My NCLEX Exam Day Experience
I remember my NCLEX exam day as if it were yesterday: the nerves, the anticipation, the fear of the unknown, the sheer hope that I would pass on the first attempt. So many emotions flood your entire being the day that you sit for the NCLEX, and it was no different for me. While it can be an overwhelming experience, keep in mind that in less than 24 hours it'll be done and over with. However, if you're anything like myself and tend to overthink, it can be easier said than done to remain calm on that highly anticipated day. So, this is for you-the overthinkers, the overachievers, the study machines. I hear you because I was you, and I'm here to tell you that you can do this. Hopefully to slightly ease your nerves, let me walk you through what I experienced and how I coped with big emotions the day of my own NCLEX.
1. Be Prepared
First off, I made sure the day before that I was over-prepared. I knew what I was going to wear a week before my scheduled date, I had snacks packed and ready the night before, my car keys and license were in a designated location, and I triple-checked the NCSBN website to make sure I brought everything that was required. Additionally, I made sure that I knew where the testing site was located and even drove there ahead of time to scope out the parking lot and get a better estimate of how long it would take to arrive. Due to my test being scheduled at 8 in the morning, I had to prepare for potential rush hour traffic and took this into consideration when planning what time to get out the door.
A friend of mine had her NCLEX scheduled at the same time and location as mine and because she lived over an hour away, she decided to stay the night with me to shorten the drive. However, we opted to drive separately in the event that one of us finished earlier than the other.
2. The Day before Exam Day
Jumping back to the day before the exam, we made sure to keep the studying light so as not to overdo anything. In the morning, we did some verbal review and simply talked through various topics and took turns teaching one another different concepts-something we routinely did throughout nursing school and our entire NCLEX review. We spent about an hour and a half doing this and then took a few hours to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Our exam took place in the summer months, so we took advantage of the nice weather and Vitamin D during breaks.
On and off throughout the day, we looked at various practice questions in different categories as an overview, but we were cautious not to overwork our brains too much. It's highly important to find a healthy balance the day before. Some choose not to study at all, but if you do decide to, just be sure that you aren't burning yourself out. You want to go into your test with a fresh slate and rejuvenated brain!
Given that the exam was scheduled at 8 am and we planned to be there by no later than 7:30, we made sure that we were unwinding and getting ready for bed at a decent time. In fact, we were in bed before 10 pm. While it's not always the easiest task to fall asleep quickly the night before a significant exam, we did our best and avoided pulling an all-nighter.
3. The Morning of Exam Day
My friend and I woke up around 6:30 am, allowing for plenty of time to get ready and eat a decent-sized, filling breakfast. The last thing you want is to avoid fueling your brain, so never skimp on eating before your boards! We opted for eggs, toast with avocado, a couple of turkey sausages, and a banana. I myself am a coffee drinker, so I did have a cup of coffee, but left it at one single cup to prevent adding to the pre-exam jitters. I packed some mixed nuts, a protein bar, a cheese stick, and crackers to take with me and filled up a giant water bottle. Since I knew I could potentially be sitting there for up to six hours, I made sure that I had snacks that would keep me satiated and enough water to keep me hydrated.
Knowing that the testing center would be air conditioned, I made sure to dress appropriately. I had comfortable clothing on and a light jacket. Some places may be stricter about attire, but I was able to keep my jacket on. Try to avoid wearing overly large sweatshirts or thick jackets and do not wear hats or large scarves as they will most likely ask for you to remove them.
4. The Testing Center
Once we were out the door, it took about 10 minutes to arrive, and we looked for signs of where to report to. Another reason to plan to arrive early is you have to anticipate some form of navigating, given that it is a brand new, unfamiliar location. Once we figured out the appropriate entrance, we found the testing center and checked in.
I took my NCLEX back in 2018, so the rules and regulations have been slightly updated since then, but we were required to provide identification and our proof of sign up. There were a handful of us in the waiting room, and one at a time, we went up to the desk to check in and perform the palm vein scan
, get our photo taken, and provide our signature. After this, we had about 15 minutes to get situated-this is a good time to use the restroom, eat a snack, put your belongings away, etc. They do provide you with a small locker (with no lock) for keepsakes, but it is best to bring in as little as possible. For reference, I only had my phone, car keys, license, snacks, water bottle, and used a small tie backpack to keep everything in.
5. The Testing Area
Once it was time to enter the testing site, we all sat at a computer that was evenly spaced and had dividers in between. We were given a whiteboard with a pen and headphones and there was a calculator on the computer itself. The test proctor sat directly behind us outside the room and was visible through a giant glass window. I remember feeling extra overwhelmed at this point due to the intensity of the environment, but once I sat down at my computer, I tried to tune everything from my surroundings out and focus on what was in front of me.
6. The Exam
I remember there were a few practice questions that were administered before the exam officially started and then it began shortly after. My best advice while you are answering NCLEX questions is to stick to your guns and don't overthink it. If you find you've been stuck on a question for quite some time, just mark it and come back to it later. I remember I had at least 10 or more questions marked, and it can be easier to reassess once you have worked through some other problems. Remember, you have a lot more time than you think, so do your best to avoid rushing and don't be discouraged if other people finish before you.
Additionally, don't be afraid to utilize the scheduled breaks. I regret not doing this-I chose to forgo getting up to take a break, and I feel as if it would have been a good way to refresh my mind. However, in the moment, I felt like it may have derailed my thought processes, and I did not want to interrupt my focus. Therefore, do what you feel is best for you, but do not hesitate to take advantage of these or request one if you need it, even if it is outside of one of the scheduled slots.
7. The Range of Emotions
Be prepared to experience a slew of emotions during the exam-you may go from feeling confident to feeling distraught to feeling like you know nothing. This is all normal, and keep in mind that the NCLEX is designed to be more tedious than other exams you have taken, given it is testing you in real time and building in intensity off of your progress. So, many times, if it feels extremely challenging, that can be a good indicator that you are performing well.
Back when I took my test, there was an allocated maximum time of 6 hours with a minimum of 75 questions and max of 265. When you hit the minimum number of questions checkpoint, expect some anticipation prior to clicking the next button. If the test is over after doing so, take a breath, and if the test continues, once again, take a deep breath and continue on. Whatever happens, happens, and all you can do is take the next step, whatever that may be.
8. My Results
In my experience, I got to question 75 and it was a question that was worded incredibly similarly to a practice question I had come across the day before. Due to the fact that I had taken the time to read through that rationale, I was pretty confident that when the computer turned off, I had passed. However, I was still plagued with the nerves of the unknown while I waited to find out. I did end up paying $7.95 to receive my unofficial results two days after, and luckily, I did indeed pass.
The day of the NCLEX can bring about many emotions, as this is an event that has been long awaited, and many hours have been dedicated to it. Just like with your studies, take each question one at a time and don't rush-you have more time than you may think. So, while the NCLEX can feel like a monstrous mountain to climb, keep in mind that you are more than capable of overcoming it, and the view from the top is well worth it!