- Practice questions
Take as many NCLEX style questions that you can without overloading your brain. Getting into the habit of visualizing the format will help to set you up for what it will be like when you go to take your test. Better yet, you might even end up seeing a few of the same, or remarkably associated questions! In fact, the very last question on my own NCLEX was one I had taken the night before and because I read the rationale, I knew that I got it correct, easing my mind (only slightly) during the period between finding out if I passed.
Therefore, I highly advise reading the explanation behind each answer, especially the questions with which you were unfamiliar. This will allow you to absorb and process the information rather than force you to rely on rote memorization. NCLEX practice questions are designed to mimic the testing structure while simultaneously preparing you with essential knowledge and understanding of key topics. Remember that the NCLEX is at most 265 questions and at minimum seventy-five, so work up to taking longer practice exams in the event that you are there for the long haul. When you find that you can no longer think rationally, you have overdone it and should give your mind a breather. However, this is one of the best methods to condition yourself as it is the closest resemblance to what the NCLEX will actually look and feel like.
- Take breaks!
This might feel counterproductive in the beginning, but if you try to study for 12 hours straight without taking proper pauses in between, you are doing yourself a disservice. There is a finite amount of information that our brains are able to absorb during one sitting and attempting to exceed this limit will only cause you to feel overworked and frustrated. Find a balance that works for you, but make sure you are at minimum, getting up every 45-60 minutes to stretch, get some fresh air, or eat a snack. This will depend on your own preferences but aim to make sure you are frequently giving your mind a break. If you notice that you are merely guessing on questions or are not fully engaged in your studies, this is a good indicator that you should step away for 15-20 minutes and reset. There is no harm in giving your brain a rest. It will help you in the long run.
- Process of elimination
Just like with any question you have answered throughout nursing school exams, you will want to utilize techniques that will enable you to determine the correct answer. One way in which you can do this is eliminating the answers that you know immediately are incorrect. If you are struggling with a question, you will be able to narrow it down to two answers. Remove the distractors first and foremost, then with your remaining two options, determine which of the two is the "most" correct. Remember your ABC's (airway, breathing, circulation) and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Additionally, you will always want to assess the patient before you attempt to provide any form of intervention. Use your resources and acronyms that you learned in nursing school to aid in eliminating options until you have determined the accurate answer.
- Do not overthink it
When you are reading a question, be sure that you do not make up additional information or add unnecessary details. Do not ask "what if" or overanalyze what is being asked. NCLEX questions do not imitate the actual world of nursing. In real life, there are factors that need to be considered and situations are hardly ever black and white. However, this is not the case for the foundation of these types of questions. All you need is provided in the question at hand, do not insert any more elements or make assumptions, as it may lead you down the path of choosing the wrong answer.
- Study how you learn
If you gather information best by watching videos, do not waste your time reading in a textbook. If you prefer drawing or writing out details, make sure this technique is weaved into your study plan. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to how you choose to review for the NCLEX. Specific to my situation, I gravitated towards study questions and rationales, while my study partner preferred reviewing class notes. Neither are wrong, but we focused on what felt more comfortable to us rather than forcing something that did not work. Think back to how you studied in school and pinpoint the resources that can help get you from point A to B with the least amount of resistance.
- Create a study plan
Come up with a tailored plan that is best suited for you and your schedule. Remember that the more time you dedicate now, the less likely you will have to do it at a later time (hint: because you will have passed!). Treat this like it is your job and main priority. Without successfully passing, you will not be able to obtain the dream nursing job that you have envisioned for yourself. Block out which parts of your day you will dedicate to studying and stick to it. For your own sanity, try to pick one day of the week that is devoted to something other than your studies. Cramming for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is not a recipe for success, and you want to make sure you have some time to recover and allow your brain ample time to digest the information.
- Know your weaknesses
Make sure you touch up on areas that you struggle with most. If you know that pharmacology is not your strong suit, for example, make sure you spend a sufficient amount of time focusing on this section. Better yet, learn the breakdown of the units that will be on the NCLEX when deciphering how much time to dedicate to certain areas. Tailor to your weak points but have a general sense of the likelihood of a topic showing up on test day. Do not spend numerous hours on a topic if it only makes up 2% of the overall test.
You are almost officially a nurse, so by now you know the importance of eating well and exercising. However, sometimes stress can derail us from thinking clearly and getting a 30-minute walk in may not be on your top list of priorities when your main focus is passing this test. Trust me, I get it. However, you will not be doing yourself a favor by putting it on the back burner. Do not attempt to push through 50 more questions if your stomach is growling or you are feeling restless. It is better to tend to your needs and make sure you are in the best suited position to study, or you will be wasting precious time. Imagine how much more rejuvenated you will feel if you have a healthy snack, get some fresh air, and then proceed with those said 50 questions. Be clever about the way you study and the way in which you take care of your body.
- Calm your nerves
In relation to tip number 8, learning to assess and manage your worries effectively is essential for success. Think back to nursing school exams-did you experience pre-test anxiety or were you cool, calm, and collected? Identifying your mental state and working on ways to manage any identified stress is an essential piece of the puzzle. Focus on deep breath work and imagery. Think about what the test environment will look like and as you proceed with practice tests, treat it as if it were authentic. Get in the right head space and you will reap the benefits on the day of your NCLEX.
- Find a study buddy
Leaning on a friend who is in the same position as you can be incredibly beneficial. Not only can you depend on one another to stay accountable to your studies but having a study partner can also allow you to expand on the ways in which you choose to go over material. If you learn best by teaching others, choose a topic and teach your partner what you know about it. Talking aloud and getting feedback from another individual can assist in gaining a unique perspective and potentially learning more about that topic compared to when you first started. If you learn best studying independently, you and your study partner(s) can work individually of one another, but still maintain the level of urgency to stay on track.
Find a quiet place if you want to work through things alone or go somewhere you can freely talk if that best suits your learning style. Do not be afraid to switch things up, especially if you sense something isn't working or you are starting to feel burnt out with one form of reviewing. There is no right or wrong way and it will take some experimenting with to find which tactics and techniques work best.
So, there you have what I deem essential tips to take on your way to passing the NCLEX first try. Although there are several tools you can place in your toolbox when it comes to stepping foot on this journey, do not overcomplicate the process. You know what will work best for your specific learning style and overall needs.
Remember, you passed nursing school, so have faith in yourself and know that everything required to pass this too is already within you. Be confident in your abilities, the finish line is in sight, my friends! Happy studying!