Top 10 Tips to Passing the NCLEX Exam
- Give yourself time to prepare.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to how much time you will need to prepare for this exam. It's not likely that the average person will be able to wing it on exam day with no prior preparation and still receive a passing grade. The fact is, studying and preparation is the first building block to exam success. A good suggestion is to dedicate several weeks to several months to preparing. You won't want to waste money by taking and failing your exam before you're ready, so be sure when you first schedule your exam that you give yourself some freedom and leeway so you can get all your bases covered before exam day. Try to keep a happy medium. If you spend all day every day studying and wracking your brain about the exam, you will burn out quickly. Pace yourself and your time to make exam prep more manageable.
- Create a study plan.
A study plan is another critical building block to boost your chances of success on exam day. Creating an organized and consistent study plan will not only help you reach the goals you've set on when you will study, but also stay on top of the content you want to cover in each study session. You will want to have a good understanding of your schedule, the times and places you learn best, and the study strategies that are most effective for you. One piece of advice is to make sure you schedule time to review at least 50 questions per day, as recommended by the Ohio Nursing Board. You want to get exposed to as many questions as possible to boost your chances of success. Critical thinking, the nursing process, and Maslow's hierarchy of needs will all need frequent review. Although you want to be studying daily, don't forget to take short breaks to keep yourself feeling fresh!
- Get to know the test format.
The NCLEX exam is administered using computerized adaptive testing (CAT). This exam structure is much more dynamic than a scantron: once a student answers a question, the exam will generate the next questions in respect to whether the students' answer on the first question was correct or incorrect. For example, if a student chooses the correct answer for one of the questions, the next question will be a little more difficult. If a student chooses the incorrect answer, the next question will be slightly easier. This dynamic exam system "is designed to gauge the level of difficulty of questions you can consistently answer correctly. If you can continually answer questions above a certain baseline, you will pass the exam."1 A CAT exam type also means that there is no set number of questions all nursing candidates are required to have. Students must answer at least 75 questions correctly but can be asked up to 265 questions.
Get to know what will be on the exam.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) releases updated NCLEX test plans every three years that "serve as blue prints to outline the content to be tested and guide the item writing process."2 The purpose of the test plan is to "guide candidates preparing for the exam, inform the direction for item development, and facilitate classification of exam items."3 This comprehensive document helps nursing students understand and recognize the exam content categories in addition to providing information on how the exam will be administered. Knowing the topics that will be on the exam is integral when it comes to deciding what to study. Consider this resource a map: it will provide the framework and general idea of what you should focus on, but you will need to do the legwork yourself.
- Practice content-retrieval through flash cards, tests, and practice quizzes.
Research in long-term content retention corroborates the importance of taking memory tests that encompass not only concepts you are already familiar with, but also topics on which you have less confidence. A 2006 study by Washington University in St. Louis discovered that "taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention."4 This concept is known as the testing effect and has been used to explain how testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it. We developed several of our learning tools to take advantage of this test-enhanced learning concept because retrieval practice is one of the most potent learning systems.5 Make sure you integrate these strategies to get the most out of your study sessions!
- Use different learning styles.
A 1992 study showed there are 4 modalities of learning: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. EduMind offers numerous learning tools that benefit students of all learning styles, like our lecture videos, which pair with auditory and visual learners, and workshop sessions which complement reading/writing and kinesthetic learners. Several of our features consist of a combination of these learning modalities, effectively using different areas of the brain to enhance content retention.
Develop test-taking strategies.
The University of Florida's Academic Success Center has published an excellent list of test-taking strategies to ensure you are cool as a cucumber during your exams. One of my top favorite tips from this list was "[u]tilize appropriate study methods & alternate between subjects and methods."6 This advice essentially means that you should vary the topics you study as well as the ways you study them. For example, if you were an FE Chemical student, you could spend an hour reviewing fluid mechanics and dynamics and then switch to another topic like chemical reaction engineering to help keep students from burning out. In terms of study methods, you might have studied some material by rewatching certain parts of your recorded lectures or reviewing course notes. Try changing up your strategy for next time: our flash cards and question bank are perfect tools to support successful studying.
The NCLEX exam can instill anxiety in nursing students. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of wasting time-these are all doubts that you might experience at some point during your preparation process. Edith Cowan University created a tip sheet full of information about staying calm during exams with helpful advice like "put the exam in perspective" and "develop positive self-talk."7 Putting the exam in perspective means to remember: the NCLEX is just an exam. Plenty of individuals do not pass on their first attempt; in fact, exam failure just creates another opportunity for you to try again. Positive self-talk means to refrain from thinking about yourself of the exam in a negative way. Instead of saying to yourself, "I will never pass this exam, try a more positive spin, like, "I will try my best on this exam." These two pieces of advice can help reduce some of your stress related to the exam.
- Get a good night's rest the night before the exam.
Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter knows that the morning after is rough. It's practically impossible to produce your most high-quality work while running low on sleep. Last-minute cramming is not an effective study strategy-if you haven't learned what you need to know for the exam by now, it's not likely you'll internalize it the night before. You will be better off getting a nice, wholesome meal and going to bed early than wracking your brains for hours in the late hours of the night. Give yourself time to rest so you can wake up refreshed and ready to conquer your exam!
- Go with your gut.
The NCLEX exam features questions designed to challenge you-they even include attractive yet incorrect answers to trick students. After you have read the question, consider the answers carefully before you choose. If you feel confident about an answer, chances are, it's probably right. Second guessing yourself, micromanaging, or reworking problems will waste valuable time you could be spending answering other questions. Learned how to pinpoint and strip away incorrect answers designed to challenge content confidence, also known as distractors. An article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, "Don't overthink the question and try to leave your personal experiences out of the decision making. Always reason through the questions and never second guess yourself."8
So, there you have it! These ten tips will help you approach your NCLEX exam with confidence. If you would like further guidance on your exam prep, be sure to check out EduMind's NCLEX prep courses at this link!
2 "Test Plans." NCSBN. Accessed October 14, 2021. https://www.ncsbn.org/testplans.htm.
3 "Test Plans."
4 Karpicke, Jeffrey D., and Henry L. Roediger III. "Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention." Cognition and Learning Lab. Purdue University, 2006. http://learninglab.psych.purdue.edu/downloads/2006_Roediger_Karpicke_PsychSci.pdf.
5 Karpicke, Jeffrey D. "A Powerful Way to Improve Learning and Memory." American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, June 2016. https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2016/06/learning-memory.
6 "Top 10 Test-Taking Strategies." Student Success Center. University of South Florida. Accessed October 14, 2021. https://www.usf.edu/undergrad/academic-success-center/documents/10-test-taking-strategies.pdf.
7 "Staying Calm During Exams." Edith Cowan University. Accessed October 14, 2021. https://intranet.ecu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/20794/Staying-calm-during-exams.pdf.
8 Clement, Andrea. "Tips from Nurses, Experts to Pass NCLEX Exam on 1st Try." AJC. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 28, 2021. https://www.ajc.com/pulse/tips-from-nurses-experts-to-pass-nclex-exam-on-1st-try/QHAC2RNP3NG2PIHUIF22Z45NZI/.