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*Original post released on 8/25/2020

This is the test we spend our whole time in our nursing program dreading. It’s the exam that determines whether or not we become a licensed nursing professional for the first time in our careers. I know it seems daunting until after you’ve taken the exam, but I’m here to tell you that the NCLEX is doable! You CAN do it. In this article, we’ll go over a few tips to help set you up for the best chance of success. Then, I’ll go on to tell you the methods I used to prepare for the exam and how long I gave myself to study before sitting for the NCLEX. Just keep in mind, everyone is different! What worked for me, may not be the best approach for you. This is where knowing yourself and how you learn best comes into play.

One of my first recommendations to nursing students is to start preparing NOW. That may seem silly, but hear me out. If your program is intelligently designed, your exams will be in “NCLEX” style. This means that they may throw in a few of those dreaded select all that apply (SATA) questions on exams. It could also mean that all the answers appear correct (even though you can only select one option), so you’ll have to choose the *most* correct answer choice. The goal here is to get you as comfortable as possible with NCLEX style questions now, so they’re less intimidating when it REALLY matters. Like… job or no job matters.

If your school doesn’t format their exams in this manner, and honestly, even if they do, my recommendation to you is to practice a minimum of 20 questions per day while in school. If you’re in that limbo timeframe between graduation and taking your exam, I’d suggest changing that frequency to 50-100 questions daily. How can you get this much practice in? Ask your professors for review books that best correlate with your courses. If they don’t have a recommendation for you, look on amazon for a Davis review book in the courses you’re taking. Their books have plenty of NCLEX style questions to help you prep! Some programs also require the ATI or HESI exams, so they may either provide you with or require you to purchase specific books for that purpose. Those review questions will help you too! And don’t worry, we’ll get into post graduation review resources shortly!

As far as prepping for the NCLEX during school, there are just too many requirements on your shoulders and too much information to learn at that time. I wouldn’t recommend extending yourself too much quite yet. Once you’ve graduated, you’ll have to wait for your school to communicate your successful degree completion with the board of nursing. Once this is communicated, you’ll finally receive your authorization to test (or ATT) approval number. This is the number you’ll need to be able to schedule a date to sit for the NCLEX. When scheduling, be sure not to give yourself too much time to “prepare.” I know that may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. The longer you wait to sit for the exam after graduation, the less likely you are to both maintain motivation and retain pertinent information you’ll need for the exam. Does that make sense? Have questions about this process? Click here for more information.

I recommend scheduling your exam for no more than 30 days after you receive your authorization to test. If you’ve consistently prepped/studied during your program and haven’t blown off studying since your graduation (I know it’s completely tempting to do!), that should be ample time to get into NCLEX mode. And honestly, without classes or a job, you should have plenty of free time. I had a job lined up to start a little more than one month after my graduation, and let me tell you how amazing it feels to have already passed while you’re completing new hire paperwork and modules! There’s nothing looming over you anymore, you’ll have a newfound sense of accomplishment, and feel a new kind of freedom and determination to learn about the specialty you’ve chosen to start off as a “baby nurse” in. Trust me. There nothing like that feeling.

Without further ado, here’s how I prepared for the NCLEX. Upon graduation, our program offered a 30 day UWORLD subscription (this is also why I recommend one month to study). I used their application to study a minimum of 50-100 questions daily, making sure to read all of the rationales…even on questions that I got right. The only time I took notes was when there was information provided in the rationale that I was unfamiliar with. I made sure that my study conditions were similar to or the same as the testing center’s conditions. No noise or distractions, set time limits (no more than ~1-2 min per question), and no electronics nearby other than the computer I was using. If I wasn’t able to be at home studying, I took my studies with me through using the UWORLD app and the NCLEX mastery app. These were my two favorite on-the-go applications. I later found board vitals while studying for my CCRN, and would highly recommend them as well as a resource to use.

Now let’s discuss some strategies to use while you’re taking the exam. First and foremost, take a deep breath. You’ve got time, and you know the material! You’ve spent the past two or more years of your life getting ready for this. YOU CAN DO IT. Now, make sure with each question you’re considering priorities. Always select what should be done first or is the highest priority for the patient. This is especially true when all of your choices seem correct, but it’s not a SATA question. Think of safety and your ABCDEs.

While reading the question, consider covering the answer options with your hand so you can generate your own unbiased thoughts in anticipation of the correct answer. Once you’ve thought about the question and how you would answer it, uncover the options and hopefully your answer or something very similar will be present. Don’t see the answer you were hoping for? Narrow down what you can to increase your likelihood of selecting the correct option. Even if you can eliminate one or two options that improves your chances by 25-50%! To give yourself an even better chance, keep these tips in mind too:

  • Don’t change your answer.
  • Don’t make any assumptions; only use the information provided in the question to make your answers selection.
  • avoid selecting choices that contain words like “always,” “never,” “every,” etc. These are absolute words and will rarely if ever be the correct selection.
  • Don’t rush! Read the question carefully, paying attention to key words like “not,” “true,” “false,” etc. Often times, one single word can completely change how you answer a question.

I sincerely hope these tips have helped offer some guidance to you about the mystery that is the NCLEX. Trust me when I say that this exam is designed only to make sure you are a safe and competent new graduate nurse. Keep safety concerns in mind at all times and always assess! If you’ve been paying attention throughout your nursing program and devote time to understanding and being comfortable with the NCLEX question format, you’ll do great! I know you’ve got this!


Andra Alyse

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