By Kelsey Allen
Designed to ensure you are prepared and it is safe for you to become a practicing nurse, the NCLEX has a reputation of being very difficult to pass. Since the exam is based on practical applications that require excellent critical thinking rather than just memorizing facts from books, you will need to approach this exam from a bit different perspective than you would other exams. These tips and resources below will give you the edge to passing the NCLEX and moving on to your career as a nurse.
Test Prep Suggestions
Follow these tips to ensure you are doing the best you can when it comes to preparing for the NCLEX.
- Know the test. Become familiar with content, format, and topics covered on the exam so you know how to focus your studies and have no surprises on test day.
- Study area. Have a dedicated study area where you can keep your study aids and have a focus for your daily studies. Make sure it is properly lit and away from distractions such as TV.
- Practice schedule. Set up a reasonable practice schedule that you can complete each day. Feeling guilty over not being able to keep up with your studies will not help you with the test.
- "Near-test" conditions. Practice taking the test under "near-test" conditions with no distractions, and timed sessions as closely resembling the real test as possible.
- Focus. Studying for extended periods of time with short, scheduled breaks will keep you focused and improve your ability to concentrate on test day.
- Read the answers. When taking practice tests, read all the correct answer descriptions, whether you got them right or not. This will help you learn the ones you missed and ensure you understood the ones you answered correctly.
- Use mnemonics. If you have a list of information to memorize, rely on mnemonics to help you remember the information.
- Study partners. If you can find some study partners, not only will you have fresh motivation when you hit a lull, but you can collaborate on study techniques.
- Flashcards. Make or buy a set of flashcards and keep them with you always. While you stand in line you can take out your flashcards and do a little studying.
- Concept over memorization. The point of the NCLEX is to prove you understand how to apply knowledge in the real world, so focus on learning the concepts over memorizing book knowledge.
- Do other things, too. Don’t spend every bit of your free time studying. You need to make time for other activities you enjoy such as going to the gym or having dinner with a friend so you don’t burn out on studying.
- Stay positive. A positive attitude will carry over in your practice and test-taking. Keeping an upbeat outlook will take you the extra mile.
Free Test Prep
Take advantage of these free resources to help you study for your NCLEX.
- Caring 4 You. Started in 1997 when a woman was having a difficult time with her NCLEX, this site offers tons of free help.
- Daily 5 NCLEX Quiz Widget 1.0. This free Yahoo! widget is available to help you get a daily dose of test prep.
- The NCLEX Examination. Not only can you sign up to take the NCLEX at Pearson Vue’s site, but you can also download the candidate bulletin and an online tutorial.
- 4Tests. This site offers a 49-question sampling of the NCLEX that you can take to help practice for the real thing.
- NCLEX Success Tips. This site offers tips, blogs, books, and even video clips to help you do well on your exam.
- Test Prep Review. This site offers some free test questions with simple answer keys so you can get more practice before the actual test.
- National Council of State Board of Nursing. This official site offers plenty of information to help you get ready including exam psychometrics, statistics and research, and test plans.
- NCLEX-RN.INFO. Get all you need to know about the NCLEX from this site.
- NCLEX Test Review. This site offers general information, format, medical terminology, practice questions and more.
- NCLEX Guides. Browse through these guides that offer suggestions and tips for passing the NCLEX.
- Practice for the NCLEX-RN: Practice Exam 3 and Rationales. This is a full version of the test you can use for practice purposes. Be sure to click on the second page for the explanations of the answers.
- Test yourself with sample NCLEX questions. While there are only 12 questions here, it is good additional practice, and explanations for the answers are included.
- Study Guide Zone. This helpful site offers a clear explanation of the adaptive format of the NCLEX as well as links to free practice questions and a study guide.
- NCLEX-RN Guide. Get basic information, details about the process, and even practice questions at this site dedicated to the NCLEX.
Test Prep for a Fee
Ranging from practice tests to study guides to full study programs, these services and products cost a little but give you a boost in the right direction for your NCLEX.
- Kaplan Nursing. Find out what programs are available to help you prepare for the NCLEX and where the programs are available. There is also a bit of free help at this website.
- Health Career Concepts. This site offers several study plan packages for you to purchase. They also offer some tips and a list of what you should memorize for the NCLEX on this site that you can access without purchasing anything.
- National Nursing Review. Purchase this book with CD-ROM for your test preparation.
- APEX Test Prep. This study guide is relatively inexpensive and comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee.
- NCLEX Review 3500. Many nurses talk about using this software to help them successfully prepare for the exam.
- Saunders Comprehensive Review for NCLEX-RN with CD-ROM. This book is touted by many as an excellent way to prepare for the basics of the NCLEX.
