Best Study Strategies for the NCLEX-RN
Studying for the NCLEX is all about strategy and figuring out which ways you can absorb knowledge the most effectively. While there are a multitude of ways to ultimately go about this, it can be challenging to determine what the best study tactics are. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to engage in your studies as long as what you are doing works well for you. While there may be some variation among individuals, there are some strategies that can be adopted and incorporated into almost all existing study plans. Let's take a deep dive into a few of the different study strategies that can help you study more efficiently for your upcoming NCLEX exam.
1. Start reviewing while you are still a student
If you want to get ahead of the game, the best piece of advice I can offer is to start early and review often. While waiting until after graduating is indeed doable, you will feel less overwhelmed if you go into your studies post-graduation with a decent amount already under your belt. It is less complicated than it sounds and more attainable than you may realize.
When I was a nursing school student, I dedicated an hour on both Saturdays and Sundays to engage in a comprehensive review as opposed to merely reviewing content on an upcoming exam. I studied notes from previous assessments and even took the initiative from time to time to sift through brand-new information that had not yet been covered in a course. While only an hour to two hours during the weekend may seem minute, the compound effect was tremendous. In doing so, I also was able to simultaneously review pertinent material that benefited me in my courses. Remember, as long as you are efficient in your process, no amount of studying will go to waste-it will either benefit you in the long run for your boards, help for an upcoming test, or even better, both. So, do not underestimate the impact that starting early can have on your overall success.
2. Do your research on NCLEX study tools and resources
While it is important to try and start your studies early on, it is just as, if not more, important to decipher how you prefer to study. With that being said, figuring out how you best retain knowledge will be beneficial. Once you know how you learn best, you can research which NCLEX tools match your needs.
If at all possible, decide when you are still a student what tools and resources you prefer to have during your study journey. The sooner you know, the earlier you can map out a schedule and, ultimately, the more organized you will be throughout. Waiting until the last minute can lead to panic, and when you're in a state of distress, minimal progress takes place. Do yourself a favor-start planning now and watch as you reap the benefits in the near future.
3. Study with a friend
Let's face it, studying for the NCLEX is not the most delightful chapter in your life. It can be daunting and exhausting, much like nursing school itself. However, if you have the ability to make it more enticing, the study process can become a more enjoyable experience. If you have friends that you studied with throughout nursing school, it may be a good idea to see if you can come up with a plan to study with them a few days a week. It is still important to have days where you work independently, especially when you sit for mock practice tests, but if you have the means, it can be extremely helpful for everyone included to study with a buddy.
Get creative in your approach and experiment with different strategies together. You can teach one another topics, quiz each other, and even go through NCLEX questions and rationales, talking through your individual thought processes. Having someone else at your side who knows exactly what you're going through can be of extreme use during this timeframe.
4. Practice questions/practice exams and rationales
I've said it before and I'll say it again, NCLEX practice questions are one of the most beneficial study strategies that you can partake in. It's truly the one tool that can help you analyze your progress, determine weaknesses, and evaluate areas of strength. Furthermore, it's the closest you can get to the NCLEX structure itself, so the more the merrier. Just be sure you are not flying through questions without taking the time to read and understand the "why" behind a question and answer-this is where the true acquisition of knowledge takes place.
Rotate the types of questions that you engage in, and keep in mind that the more challenging they are, the better. You want to be sure that you are taking practice tests and questions that make you think deeper and utilize your analytical application of knowledge.
5. Break it up into sections
Do not-and I repeat-do not bite off more than you can chew. The reason that your NCLEX review session should start early is so you can take your time going through the various areas of content. While there may only be four main areas of focus on the NCLEX, keep in mind that within each, there are multiple subcategories, and this will be the most comprehensive exam that you have ever encountered. Think of it like a final for all of nursing school. You wouldn't attempt to study for a final exam in one day, so similarly, do not attempt to study more than your brain can endure in one sitting. Start slow so you do not feel bombarded with information, and go at a pace that is comfortable to you.
6. Make note of weak areas and start with that each day while your mind is fresh
Each day, you should be starting off with content that is challenging to you. This is when your brain is the most rested, so you want to take advantage of this crucial time of day. The topics that are easier for you to comprehend can be weaved in throughout your day but should not be your primary focus.
If you know that you struggle with fluids and electrolytes but have a solid grasp on all things diabetes, start off by reviewing the weaker subject and test your knowledge with material that you feel confident with later on. Take note of what content you have covered and what remains, and keep track of this so that you are confident you have touched upon everything that you need.
7. Take breaks often
Self-care needs to be at its all-time high during this period of your life. Given the amount of stress and overall pressure that those anticipating the NCLEX often feel, it's important to balance those big emotions with rest. While it can be tempting to go 100 miles an hour without stopping, keep in mind that slow and steady will also get you where you need to be.
Be strict with your sleeping habits, the food that you are nourishing your body with, and the amount of movement you are getting each day. All of these factors can and will contribute to the amount of information you retain while studying. Take several breaks throughout your day, and if at all possible, dedicate at least one day during the week that you put the books away and go out and do something fun. This is a stressful time; however, the more you balance it with enjoyable activities, the better it will be. The key is to work hard while you are reviewing so that you have more time to engage in the things you like.
8. Be organized
As early as possible, try to organize your notes from school into the main contents that will be presented on the NCLEX: Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity. The more organized your space and routine are, the better off you will be. The brain is excellent at wandering, so if you have too many notes, too much clutter, or even a cell phone in sight, your focus is bound to be broken.
You want to have a clear space with minimal distractions and have just the material you are going over in front of you. If you're looking through information regarding pediatric illnesses, don't have notes on maternity sitting in the corner of your workspace. Keep in sight only what you need to be reviewing and you'll find that it is easier to stay on track.
Additionally, if you are one who relies on lecture notes or even taking notes as a form of studying, it could be to your benefit to create an NCLEX study binder that is divided into appropriate sections. You can take the four overarching NCLEX topics and further divide them into their eight subcategories. This allows for a space to keep notes and information separated and will make it easy to find when you are looking for something specific. It can also be quicker to go back and review something that you may have struggled with earlier, as you will know exactly where it lives in your binder. Whatever you decide, just make sure that your workspace is free of clutter and your tools are kept clean and organized for more efficient use.
While there is an infinite number of ways to go about your NCLEX approach, keep in mind that some strategies may be better suited than others, and it is all about experimenting with what works and what doesn't for you and your learning style. Give the above approaches a try and see how they can be intertwined into your specific NCLEX review sessions. Happy studying!
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