3 Ultimate Tips for Tackling NCLEX Style Questions

  • 23 September, 2022

3 Ultimate Tips for Tackling NCLEX Style Questions

It's the question that everyone wants to know the answer to: "How do I go about correctly answering NCLEX questions?" Of course, if that code could be cracked, there would be no issues when it came to passing your boards. Unfortunately, there is no code to be cracked, no secret sauce, and no hidden agenda. While NCLEX-style questions can sometimes feel like a maze to figure out, I am here to tell you that there are some tips that can aid in maneuvering these pesky questions that you will soon face on your upcoming exam. Let's take a look at three of the ultimate tips for tackling NCLEX-style questions:

1. Read each and every word more than once

While this may seem like a no-brainer, you would be surprised at the level of impact that your own nerves can have on your actions during the NCLEX exam. It can be incredibly easy to get in the testing center and feel the urge to move at 100 miles an hour. You may be feeling excited, nervous, and anxious-and these emotions can cause you to respond in ways you would not normally anticipate. So, first things first: breathe. Take a large cleansing breath the moment you sit down at your computer and remember that while it may feel overwhelming and nerve-wracking, in the grand scheme of everything, it is just a test. Do not let it overcome you and cause you to act irrationally. If nerves tend to get the best of you, be sure to take time and practice ways to counteract these feelings before you sit to take your NCLEX so you are equipped to offset said emotions in the moment.

Next, when the exam begins, take it slow. This is not a race to see who can finish first, so take it one question at a time and do not be afraid to mark a question and return to it later with a new perspective. When nerves are high, it is easy to begin skimming. Your eyes are on the lookout right away for the correct answer, and while this can be helpful, it can also lead you down the wrong path if you miss key information. Therefore, be sure you are reading the question fully as well as each of the answer options (more than once, if possible!) before selecting your definitive answer.

I personally have experienced this notion myself during my own NCLEX and in situations from past nursing school exams-my eyes would scan and highlight the words that I thought I was looking for and then to my surprise, once reading it again, I realized that because I was attempting to move faster than my brain could process the information, I missed a detail along the way that was crucial to selecting the most applicable answer. So, while it may be tempting to move as fast as physically possible, keep in mind that taking your time will be more beneficial in the long run. You may be missing critical information if you jump the gun-take your time, read and then re-read every word in both the question and the list of potential answer choices before selecting your option. Remember, slow and steady wins the race, so take your time in order to do your best!

2. Choose the "most correct" answer

Unfortunately, many NCLEX-style questions will contain answers that are all correct in theory and the test taker is asked to identify the best option. While this becomes easily convoluted due to the drastic difference between real life nursing and NCLEX question nursing, it is important to ask yourself and be able to rationalize which of the options would set your patient up for the most success if you only had the ability to do only one thing and then walk away. While not every question is formatted in this way (there are, of course, several questions that will only have a specific answer), you will find that there are many that require deep critical thinking skills to come to the correct conclusion. For example, many questions may have an option of "contact the provider" and while this will always be true if there is something new or concerning happening to your patient, it may not be the "most correct" answer, depending on the urgency of the scenario.

When you are dealing with questions that are emergent, providing some form of care, such as initiating CPR, will take precedence over contacting the provider. Of course, in real life, you will be able to perform many steps simultaneously, or utilize additional resources and extra helping hands, but the NCLEX's "perfect" world is highly different, and you have to keep this in mind when choosing your answer. With that being said, it can be helpful to picture yourself in the scenario provided, but be sure not to crawl too deep into the rabbit hole of "what if," as this can also lead you astray.

Ultimately, when dealing with questions where you feel as if all of the options would be necessary to perform, make your decision based on how your patient would benefit if you could only do ONE single thing and then walk away. So, going back to an emergency situation-if you had a patient that was coding and your available options were: start CPR, contact the provider, or call a "code blue" over the intercom, you would absolutely want to start CPR, even though all of those actions should eventually take place and would be necessary at one point or another to proceed with. However, if you were only able to perform one, the most obvious is to begin CPR as this could save your patient's life. Therefore, when you find yourself stumped over which option is the most correct out of the available choices, go through each one and ask yourself what answer would be the most suitable if you could only do one thing and walk away.

3. Try to answer the question first before even looking at the available answers

While this may seem like extra work at first glance, this technique can be highly useful to utilize in order to know what you are looking for before even seeing the answers and can thus save you time. When I was in nursing school, I used this trick often on various exams and even on my own NCLEX. I would cover up the answers, read the question a few times, and then come up with a solution in my head before reading each of the available options. This then provided me the ability to know what to be looking for and more often than not, decreased the amount of time I spent on a question because I could easily pinpoint the answer that aligned with what I came up with after reading the available options. It also tests how well you can apply the knowledge you have and can make it easier to avoid getting distracted by the incorrect answers.

Circling back to tip number one, this technique can also aid in being sure that you are taking the time to truly read what is being asked of you. By reading the question alone on its own a few times and then formulating an answer in your head before seeing the available choices, you are allowing yourself the time to process the information as well as understand fully what the question is wanting from you. Many times, reading the question or answers too quickly can lead to choosing the wrong answer.

If you find that you are completely stumped on a question and are not sure what the answer could be, take your time and look at each answer option and ask yourself whether or not the statement is "true" or "false." Using the process of elimination to get to this point and removing options that you know for sure are incorrect can be useful when you are stuck on a difficult question. Use your best judgment and go with your gut-I promise you know more than you think you do. Ultimately, you will not know the answer to every single question, that is just reality-but there are things you can do to problem solve and work through tedious questions to help find the best solution to what is being asked.

When it comes to the NCLEX, it can feel quite overwhelming when the internet is inundated with "how to's" and "tips and tricks" on what the best ways are to go about studying as well as taking the test itself. While there may be a plethora of information, take everything with a grain of salt and choose only what feels best aligns with your ways of processing. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to studying for the NCLEX, nor is there for answering the questions. Take the time if you wish to see if these tips work well for you as you work through NCLEX-style questions before sitting for your boards. Happy studying!

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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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