How to Pass the NCLEX the First Time

Passing the NCLEX-RN exam is the last major milestone standing between you and your ultimate prize -- a Registered Nurse license. It’s hard to stop the panic from setting in, but you have been preparing for this test for years! You are more ready than you feel.

Many nurses have come before you and know exactly how nerve-wracking this time can be. Rest assured, we will help you pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination -- Registered Nurse) the first time.

First Steps

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from a rigorous nursing program. After years of tedious studying and long clinical days, you have earned the ability to take a week or two off from the grind of education. Give yourself a break to unwind and make time to treat yourself.

What can you do with all of your newfound time? Rest! Sleep in past sunrise or connect with family and friends that you’ve missed during your nursing school journey. Focus on wellness activities like yoga, meditation, long walks, massages, or warm baths. Nurture your soul, so you are relaxed and open to focusing on the NCLEX.

Don’t take too much time off from nursing material. Staying fresh will allow you to retain the knowledge you gained in school. However, the NCLEX will require additional training.

Once you are ready, you’ll need to apply to your board of nursing/regulatory body (BON/RB) and register with Pearson VUE for an Authorization to Test (ATT). Schedule the NCLEX a couple of months out so that you can work towards this target date. Plan to spend about two months of studying for the NCLEX-RN.

Preparing for the NCLEX

You want to review enough nursing information to pass the exam without frying your brain. Choose a schedule that identifies which days of the week you plan to study and how long you plan to work. While students differ in the amount that they can comfortably achieve in one day, previous success stories show that between three to four hours of studying each day is ideal.

Your studying agenda should also describe when you will take practice exams. You can set any goal that works with your strengths and weakness, so long as you are intentional.

Do not cram! It’s appropriate to take a few days off each week, as long as you make the days that you work worthwhile. Set a goal to complete a specific number of questions a day or complete a certain number of practice tests.

Engage in active studying, rather than passively staring at pages of notes or rewriting information from NCLEX prep books.

Study With Mnemonics

Mnemonics are a memorization technique that allows you to remember complex concepts easily. These are typically a short phrase or acronym that you can call on.

Study by Teaching

Reciprocate study sessions with your peers by teaching lessons to each other and quizzing each other. If you don’t have any classmates willing to study, educate a layperson all about nursing topics. If you can teach your businesswoman mother about cytokines and the inflammatory process, you’re killing it!

Keep Practicing

Schedule at least two online mock NCLEX exams into your plan to help you become accustomed to long stints of computer testing. Being able to sit and mull over nursing questions for long periods will simulate the endurance that you need for the NCLEX.

Dealing with Low Practice Test Scores

Are you panicking about low practice test scores? Preliminary exams are not the official NCLEX so don’t take the results so harshly. Use them as a tool to help develop your strengths and tease out your weaknesses.

Unsure where to start? Study our free NCLEX practice questions for 2019.

Go through each one of our free NCLEX practice tests. If you feel reasonably confident in the information, you are miles ahead.

If you missed a question or were unsure of the answer, review the question bank rationales. Also, with the help of our challenge bank, the questions you miss are ready for you to review at a moments notice. If you still do not fully understand, use your nursing school material to dive into that particular material and create an additional plan for review.

Relax the Night Before the Exam

Use the morning before the exam to relax your mind and avoid studying. Instead, exercise or meditate, have a leisurely breakfast and take a nice shower. Focus on the present and do not allow your mind to wander into fear.

The NCLEX is evidence-based, and all questions come from journals, textbooks, and scientific data. Forget about anecdotal data from the front lines of nursing. As difficult as it may be, do not draw from your history as a nurse’s aide or nursing student!

Often, having experience provides you with invaluable skills when caring for your patients. In this particular case, it may cloud your ability to answer exam questions correctly. Nurses provide care differently, and occasionally, you may be observing bad habits.

Positivity is Key

The exam is tough and will require studying! You may have moments during the exam when you are questioning everything from your knowledge, to your future as a nurse. It’s not unusual to be frustrated -- it’s a challenging exam. If it wasn’t difficult, anyone could be a nurse. Trust your abilities and picture yourself as a Registered Nurse. Passing this test is just the last step.

