources to give you the advice you need. We compiled NCLEX tips from seasoned nurses to help you pass the test with flying colors. Keep reading to hear their advice.
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How to study for the NCLEX: Before exam day
As you know, passing the NCLEX has more to do with how you prepare before the exam itself. Our experts offer an array of ideas and habits that can help you gear up.
1. Study in a group
This may not be an option for everyone, but studying with other nursing students can do wonders for your discipline and retention. “A group of us studied together and asked one another questions which was the biggest help,” says registered nurse Penelope Carlevato. Everyone’s mind works a little differently. If you study with other people, they might help you work through information in ways you never would have tried alone.
“As nervous as I was, I intentionally planned to take the NCLEX with several classmates so we could be together and encourage one another before we started the test,” says Lauren Mochizuki, RN and founder of Casa Mochi. Studying like this is also great practice for building and maintaining a supportive network of nursing friends—a valuable skill for your career.
2. Study while walking
“If there's an NCLEX podcast you like, listen to it while taking a walk,” says James Cobb, RN, MSN and blogger at the Dream Recovery System. Cobb goes on to say that walking is an underrated exercise, offering you fresh air, moderate activity and a chance to tie your mental focus to a simple activity.
“Just be sure to walk in a safe area with not too much traffic,” Cobb says. “That will enable you to listen to the podcast more clearly. Exercise is part of taking care of the NCLEX study machine.”
3. Set a sustainable schedule
After working through a nursing program for years, it’s understandable if test-focused studying for weeks or months beforehand doesn’t sound particularly appealing. But if you’re considering cramming for the NCLEX a few days before it goes down, think again.
Our experts explain that even the wording of the test questions requires some adjustment—you shouldn’t try to fly by without intentional study. “Set a studying schedule and stick to it,” Mochizuki says. “Whatever your schedule looks like, I would try to commit some time every day to studying.”
4. Study the exam itself
Check out the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website to learn more about the NCLEX. You might be surprised by some of the information you gather. Knowing what to expect for the testing process and how questions will be formatted will help you utilize your nursing knowledge without extra barriers.
For instance, the NCLEX uses a method called computerized adaptive testing (CAT). With this method, every time you answer an item, the computer re-estimates your ability based on all the previous answers and the difficulty of those items. This means the sequence of questions will be different for everyone.
5. Take plenty of practice tests
While reading up on formats is a great idea, a practice test takes that principle to the next level.
“One of the most important things is to learn and understand how to take the test,” Mochizuki says. Standardized test formatting isn’t exactly intuitive. For example, questions might offer multiple answers that could be correct in a given scenario but penalize you unless you choose the most correct option.
Running practice questions can help you adjust to this. “The more questions I did, the more confident I became with the style of the test and how to interpret the questions appropriately,” Mochizuki says.
6. Cater toward your own learning style
Huge exams tend to make test-takers think rote memorization is the only way to succeed. But maybe you’ve learned a few things about your own learning style and habits through nursing school.
“Be aware of how you learn best,” Cobb says. “I had a book with a lot of bullet points that I’d visualize. Whatever your learning style is, incorporate some of your preparation using that learning style.”
7. Take care of your body
You might be thinking this is the NCLEX, not a marathon. But taking care to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep has an impact on your ability to learn, retain and recall information.
“Take care of yourself,” Cobb says. “Get plenty of rest. Eat healthfully. Until the exam is over, you’re an NCLEX study machine. Maintain the machine!”
8. Follow through on anything you’re hazy about
Maybe you’re studying with a friend or taking a practice test. Something pops up that you can’t quite remember or don’t really understand. Make a note somewhere so you can look it up later.
“At the end of every round of questions, I would go back and look up every single disease, medication, intervention, or anything else that I was unfamiliar with, and study it until I had a good handle on it,” Mochizuki says.
Passing the NCLEX: Tips for exam day
Whew! So you did the preparatory work, and now it’s time to face the music. Feeling nervous is probably inevitable. But here’s some advice on how to pass the NCLEX now that the day has arrived.
If you are taking the NCLEX with friends, consider riding together to keep the camaraderie high and the panicking at a minimum. “We carpooled to the facility where we took the test and listened to uplifting music to get into a positive, mental headspace,” Carlevato says.
If you’ve been sharing this journey with other nursing students, going to the exam together can give you an extra boost of energy and good vibes—right when you need it most.
10. Come prepared
Plan to arrive early and dress comfortably. Bring an acceptable form of ID, such as a driver’s license. Don’t bother wearing any jingly jewelry and expect to leave your bag and electronics in a different room.
Make sure you’ve eaten, and drink plenty of water beforehand. It’s easy to reach for the largest coffee you can carry, but Carlevato says staying hydrated should also be a priority. You’ll feel much more alert and focused.
11. Don’t freak out
Everything has been going fine, but your brain is starting to feel frazzled. You keep checking the time. “I was near the end of the exam with minutes to go,” Cobb says. “I got nervous. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it was taking if I was going to pass, right?”
Cobb admits nerves got the best of him as he started picking random answers to hurry toward the end of the exam. “Somehow I ended up passing, but selecting answers at random is never the right approach.”
If you start to feel panicky, take a deep breath and ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen? Cobb suggests. “It’s that you fail, right? If you fail, you get to take it again.” You’ve likely mastered a few promising stress-reducing techniques during your time in nursing school. Employ those same methods while preparing for and taking the NCLEX exam.
There’s a lot riding on the NCLEX, but a failure isn’t the necessarily the end of the line for your nursing career. “Believe in yourself and believe in the quality of your preparation,” Cobb says.
12. Try to visualize each situation
Keep in mind that the NCLEX is testing your skills as a new nurse and not as a seasoned one. Envision each scenario in your head and think about what you’d do based on what you’ve learned.
“I had worked as a nurse’s aide for several years,” Carlevato says. “When I took the test, I used my experiences with real patients to work through problems.”
13. Trust yourself
You’ve come this far, and that’s no small achievement. Mochizuki says dwelling on positive thoughts makes it easier to think clearly. “When in doubt, go with your first instincts! This is what you went to school for, for the last several years. Go out and show the world what you were made to do!”
Passing the NCLEX and hitting the job market
Take some of these NCLEX exam tips to heart and rock that test. You’ve made it this far in your nursing journey and the NCLEX is just one more bridge to cross as you carry forward.
Take your mind off of exam stress every now and then by giving some thought to your life post-NCLEX. After all, it’s good to keep your goals in mind when working toward them. Picture the kind of job you hope for, picture your scrubs, your shift, your colleagues. Try to imagine what your new job might be like.
Need a little extra inspiration? Check out our article “What I Wish Someone Told Me BEFORE Becoming a Registered Nurse” to get some juicy details on what being an RN is like from the inside.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in February 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.