Preparing for the NCLEX – 4 Tips from a Nurse

by | Jun 27, 2017 | Nursing School and NCLEX® | 2 comments

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Preparing for the NCLEX is a daunting task. I took the NCLEX back in 2010 and passed in 75 questions in 1 hr and 20 minutes. I’m not a great test-taker and wasn’t a 4.0 student.  I did, however, do what I outline in this post. I wanted to share my thoughts with you in hopes that it’ll help you in preparing for the NCLEX so you don’t feel like you’re guessing at a good approach in both studying and mental preparedness.  You don’t have to be an A+ student to pass, but there are some important practical steps to take that can make a big difference in whether you pass or fail.  Below are my 4 practical tips for preparing for the NCLEX.

Preparing for the NCLEX - 4 Tips from a Nurse

Preparing for the NCLEX – 4 Tips from a Nurse

7.5-minute video on preparing for the NCLEX

If you don’t feel like reading, here’s a short video of these tips!

Alright here are the tips I go over in the video, but in more depth!

1. Don’t fixate on 75

A lot of people will get a mental goal of passing the minimum required (75 questions). However, if you fixate on that and anticipate it shutting off at 75 questions (and therefore consider yourself a failure if it doesn’t) it’ll psych you out unnecessarily.  I’ve never had a patient, loved one, colleague, or… well, anyone asks me how many times I’ve taken the NCLEX, let alone how many questions I answered.

Let go of the desire to live or die by 75

Man, that was pretty poetic wasn’t it 🙂

Note: For the updated version of the NCLEX, the NCSBN has not stated if the minimum number to pass will continue to be 75 questions.

2. Know How it Structured

The NCLEX is NOT like other exams. It is a computer adaptive test. What’s that, you ask?  Basically, the first question you are given is of medium difficulty.  If you answer it correctly, you’ll be given a more difficult question. If you answer it wrong, you’ll get an easier question. They will keep asking you questions until they can definitively decide if you are above their predetermined passing standard. The NCLEX does shut off if it determines that you will not be above the passing standard as well.

Here is really informative link on computer adaptive testing from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (yes, the people who write the NCLEX!). And here is a great 6-minute video explaining computer adaptive testing from the NCSBN as well.  Please, please watch this! (I promise it’s not a workout video…)

3. Pick a Plan – And Stick to it

There are a lot of NCLEX review options out there. Whatever you pick, develop a study plan and stick to it. You must be disciplined right now; it is not the time to kick back, do a few practice questions, read a few pages of an old textbook, and give it a try. Be active and intentional with your studying. Do not be passive and relaxed.  Focus.

I took Kaplan’s in-person review course in 2010 and answered 25 questions each day (6 days/week) up until I tested 1.5 months later.

There are many companies that you can purchase NCLEX reviews from. Whichever company you go with, I recommend sticking to their information and not overwhelming yourself by cross-referencing everything with the 400 textbooks you acquired during nursing school. If you get the Academy, stick to those resources and only cross-reference when needed, not with every point. If you get the Kaplan course, stick to the book they provide to you.

Let’s dive deeper into NCLEX reviews…

NCLEX review options and considerations

There is quite a bit to consider when you’re picking out which NCLEX review material you’ll focus on. Let’s chat specifically about types, considerations, and the top options out there.

Types of NCLEX reviews

In-person review (you physically go there), online review (similar to an online course), written materials (a self-guided book), content review (access to online or print reference material in various media formats), apps (reference material provided in a smartphone application), and the most important aspect… NCLEX-style question banks.

You MUST get a course with a question bank. No questions asked…


Seriously. Don’t buy a course or resource without one.  The key to success is answering practice questions on a regular basis until you test. Period.

Things to consider when selecting an NCLEX review course

Below are some good questions to ask yourself as you select a review plan.  The questions marked with * are of particular importance!

  1. Do you get your money back if you don’t pass?
  2. *How many questions are in the question bank?
  3. *Do the questions provide rationales?
  4. Can you afford it?
  5. Does their teaching method align with your learning style?
  6. Do they have an option to use their content on mobile?
  7. Do they provide you with a simulation NCLEX? 
  8. Can I try it out before I buy it?
  9. *Do they also provide test-taking strategies?
  10. Do I know anyone who has used it before? What’d they think?

My top 2 faves offers a simulation NCLEX (called a SIMCLEX), 6,500+ practice questions, content review, app, test-taking strategies, study plans, and global ranking

TrueLearn has 1,000+ questions, integrates with Picmonic (if you have a subscription to that as well), national benchmarking, custom quizzes, performance dashboard, the ability to schedule “SmartTexts” which send you tidbits of info via SMS text messages, and analytics.

