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
- 2. Know how it’s structured
- 3. Pick a plan and stick to it
- 4. Bring down your anxiety threshold
- More resources
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 🙂
2. Know how it’s 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 Nursing.com 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!
- Do you get your money back if you don’t pass?
- *How many questions are in the question bank?
- *Do the questions provide rationales?
- Can you afford it?
- Does their teaching method align with your learning style?
- Do they have an option to use their content on mobile?
- Pro-tip: answering questions on your phone while you’re waiting on a bus, in line at the store, or whatever, is a great way to sneak questions in
- Do they provide you with a simulation NCLEX?
- Can I try it out before I buy it?
- *Do they also provide test-taking strategies?
- Do I know anyone who has used it before? What’d they think?
Kaplan, Hurst, and ATI are the big company ones. They provide similar materials and options, and their prices aren’t terribly different from one another. I took Kaplan as a new graduate in 2010. They provided test-taking skills (essential), a question bank, an in-person course, a textbook, and a pass guarantee.
If you just want the Kaplan content book (which I thought was pretty good), here is an Amazon link:
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NCLEX Mastery is a smartphone app. I personally haven’t used it and not sure of others who have, but it’s got a ton of reviews!
Nursing.com Nursing Student Academy is a question bank, large content review, simulation NCLEX, audio files, case studies, image database, and more. You can also get a 3-day trial for just $1.
(Full disclosure, I taught the mental health and OB courses, but I love all of our resources and the thought that goes on behind the scenes… and that they all come from nurses, not big companies!)
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.
Know what to 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.
Plan out your 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.
Meditate the week before / become a Yogi bear
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.
There are a ton of resources out there. Some great, some… not so much. In my personal experience, one of my favorite and most cost-effective options is the Nursing.com Nursing Student Academy. Every single module has NCLEX® points, they also have a simulation NCLEX exam, a massive database of NCLEX practice questions in addition to a huge content review in Fundamentals, OB, Peds, Med-Surg, EKG, Cardiac, Pharmacology, Labs, and my favorite… Test Taking.
Click here to try out all of the below courses, question banks, flashcard apps, and more for only $1!
And, here are some more to check out that were all written by nurses!
- How to Pass the NCLEX with 75 Questions in One Attempt by The Nerdy Nurse
- The Ultimate NCLEX FAQ Guide by Nursing.com
- How I Prepared for the NCLEX-RN video by Nurse Bass
I also love True Learn for studying for the NCLEX and I wish it had been around when I was taking my test. True Learn features:
- 900+ Practice Questions Aligned to the NCLEX-RN®
- New! Free Access To 1 Mnemonic Video By Picmonic Daily
- Categories Mapped to the NCLEX-RN® Blueprint
- Performance Analytics & Real-Time National Benchmarking
- Activate SmartBank When Ready
- First-Time Pass Guarantee
SmartBank is more than a qbank of practice questions. Their comprehensive test prep offers benchmarking and rich answers to help you improve your understanding. Master this material and you’ll be prepared for the NCLEX-RN®. Plus TrueLearn’s performance dashboard provides informative metrics on strengths and weaknesses in real-time, including category performance and benchmarking so you can quickly see where you stand compared to peers across the nation. Use code FRESHRN to save 20%.
What was your NCLEX experience?
Talk to me. Tell me what it was like… how’d you study? What were you nervous about? What was your plan, and did it work?