5 Ways to Increase Your Chance for Success on the NCLEX Exam
The day of your boards will be here before you know it, and you may be wondering how you can optimize your chances of receiving a passing score. While there are several ways to do so, let's look at five simple but effective options to help you gear up for the big day and increase your chances for success:
1. Study smarter not harder
Let's start off with a scenario: Would you rather be in a position where you feel short on time and forced to cram a surplus of information OR have the ability to review information that has already been learned with ease? I'm guessing that you most likely would prefer the second option. The key to making this your reality is to start early. By reviewing sections of information early on, you bypass having to learn the information during your NCLEX review sessions and can spend time focusing on applying what you already know to various questions/scenarios following the completion of nursing school.
If you're feeling like this seems too difficult of a task to accomplish during your time as a student, keep in mind that you will be studying pretty regularly throughout school for various assessments, so you can kill two birds with one stone during these windows of time. The trick is to avoid neglecting any material following the completion of an exam. In order to retain information, you need to be sure that you revisit it frequently so it stays fresh and obtainable in your brain. If you do this consistently throughout your time in school, you will be surprised at how much knowledge you have acquired, and it will make your NCLEX review feel less overwhelming.
I would suggest that during your time as a student, you set time aside each weekend to go through old material that you have been previously tested on and brush up on it. Look over notes, open up your textbooks, take some practice questions, review flashcards, etc. to be sure that you are not losing vital information and knowledge that you will need later on. This does not have to be tedious or time consuming. All it takes is about an hour of your day. Be diligent and organized as to what unit or topics you want to review and write it out on a calendar so you can visually see what you have gone over and what you still need to touch on. This will save you time in the long run and hopefully decrease some stress along the way!
2. Slow and steady wins the race
Remember, the NCLEX is not a race to see who can finish first. You do not get a medal or a blue ribbon if you are the first out of your group to complete the exam. Therefore, stay in your own lane and try your best not to worry about the progress of the person sitting next to you. Take your time on each and every question. Read every single word. Think through the scenario and do not jump to conclusions. Although it may feel nerve wracking in the moment, do not let your nerves get the best of you and cause you to go into hyper mode-take a deep breath and take your time. You have a lot more time than you may realize!
If you find yourself spiraling or unable to focus on your own exam, don't be afraid to ask for a break. Get up, use the restroom, eat a snack, get a sip of water-take a few minutes to calm down and relax so that you can recenter yourself and get back to it.
Additionally, don't let a question get in the way. If you are feeling stumped, be okay with marking it, moving on, and returning to it later. You can come back to a question if you are feeling like you cannot think through one properly or need a change of pace. Be okay with taking things slow and going at whatever speed works well for you. It's your test to take, not anyone else's, so do not be consumed with anything other than what is in front of you.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be sure that you are getting enough rest at night and taking enough mental breaks throughout the days of NCLEX review. If you have ever pulled an all-nighter in nursing school, chances are you regretted it later on. Sleep is extremely vital to memory acquisition and our ability to retain and utilize information. During the weeks leading up to your NCLEX exam and especially the night before, you should be making rest a high priority.
Try to stick to a nightly routine and wind down at the same time each night while also being sure to get up around the same time in the morning. This will help to establish order in your day and will assist in allowing you to fall asleep faster the night before your boards. Don't underestimate the power of sleep hygiene-utilize whatever works well for you to get your body relaxed and ready for a good night of sleep. That could be turning your phone off 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed, sipping on some chamomile tea, reading a book before winding down, or even taking a relaxing bath. Find something that works well to get you in sleep mode and see if you can incorporate these actions into a nightly routine that helps in unwinding for the night.
You should really aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night during your NCLEX review timeframe but especially the night before your exam. You want to wake up refreshed and ready to go. The last thing you need is a tired mind that is struggling to focus. Be kind to your body so you can perform at your best for the big day!
4. Take advantage of the ways that you learn best
In addition to staying in your own lane during the exam itself, the same goes for the ways in which you yourself decide you want to study. Just because your best friend acquires knowledge easily and effectively by reading through a textbook, does not automatically mean that this is the best learning style for you. When it comes to the NCLEX, there are a plethora of ways to go about reviewing, and sometimes, keeping your blinders on to what others are doing is the best route to take. Feel free to explore different options, but do not get caught in the trap of feeling guilty or "wrong" for choosing a different form of study tactics. Once again, you are the one who will be taking the exam, so make sure that you are tailoring your needs and learning style to what works well for you.
Be open and willing to try different things if you so please, but if you ultimately know that reading through your old notes and/or PowerPoint lecture slides is not a productive form of review, do not waste your time. Find the habits and approaches that align with you and your ability to assimilate information and stick to it.
5. Learn how to identify the rationale
Regardless of how you choose to study, I would recommend for any individual gearing up for the NCLEX to incorporate practice NCLEX questions into their review sessions. While this may not be the way you first go about utilizing said information, this is one of the best ways that you can assess how much of the knowledge you truly know and how well you are able to apply it. Additionally, this is the closest you will get in terms of what to anticipate on the exam itself as these questions are formatted in a way to mimic that of the NCLEX.
Furthermore, it is not enough to simply answer 100+ questions a day-you need to take the time to then read through the rationale of that question to see what the reasoning is behind the answer. This is where the learning and retaining comes into play! By taking the time to explore what it is about that answer that makes it correct or incorrect, you will be creating a memory associated with it and will be more inclined to remember that particular information the next time you stumble across it, and it may even benefit you like it did me on my own boards.
On my final NCLEX question, I was presented with a question that was eerily similar to a problem I had worked through the day before. I remember that I had answered the question incorrectly, but I took the time to remediate and read through the rationale to understand why the answer I chose was wrong and why the correct answer was indeed correct. Because I did this, after the computer shut off, I was pretty certain that I had passed given that I knew I had answered that last question correctly. While this may have been sheer luck, it does go to show the importance of taking the time to work through understanding the "why" behind an answer-you just may happen to see the same or very similar question on your boards!
Most students envision the NCLEX as a daunting event. While it can bring about some stress and worry, when you take the time to break down the necessary steps to get from point A to B, it becomes less intimidating and a little more feasible. Don't let the NCLEX steal your joy; be proactive in your approach and find the tools that work well for you, and you will be well on your way toward NCLEX success!
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