Things to Know Before Taking the NCLEX

  • 09 November, 2022

The NCLEX in and of itself is a complex examination that consists of several moving parts. Aside from the array of topics it comprises, there are several ins and outs of this exam that every test-goer should be well aware of before sitting for their boards. While the NCLEX may seem like an overwhelming and scary feat at first glance, taking the time to break it down beforehand can aid in easing any nerves and assist in passing with flying colors. Let's discuss some factors that you should know before sitting to take your NCLEX.

Things to Know Before Taking the NCLEX

1. The NCLEX is a computerized adaptive test (CAT)

As you may already be aware of, the NCLEX is far different from any exam you have taken in nursing school. While you may have heard this once or twice, what you might not know is exactly how it is different from what you have faced in the past. The assessments that you undergo in nursing school are all comprised of the exact same questions as the person sitting next to you. These questions may be presented in a different order, but by the end, you will have answered all the same questions as your classmate. The NCLEX, on the other hand, will administer a different exam to every individual. So, while you may take your NCLEX at the same time as a friend, your test will provide different questions than them, even if they are at the computer alongside you.

The NCLEX is evaluating your progress in real time, meaning the question you get next is dependent on how well you did on the previous question-whether you answered it correctly or incorrectly. It is ultimately attempting to determine if you have the skillset to safely practice as a registered nurse. Once it can appropriately assess this within a given span of time and based on your performance, the computer will shut off.

Due to this structure, the exam is designed to be more difficult than others you have been up against thus far. The questions become more challenging as you answer them correctly and this is vital to know beforehand. You need to be mentally prepared and well aware of the demands of this exam so you are not caught off guard once you begin. Additionally, most exams completed in nursing school generally give you a total percentage, while this exam is strictly pass or fail. Unfortunately, you will not receive your results immediately upon the completion of the test.

Without knowing the way in which it is designed beforehand, you will be blindsided, and this alone could derail your progress, your focus, and your poise during your boards. Be sure to visit the NCSBN website to learn even more about the design of the exam in more depth and do not neglect doing your research on this beforehand!

2. Know how you best acquire information and incorporate it into your daily study regimen

When it comes to studying for the NCLEX, you want to approach it with everything you've got. However, you want to be sure that you are utilizing the tools and resources that are most beneficial for you and you alone. Therefore, now is not the time to compare your learning style with those of others-what works for you may not work for your friend and vice versa.

Think back to how you studied in nursing school. What worked well? What didn't work well? What allowed you to retain the most information? What kept you engaged? These are all questions to ask yourself before putting a plan in place. Studying should not be new to you, but you want to be sure you are utilizing the methods that work well for your learning style in order to get the most bang for your buck. Better yet, to keep things fresh and exciting, try to rotate the ways in which you study. Reviewing information may not be the most enticing activity you could engage in, but for the short term, it's one of the most vital actions you can do, and you therefore want to keep it as enjoyable as possible.

Pro tip: study with a friend to keep things fun and not so stuffy! Remember, this is only for a short period of time, so keep your eyes on the prize!

3. Know how much time you have on your NCLEX

The last thing you want or need is to feel rushed through your NCLEX exam. Keep in mind that you have a lot more time than you probably realize. It can be nerve-wracking in the moment and tempting to speed up because of this, but it's vital to be sure you are taking your time on each question and reading every word carefully. Remember, slow and steady wins the race! Speeding through the questions only sets you up to miss crucial pieces of information and can lead you to choosing an incorrect answer. You have an entire five hours to complete the exam, so utilize it effectively and appropriately. With a minimum of at least 75 questions and a maximum of 145 questions, there is plenty of time to work through each question so no need to speed. If you get stuck on a question, mark it and return later.

4. Know how much it costs to sit for your boards

While most people know that sitting for the NCLEX does require an upfront cost, it is important to know the correct number well in advance. Many students do not work or only work part time while in nursing school, and therefore, finances can oftentimes be tight. If this is the case and you find yourself on a strict budget, it is important to plan ahead so that you know how much money to set aside in order to register for your upcoming assessment. You do not want to be stuck having to wait longer than you originally anticipated because you didn't plan ahead to have the funds to pay for registration.

In general, there is a $200 fee to register on Pearson Vue to be able to sit for your exam. However, depending on the state that you reside in, there could be additional potential fees, so be aware of your finances beforehand, and if necessary, plan ahead of time so that this does not delay when you are eligible to register for a testing slot.

5. Be aware of the different question formats that will be presented on the NCLEX.

The majority of the questions you most likely faced on nursing school exams consisted of multiple choice, select all that apply, or fill in the blank. While you will see many of the same formats as those just listed, there are some others that you may not have been aware of previously that will most likely be presented on your NCLEX. Additional formats to be prepared to see on the NCLEX include the following:

  • Hot spot: This type of question will present the test taker with an image and will ask you to identify a particular area with the mouse. For example, you may be shown an image of an abdomen and be asked to identify where a patient experiencing pain from appendicitis would receive a positive McBurney's sign.
  • Chart/exhibit: With this format, you will receive information regarding a particular patient or situation and be asked to answer a question based on the provided scenario. For example, you may be given a patient's lab levels, medications, and some medical history and be asked to synthesize the information provided in order to get to the correct answer.
  • Ordered response: This type of question will provide a scenario regarding how to perform a certain skill (such as urinary catheterization) and ask you to place the correct steps in order. Other times, you may be presented with various patients and asked to place in order who you would provide care to based on the acuity levels of each.
  • Items with images: Some questions on the NCLEX may be set up like a normal multiple-choice question; however, instead of answer options with words, the answer options may be images. On the other hand, the stem of the question may contain an image and you may be asked to choose the correct answer based on the visual. For example, you could be asked to choose the appropriate EKG heart rhythm based on information in the question, or you could be shown an EKG reading and asked to identify the appropriate medication that would most likely be prescribed for the patient, depending on the rhythm presented.

While learning about all of the nooks and crannies regarding the NCLEX examination may feel like a lot to digest, remember to take it day by day and simply one step at a time. Every new piece of knowledge you acquire, whether large or small, is helping you get from where you are now to where you will soon be in the future. Do your best to start early and learn as much as you possibly can before the big day!

Do you want to pass your NCLEX exam? Take a Live Online or Ondemand course with EduMind today!

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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