- Drexel University NCLEX EXCEL. This university-based program offers a wide variety of test preparation and practice courses including a live course, a video course, and an online course.
- RNQuiz.com. Get online tests designed for the state in which you will take your test with answer keys that help you with further study and 24/7 access for one full year.
- NCSBN’s Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination v3.0. Choose between 3, 5, 8, or 15 week courses that provide 24 hour access to content, practice questions, and more.
- Hurst Review. Watch sample videos for this NCLEX prep program that boasts a 98% pass rate for first-time test takers.
- Peterson’s Practice Tests for the NCLEX. Take three timed, full-length practice tests with complete answers and their explanations for only $24.95 for 90 days.
- MeasureUp Practice Tests. Learn about these practice tests and why you may want to choose this route for your test prep.
- Pass Nursing Exams. This site offers over 2000 practice questions and over 300 quizzes for the NCLEX. They also offer a free 10-question practice test on their site.
Tips for Staying in the Study Zone
Maintaining focus while studying for long stretches over several weeks can become challenging. Take these suggestions to help you stay in the zone.
- Be unavailable. Let friends and family know what your study hours are and that you will absolutely be unavailable during those times for phone calls, visits, or any other social time.
- Choose the right time of day. Find out what time of day you are most focused and choose that time for your study time. If your energy starts flagging around 7:30 in the evening, then evening study sessions will not be productive for you.
- Set a timer. Not only can you use a timer for those timed practice sessions, but you can also set a timer for your study session. That way you don’t have to keep checking the clock and can just work straight through until the timer goes off.
- Set daily goals. Before you start each study session, set specific goals that you want to accomplish during that session.
- Incentives. Give yourself incentives for successful study time such as a movie or time with friends after you finish your studying.
- Change topics. Don’t stay on the same topic for the whole study session. Changing every few hours will help keep your focus steady.
- SQ3R Reading Method. If you have a lot of reading and memorizing to do, try using the SQ3R technique to help process the information more efficiently.
- Take stretch breaks. Give yourself 10 minutes every few hours to get up and move around and get your blood flowing again.
- Eat. Don’t get so involved in your studying that you forget to eat. Have easy and nutritious snacks on hand so you can nibble as you study.
- Leave your space tidy. After each study session, clean up your work space so that it is inviting when you return the next day.
From what to expect at the testing site to suggestions for studying, these articles all offer sound advice to get you in the right frame of mind to take your exam.
- Preparing for the NCLEX. This article gives an overview of the hows and whys of preparing for the exam.
- Testing Day for the NCLEX. Offering a good description of what you can expect when you arrive for your exam, this article is helpful for alleviating pre-test anxiety.
- Preparing for the NCLEX. Learn solid tips for preparing for the NCLEX with this article. It also offers suggestions for a few study books.
- A collective community approach to preparing nursing students for the NCLEX RN examination. This article reports the results of a study that look at using a collective community approach to assist a nursing school in raising their first time passage rate on the NCLEX.
- Tips on Passing the NCLEX-RN. Read about the test, what to expect, and get tips for getting yourself mentally ready to take the NCLEX.
- NCLEX Examination Prep. Get tips about the test-taking experience, getting your results, and how to best go about the whole experience of taking the NCLEX.
- Taking the NCLEX!. Get links to other resources with this concise article.
- Failed the NCLEX? These Strategies Will Put You on Track to Pass Next Time. Hopefully you will pass with no problems, but just in case, this article offers sound advice for retaking the exam.
- How to Study for the NCLEX. This eHow article offers the basics on taking the NCLEX. It also includes links to some resources.
- The NCLEX Examination. This article offers the basics of the exam such as format, cost, and more.
Whether you have questions or would just like support from others who are taking the NCLEX (or who have already taken it), then these forums will hook up with the community you are seeking.
- allnurses.com. The forums here offer plenty of advice on preparing for the NCLEX.
- Nurse-Forum.com. Devoted specifically to nursing forums, this site offers advice on the NCLEX from those who have been there.
- The Student Nurse Forum. This site offers chat rooms, message boards, and e-Groups where student nurses can connect with others and get answers to their questions.
- Ultimate Nurse. Find threads on this forum that answer questions about the NCLEX.
- Nursing Voices Forum. Sign up for a free membership to get the most out of this forum for nurses and to find answers to your questions about the NCLEX.
- Nurse.com. The forums here offer one specifically for student nurses, so you have plenty of options for joining in discussions about the exam.
- Health Care POV. Use the search tool on this site to find forum threads and blogs addressing NCLEX issues.
- NurseConnect. Sign up for membership in this community of professionals to have access to forums, blogs, reviews and more. You are sure to find help with your exam questions and more here.