Test-Taking Skills

It’s important to mentally prepare yourself for a wide variation in the possible number of NCLEX questions. The NCLEX utilizes computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to ensure that every exam is different. The computer is smart enough to select a problem based on how well you have been doing from a question bank, featuring various topics and question types (about 90% are multiple choice).

The evaluation covers a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265 questions (The test can end at any point between 75 and 265 questions). You can pass the test at any time that you’ve answered enough questions correctly to stay at a certain point above the “pass line.” Anything above this point is passing, anything below it is failing. When you start the test, you are at the pass line. As you navigate the test and choose correct answers, you will get bumped up. If you choose wrong answers, you will move down.

Each time you answer a correct question, the test will give you progressively harder questions. To pass the test, you have to reach a point above the pass line that has been statistically proven to determine your competency at nursing. The test will shut off after it’s maximum exam length -- 6 hours.

Keep in mind that 15 sample test questions are unscored and evaluate how well candidates perform. They are questions that may appear on a future NCLEX exam. Do not try to gauge where you are difficulty-wise during the test. If you got a few easy questions, it does not mean that you are below the pass line. You could be getting easy questions because of the random samples.

Focus on each question. Do not worry about the questions you’ve already submitted or what’s to come. Stop worrying about the level of difficulty. Think of it as a marathon. The test ends when you have demonstrated the ability to achieve minimum competency (or lack of) and answered at least 75 questions or when you answer the maximum of 265 questions.

Take Breaks

Make sure that you take breaks. Do not keep test taking if your bladder is full, your stomach is rumbling, or you are feeling overwhelmed. You will not concentrate properly on the questions at hand. Go to the restroom or splash your face if needed. Alternatively, go to your locker and snag a drink or eat a snack.

The testing administrator (TA) will offer an optional break two hours in and again at three and a half hours. If you need to leave the room at a different time, raise your hand and wait for the TA to escort you out of the testing center. Keep in mind that the exam clock does not stop while you are on a break and will count towards your exam time.

You can access your bag, food, drink, and lip balm during breaks so plan accordingly. Do not access your cell phone during the test, nor bring anything into the testing area with you. Follow the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) rules for test takers. Ignore them and risk invalidating your exam, losing the fee, and your nursing board potentially pursuing further punishment.

When in Doubt

There are a few tried but true NCLEX tricks. Remember these tips when you’re unsure of the correct choice.

  • Assess the patient and perform the most appropriate nursing intervention first. Calling the physician is usually not the best first step.
  • Remember your ABCs -- Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Make your selections in that order.
  • Don’t shoot in the dark -- use your nursing knowledge and logic to make an educated decision, even if you feel clueless.
  • You’ve been developing your clinical reasoning throughout your program. Trust your growing “nurse intuition.”
  • You will encounter the “select all that apply” questions. Carefully look at each choice and eliminate incorrect answer choices.

You’re Ready to Fly Solo

Since starting nursing school, you’ve been training for the moment to become a licensed nurse. All that’s left is to walk into this exam with the confidence to know that you are meant to be a RN. Positive thinking can make or break you on the NCLEX.

The more you build this test up in your head, the higher your anxiety will climb. Do not view this exam as a hurdle because this test is a chance to show off what you have learned.

Reviewing nursing material benefits you in more ways than just acing the NCLEX. Every moment that you spend studying is preparing you to be a more qualified nurse.

Most importantly, believe in yourself! You have come so far and demonstrated your worth by completing nursing school. Don’t let any doubts creep in your way of achieving your dream!

What is the worst case scenario? Well, 45 days and $200 later, you can retake it. You still have a nursing school degree on your wall. Pick yourself up, dry your tears, and hit the books. When you walk into the NCLEX, tell yourself “I will be a nurse today!”

If you are looking for a free practice questions similar to the ones you’ll be answering on the real thing, click below!

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