(And if you go with TrueLearn and/or Picmonic, use promo code FRESHRN for 20% off.)

Both have a money-back guarantee.

4. Bring Down Your Anxiety Threshold

The NCLEX is a big deal and creates anxiety in even the calmest of individuals. Spoiler alert: we’re all nervous about the NCLEX, some are just better at pretending than others. Even if you don’t struggle with anxiety, this test will make you worry and cause some anxiety. The last 2-4 years culminating into one big scary exam is no fun.  However, there are some active steps you can take to get control of it.

What should I expect on NCLEX exam day?

The more unknowns you can remove from the day, the better. Check out this great resource from the NCSBN (again, the people who wrote the NCLEX!) about what to expect when you go to take your exam. They go over things like what to bring, what not to bring, acceptable forms of ID, breaks, and more. Click here to check it out. 

Naturally, security and identification are a big deal at NCLEX testing sites. Therefore, they have very strict rules that you must follow. You don’t want to get there unprepared and unable to test.

How can I plan out my NCLEX exam day?

Once you know where and when you’ll be testing, start planning.

If you test at 8:00 AM in a city that’s 2 hours away, consider that travel time.  Do you have to worry about driving and traffic?  Do you know where you’re going?  The more structured you can be and the more predictable the day is, the better. Maybe you’ll want to get a hotel nearby so you don’t have to stress in the morning about the unknowns.

I tested at 1:00 pm in a city about 2 hours away. My husband drove me, we went really early and grabbed lunch nearby, and were at the testing center about 45 minutes early.  I walked in… and right back out about 1 hr and 20 minutes later!

Figure out where you will go, when, where you’ll park, and any other little details.

How can I calm down before the NCLEX?

I know this sounds odd, but it works. If you can meditate for 15-20 minutes twice a day for at least a week before the exam, you can help reduce your anxiety threshold and get yourself in a better frame of mind. Yoga and meditation are a great combo… especially after you sit and stare at a computer for longer periods of time, answering practice test questions.

(If you have medical conditions, please make sure you check with your doc.. however, these are really light exercises and more about mindfulness, so they theoretically should be appropriate for most individuals.)

Here is a great video where you can do this in the privacy of your home, for free.

Trust your plan

Once you’ve read what you need to, planned out your studying and NCLEX exam day schedule – trust in that. Don’t try to over-control it all.  Stick to your plan, be active in anxiety prevention and study, and trust yourself.  You’ve got this.

More resources

Getting ready for nursing school clinicals, but feeling unprepared?

Skills Refresh 3 1

Nursing Skills Refresh from FreshRN is a self-paced video course for both new and experienced nurses. Whether you’re preparing for your first clinical experience, or need to brush up on your nursing skills, this course is for you. Each lesson walks you through the basic tasks and concepts you will experience in the clinical setting. Once completed, you’ll feel comfortable in a hospital setting, understand the basics of what the bedside experience will feel like, and know insider tips and tricks that will make you feel confident and in control.

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


  1. Cardiac ICU RN

    Great article! Thanks for a wonderful post, Kati. To play off what you talked about, I took NCLEX RN on May 23, passing in (hold your breath…) 75 questions. I was so shocked when the screen went blank (aka my heart went into PSVT for 5 seconds). It was hard to go in knowing I could have all 265 questions, or just 75 but I mentally prepared for 265.
    My school included the full Kaplan experience in our tuition, so I did all the question trainers, the Qbank (1,600+ questions), practice tests, videos, two content review books (skimmed over select sections) and the four-day live Kaplan Review Session prior to graduation. I liked Kaplan’s questions, but not their lack of detail for rationales. The videos were not helpful to anyone in our class. I found the strategies somewhat helpful, but many of my classmates said the strategies/live review class was the most helpful part of the Kaplan bundle.
    Since I finished the Qbank with Kaplan in March prior to graduation in May, I went ahead and purchased UWorld. This would have to be my most recommended resource because the rationales are the bomb and it is a lot like the actual NCLEX. You learn so much just going through each question (totaling over 1,950!) and they provide you with built in strategies/charts/visuals. UWorld has more SATA style questions than Kaplan, allows you to test in many different modes, and provides two 75 question self-assessment (predictor) tests.
    In closing, I would just say be diligent and do whatever works for you. Being a nurse is your goal and passing the NCLEX RN is one stop on the road to RN, but never let the exam define who you are. Just keep growing as a person and make the journey yours.

  2. John Green RN, MSN

    Great Tips! I often hear new graduates fixate on the number of questions and think that can determine a pass rate. While they take the exam this causes anxiety once the pass 75. Be free of distractions and take good notes helps too!


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