How to Study for the NCLEX Before Exam Day

  • 20 June, 2022

The day before your NCLEX will likely bring about feelings of both enthusiasm and hints of anxiety. The moment you have worked so hard to get to is finally here, and while that is extremely exciting, it can be equally as overwhelming. While it may not be possible to eliminate all of your stress the days leading up to the big day, there are some definite actions that can be put in place to make sure that you are feeling prepared and ready to roll on NCLEX day. To help aid in calming some nerves, let's discuss ways in which you can effectively study the day before your exam.

How to Study for the NCLEX Before Exam Day

1. Don't Panic

First and foremost, try to stay as cool, calm, and collected as physically possible. While this may appear easier said than done, the more relaxed you are in the days leading up, the more at ease you will feel the day of. Some activities that could assist in keeping you feeling relaxed include: engaging in light activity (walking around your neighborhood, going for a jog around the park, stretching, participating in a yoga class, etc.), unplugging from your studies to spend time with friends or family, watching your favorite movie, or listening to your favorite podcast. Participating in enjoyable events can prevent your mind from wandering and keep your spirits high, two things that will help you going into exam day.

Even though it may seem like a good idea to go full force into study mode in the final 24 hours, being sure that you also take an appropriate amount of time each day to unwind will keep you from spiraling out of control in the days leading up. Avoid panicking to the best of your abilities, and remember, at the end of the day, it is just a test. You can always retake it if things don't go your way, so try not to obsess over the end result before you are even there and remember to BREATHE.

2. Take a study exam that mimics your NCLEX two days prior

A very important study tactic that you can add to the end of your regimen is to sit for a lengthy practice exam. While I would not recommend doing this the day before, taking one two or three days prior to your scheduled exam can be helpful in getting a good feel for what it will be like to sit down for a long duration.

Make sure that when you decide to do this, you choose the same time that you have set for your real NCLEX and mimic what you would do during your exam (make sure your phone is away, do not eat or drink while you are actively answering questions, keep your notes out of sight, etc.).

This is a good way to assess what you know well and where you may need to spend some more time brushing up on. It also gives you the sense of what you may endure during your NCLEX. You have no idea if you will face the lowest or highest number of questions, so it is best to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

If the practice exam you end up taking feels very challenging, that is a good sign that you have found one similar to the complexity of the NCLEX. Despite the score you receive on this practice round, do your best not to get discouraged-you have way more knowledge than you may think!

3. Don't spend the entire day studying

While it may seem like the most bang for your buck, it can actually be detrimental to cram the day prior to sitting for your boards. If you have been steadily reviewing over the last few months, then you should be in a good position to take the majority of the day to rest your brain and relax.

If you feel it necessary to go through the material, just make sure that you do not spend your whole day doing this. The day before your exam should consist of a lot of mental relaxation, so be aware of how you are using your time and do not overdo it!

4. Remember your labs

This may seem like a trivial concept to worry about the day before your exam, but you would be surprised as to how many lab values are sprinkled in both questions and answers. Being sure that you are aware of crucial lab values could help you in discerning the wrong answer from the right one. Do not underestimate the importance of memorizing these. Therefore, if you have flashcards of these ranges, this would be a good time to make sure that they are fresh and accessible in your mind.

5. Study with a friend

If you have a friend that is scheduled to take the NCLEX the same day as you, it can be beneficial for the both of you to review material and walk through some last-minute concepts and topics.

My friend and I both had scheduled our exams on the same day so that we could review together in the months leading up and also have each other to talk to about how we were feeling. Being able to discuss your anxieties and concerns with a study partner can be really reassuring since they know exactly what you are going through. Just as it may be difficult to talk to someone about nursing school who is on the outside looking in, it can be just as tedious to try and explain to someone who doesn't even know what NCLEX stands for why you are feeling so nervous.

So, find a buddy and do some final review of key information, but be sure to take time together to unplug and relax before you gear up for your test day.

