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How to Prepare for the NCLEX-RN

*Original posted 3/11/2021

Studying for the NCLEX RN exam can be quite intimidating…even before you’ve started your nursing program. Knowing that the degree culminates with this one exam that seems to feel like it can make or break the beginning of your career as a nurse. Because of this, I’m going to use this article to share with you some of the tips for how I prepared for the NCLEX and aced it on the first try with 75 questions! I really want to see each of you succeed with this exam and excel as a nurse!

In my opinion, studying for the NCLEX should start as soon as you begin your program. This may seem controversial to some, but I am a firm believer in this…hear me out. Find a few good phone applications for NCLEX studying and/or NCLEX books specific to the content or course you’re studying at the time. Then make studying a priority from the get go. Every day, try your hardest to study 25-50 NCLEX questions, and if possible, narrow the subject (again) to the content you’re currently learning. This will not only help make you more comfortable with the style of question, but it will also facilitate and cement your understanding of the material.

I also suggest investing in a durable notebook and some divider tabs for when you attempt these questions. Make a section for each of the major areas of nursing: Med Surg, Mental Health, Peds, OB, etc. When you come across a question you’ve struggled to answer or answer incorrectly, read through the rationale thoroughly and jot down any important notes related to that topic. This is essentially your process of creating your own personalized NCLEX reference book for later on down the road. It will streamline your studying, help you hone in on your weak areas, and enhance your overall comprehension.

Maintain consistency when studying throughout your program and then become more focused as graduation approaches. One to two months of focused study is more than enough to take, pass, and be successful on this exam! Another piece of advice I have to offer is to not wait too long after graduation to sit for the board exam. I took my exam on the first available date I could schedule the exam for while some of my classmates deferred for a couple of months. I noticed they had much more anxiety and stress about passing since they had relaxed and allowed some of the information to escape them. While they were trying to start their jobs and study, I was beginning my first job with full confidence and no distractions. It was liberating!

While in school, make sure you focus intently on the pathophysiology and pharmacology of the content you’re learning. These topics are the basis for nearly all things nursing related and may help assist you in eliminating wrong answer selections on the exam. Be sure to take any and all review courses and practice exams offered to you during your program. Approach these opportunities seriously, even if they are not graded. It will only benefit you to do so. Figure out what type of learner you are…audio, visual, tactile, etc. Find supplemental resources and/or ways of learning test materials that enhance your learning. For example, visual/audio learners may benefit from searching for videos on YouTube. Lastly, tailor your study methods and materials to the content you know least and how you study best.

I also suggest reviewing the NCSBN test plan and pay special attention to whether or not the version is current for the exam you’ll be taking. Presently, the plan divides the content of the exam into these categories: Management of Care (20%), Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies (15%), Physiological Adaptation (14%), Safety and Infection Control (12%), Reduction of Risk (12%), Basic Care and Comfort (9%), Psychosocial Integrity (9%), and Health Promotion and Maintenance (9%). I’ll link the test plan pdf here. Don’t let this test plan overwhelm you, because this exam is designed to set a “passing standard” that defines you as a safe new graduate nurse; this is the bare minimum required of you to not harm your patients.

Now I’ll go into some of the specific tips I have for you and how to approach studying for this board exam.

  • Download phone applications to study on the go, in your downtime, and during times that are typically wasted time for much else. Examples of good apps: U World, Saunders NCLEX, PicMonic, and (my absolute favorite) My Mastery NCLEX-RN.
  • If phone/tablet applications aren’t for you, use the practice questions in your text books, purchase an NCLEX review book, or invest in content specific NCLEX question books (Ex: Davis Q&A Success series).
  • Complete 25-50 questions per day AND review the rationales on questions you struggled with or missed.
  • Prepare for the exam, near graduation, under similar testing conditions if you can help it. This means using a computer to answer your review questions, answer NCLEX styled questions, limit or eliminate any distractions, time yourself, etc.
  • Don’t read into the question and make assumptions based on the content presented to you. Select your answer choice based only on the data given in the question. Trust me, all the info required to correctly answer the question will be present in the scenario provided.
  • Use logic to your advantage. Treat each answer selection as a true or false statement and eliminate any of the “false” choices. Using this method only increases your likelihood of correctly answering the question.
  • Assess the scenario/patient first! Then follow the ABCDEs of nursing, utilizing your skills of critical and deductive reasoning to your advantage.
  • Don’t confuse behaviors/skills you’ve learned during clinical, in an internship, or on-the-job with textbook material. At times, what is done in reality may not be what should be done in theory (by the book). Answer questions based on the book knowledge you’ve been taught to know and understand. Don’t bring any other nurses’ bad habits with you to the test!

I truly hope you found this article helpful in approaching the NCLEX RN board examination. I also hope this finds you before you feel the need to start studying for the exam. Early preparation helps relieve some of the stress associated with the exam, can help you with grasping content you’re already learning in your nursing program, and can make you feel more comfortable with NCLEX style questions…which I assume most of your nursing exams during school are formatted to resemble. If you want more NCLEX tips and tricks, be sure to check out our other article here. Good luck! I know y’all will do great! Have confidence in yourself to not only succeed but excel with this exam and nursing school.


Andra Alyse

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