- Nursing Link. These forums offer plenty of discussion on the NCLEX. Just type "NCLEX" into the search box.
These blogs offer first-hand experience, tips, and more to help you prepare for the big test day.
- NurseZone Blog: Ask Stephanie. This blog is specifically to address questions and concerns for student nurses preparing for their career.
- Sonicrusk Blog. This blogger gives a blow-by-blow of NCLEX day.
- Confessions of a registered nurse. This nurse offers another story of NCLEX testing day.
- PASSNCLEX Blog. Hosted by Drexel University, this blog offers plenty of information and tips for passing the exam.
- NCLEX Review. Written by a nurse who teaches NCLEX review, this blog offers information to help prepare for the exam.
- NurseReview.org. Read blog posts about the NCLEX or join in the forum at this blog for nurses.
- Nurses Thoughts. While this blog is specifically for nurses in Manila, it does offer lots of helpful mnemonics you can use while studying for the exam.
- My NCLEX-RN Experience. The title of this post says it all. Read about this woman’s experience and her tips for your test day.
- Graduates: The Studying Isn’t Over Yet. This nurse offers suggestions on both taking the test and places for online resources.
- The Life and Times of a New RN. Follow along with this blog that documents a student nurse and her transition to becoming an RN.
The Night Before
You’ve invested so much time and energy into preparing for your test. Now follow this advice to make sure you get off to a good start on test day.
- Organize. Make sure you have everything you need for the next day such as any necessary forms, your photo ID, the address for the exam location, and the correct time.
- No studying. If you’ve spent your prep time wisely, spending those extra few hours right before the test studying is not necessary. Instead, take the time to take care of yourself.
- Eat well. Eat a nutritious dinner, but not too close to bed time as it may prevent a good night’s sleep.
- Light exercise. Take part in some light exercise early in the evening. This will serve to clear your mind and get your body ready for sleep in a few hours.
- Put the test in perspective. Realize that while the NCLEX is an important step in starting your career, it is not a life or death situation. Most people pass this exam on the first try. If you don’t pass, you can retake the exam.
- Relax. Don’t spend the last few hours before the exam worrying or cramming. Do something relaxing to set the stage for a great test tomorrow.
- Meditate. Enjoy relaxing meditation or deep breathing exercises before bed. This will help you clear your mind of anxiety and prepare for much-needed sleep.
- Sleep. Go to bed early and get a good night’s rest. Wake up feeling refreshed so you can do your best on the exam.
- No alcohol. Drinking alcohol can interfere with your sleep and too much can make you feel miserable the next morning.
- Back up plan. Have a back up plan in place to cover any unexpected events such as car trouble or oversleeping. Set an extra alarm and put friends on notice for any help you might need in case of an emergency.
Suggestions for Testing Day
After all your hard work, you’ve finally reached test day. These tips will help you do your best while taking the test.
- Breakfast. Before heading out the door for your test, make sure you eat a healthy breakfast with plenty of protein.
- Energy food. On testing day, bring snacks that are healthy and give you energy such as almonds, bananas, apples, and granola. Keeping your energy up and blood sugar level will help you concentrate better.
- Be comfortable. Wear comfortable clothing and consider dressing in layers in case the temperature at the testing site is too warm or cold. If you are normally cold in the air conditioning, consider bringing a sweater.
- Arrive early. There is nothing worse than getting lost and realizing you are running late for your appointment. Avoid this possibility by arriving early to your testing site.
- Don’t rush. Don’t feel that you need to apply an unrealistic pressure on yourself to finish as quickly as possible. Don’t rush and spend the appropriate amount of time to answer each question to the best of your ability.
- Guess. If you don’t know an answer or are unsure, just guess. There is no penalty for guessing and you might guess it correctly. Your first instinct is usually correct.
- Managing Test Day. These tips, provided by Kaplan, offer suggestions for preparation, planning, relaxing, and succeeding on your exam.
- Breathe. If you start feeling overwhelmed or panicky, take several deep breaths and let them out slowly. Slow down your thinking and refocus in order to stay calm and on track.
- Read carefully. Read through each question carefully. If the question seems confusing, trying to re-word the question in a different manner may bring clarity.
- Answer before looking at options. See if you know the answer to the question before you look at the options given. You may find your answer more easily this way.
- Take your breaks. 10 minute breaks are offered but not all are mandatory. Take full advantage of these breaks to stretch your legs and clear your mind so you can come back to the test with a better focus.
- Celebrate. After the test is finished, do something special for yourself. Indulge in a professional massage, go to dinner at your favorite restaurant, or just kick back with a night full of movies knowing you don’t have to worry about studying.