6. Brush up on areas that don't come naturally

We all have that one topic that just doesn't mesh well and takes longer to unravel and digest. For example, if that area for you is pharmacology, spend some time when you are free reviewing the medications that you know you tend to struggle with. If your trouble content involves all things electrolytes, be sure you are looking over notes and going through practice questions and rationales that involve this content. At this point, the hope is that you have already been doing this for weeks on end and the trouble areas have improved dramatically but may just need some minor fine-tuning.

Be sure that you are not tired when you are reviewing information that does not come natural to you. Save those times for information that you already know like the back of your hand. Be diligent in your timing in order to get the best out of your review.

7. Don't take too many practice questions

If you are anything like me, you may feel the need to still engage in some practice questions the day before. However, unlike the previous weeks, I limited the amount that I allowed myself to take so as not to overburden my brain. I answered roughly 15 questions from each of the different categories that are tested on the NCLEX and did about 25 from areas that I struggled more with. I personally am the most attentive in the morning, so my mid-morning was spent going through questions and writing down the rationales to the questions I answered incorrectly.

After this, I no longer spent time on practice questions and instead diverted my energy elsewhere. It is of high importance not to overdo any one thing the day before your assessment. The last thing you need is to go into your NCLEX with a fatigued brain and subpar focus. Do what you need to do during your optimal blocks of time, and then do not feel guilty for putting it away for the remainder of the day. Think about all of the time you have put in thus far; you should be celebrating your hard efforts and excited to apply what you have learned during your exam.

8. Review cram sheets

Read that carefully as I am NOT suggesting that you attempt to cram information. My assumption is that at this point, you have acquired several hours of studying under your belt and are gearing up for one more minor review session. If that is the case, it can be beneficial to look at sheets that contain various important pieces of information all in one area-things like normal vital signs, medication classifications, labs, etc. This cram sheet from Nurseslabs does a great job of consolidating important pieces of information and can be a nice visual to review without overwhelming you with too much at one time.

Another thing you can do is create your own "cram sheet" with information specific to you and your needs. Focus on areas of weakness that you often need frequent reminders of. Ideally, you could work on creating this at the beginning of your studies and come back to it occasionally but especially the day before exam day to assess how far you have come since day one!

9. Take care of last-minute odds and ends

While this last suggestion may not necessarily be a "study" tip, it is highly important to not take this form of preparation lightly. Make sure that you have reviewed vital information on the NCSBN website and know well what you are up against. Hopefully, you have taken the time to do this beforehand, but if not, know that it is not too late!

Plan to get to bed at a decent time and nourish your body well the night before in addition to the morning of. Be sure that you are fully aware of where the test site is located, that your gas tank is filled if you are driving yourself, and that you have an idea of what time you need to leave in order to arrive early. Set everything out the evening before: the clothes you plan to wear, your keys, your ID, and any snacks and beverages that you plan to bring. Being extra diligent in your preparation goes well beyond just your studies and will help you feel at ease the morning of your NCLEX day!

Whatever actions you end up deeming necessary to implement into the day before your NCLEX, just be cautious not to overdo anything. The final day leading up to your boards should not include an overabundance of academic stimulation and should incorporate a great deal of rest and relaxation throughout. Remember to be proud of the hard work you have put in and channel your energy toward the big day!

Nursing has continuously been rated as one of the most gratifying and rewarding professions. If you are curious about becoming a nurse or know that nursing is your calling, consider partnering with EduMind for a comprehensive exam review course. Our NCLEX-RN exam prep courses provide what you need to succeed on exam day-register now!
About the Author: Kelsey Mangan

Kelsey Mangan is a registered nurse, who graduated from Linfield College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and minor in education. She is a health and wellness advocate, writer, wife, and a new mama to baby Paisley. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time with friends and family, finding binge-worthy shows on Netflix, and snuggling with her sweet daughter.

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