Nurses Share 8 NCLEX Tips that Helped Them Excel on Exam Day

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You’re at the point in your quest to become a nurse when the NCLEX is starting to feel like the dragon guarding the castle. It’s one of the final obstacles standing between you and your future nursing career.

But just because it’s daunting, doesn’t mean you can put it off. You have to find a way to conquer this beast; to feel confident enough to slay the dragon that is the NCLEX exam.

Rather than spending your time dreading what’s to come, remember this is a hurdle every nurse has had to jump before earning his or her scrubs. So who better to learn from than those who have gone before you?

We compiled NCLEX tips from seasoned nurses to help you pass the test with flying colors. Keep reading to hear their advice.

Tips for before the exam

When you walk into that testing room, you want to feel confident and prepared. Here are some NCLEX tips you can implement prior to the exam:

1. Focus on critical thinking & memorization

Critical thinking skills are a necessity in nursing, so it’s not surprising they’re needed to pass the NCLEX exam. Some questions may have multiple “right” answers, but you need to choose the one that’s the “most right” for that scenario. This requires practice making quick and efficient decisions.

Other types of questions will rely solely on memorization, according to J. Lucy Boyd, author of 101 Ways to Score Higher on Your NCLEX. She recommends focusing on disease symptoms, normal lab values and drug side effects.

2. Don’t cram for the exam

After being enrolled in a nursing program for up to four years, studying for weeks on end may seem like over-kill. But if you’re considering cramming for the NCLEX, think again.

“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.

3. 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 as far as the types of question included and the formatting of the test will ensure there are no surprises on exam day.

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.

4. Take plenty of practice tests

Before you got your driver’s license, think of the hours you spent behind the wheel preparing for the real thing. In a similar fashion, you need to put yourself in as many test-like scenarios as possible to truly feel prepared.

“Taking practice tests was most helpful,” says Brittany Geisen, NICU RN. She says a lot of questions try to play tricks on you and make you overthink things. The practice tests helped her get in the mindset to focus on the root of the questions and not be distracted by irrelevant details.

Tips for during the exam

Feeling nervous is probably inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t carry a few tokens of solace and solid advice with you on the big day. Here is some advice to help get you through the actual exam:

5. 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 maybe even bring some snacks and a water bottle for on the way, Geisen suggests. “You do not want to be distracted by your own hunger or thirst while trying to take the test.”

And finally, the exam room is not the place for nervous chewers – so 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.

6. 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 been taught thus far.

“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.”

7. Eliminate the false answers first

When considering answers, it’s helpful to view each one as true or false. If the answer is false you should eliminate it right away and spend more time comparing the answers that make more sense, suggests Judy Cottone, a Rasmussen College nursing instructor.

But remember that sometimes the most obvious answer may not be the correct one, warns Nick Angelis, author and CRNA, MSN. “Trying to discern the reason a question is being asked also illuminates possible answers,” he adds.

8. Keep your cool

“Don't freak out!” Angelis says. “A relaxed mind remembers more.”

This may go without saying, but you’ll need to find a way to remind yourself to stay calm and practice doing so. You’ve likely mastered a few promising stress-reducing techniques during your time in nursing school. Employ those same methods while preparing for the NCLEX exam.

Remember to breathe and remain calm in between and during questions, Geisen advises. “If you don't know a question, make your best guess and move on,” she says. “Don't dwell on hard questions and potentially create more anxiety for yourself going forward.”

One step closer

Now that you have some helpful NCLEX tips up your sleeve, you’re one step closer to slaying the dragon and entering the castle that is your nursing career. But your quest isn’t quite over yet. The next feat is conquering your nursing interview and landing a job.

Check out our article for more advice: 12 Nursing Interview Tips that Might Surprise You.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in February 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2016. Some insight remains from the original article.


Megan Ruesink

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.


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