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A few days after the delivery of my baby girl, I found out that I passed the NCLEX-RN on the second attempt! I was so happy and relieved. Having written the exam twice now, I definitely have a few tips to share for those who are either preparing to write the exam or have recently failed and can’t figure out what to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. In this post, I will be talking about the top 8 fundamental tips I used to help me pass my NCLEX on the second attempt.
Tip numbero uno, purchase a review guide! I cannot stress enough how helpful it was to review an NCLEX guide.
Nursing school does not prepare you for the exam, so don’t just rely on your old notes and textbooks. Alone, they won’t do you any good.
Here is why you should purchase a review guide:
- Large practice question bank and tests that are just as challenging as the actual exam
- Study strategies and tips
- Test taking strategies and tips
- strategies that do and don’t work on the exam
- critical thinking strategies
- Online resources (such as timed practice tests that mimic the NCLEX CAT format)
- Some guides are very comprehensive if your nursing foundation is shaky; other guides offer short and concise nursing content review and focus more on practice questions and test taking skills
- Everything you need to know about the NCLEX-RN
- how to apply and schedule your exam
- how the computer adaptive test (CAT) works
- the different types of questions you will see
- breakdown of what categories will be covered on the exam
- NCLEX answers vs. real-world nursing answers
It is also important to understand that the questions you come across on the exam are very different from the ones you see in nursing school. In fact, lots of test takers have to relearn how to read a question and figure out what the question is actually asking. Also, it may be impossible to know everything so when you come across a question that you can’t really answer with confidence, you’ll need to use those test taking skills and strategies to help you through it.
My favourite review guide is Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination and Kaplan NCLEX-RN Prep Plus.
I chose Saunders for the comprehensive component. The explanations are very detailed and thorough but just concise enough to not take up too much of your time. It covers a lot of nursing content with review questions and explanations at the end of each chapter. Make sure to schedule your exam months ahead because this is quite a hefty book to finish!
Kaplan focuses more on test-taking strategies and practice questions.
The test taking strategies truly made all the difference on my second attempt at the exam.
Plus, it provides explanations for wrong and right answers and gives you the most for you money.
Besides Kaplan and Saunders, there are many other guides that you can chose from:
- Kaplan NCLEX-RN Prep Plus
- NCLEX-RN Questions & Answers made Incredibly Easy
- Lippincott Q&A Review NCLEX-RN
- Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Nursing for the NCLEX-RN Examination
- HESI Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination
- DAVIS’s Q7A Review for NCLEX-RN
- …many more!
Developing a schedule and setting short & long term goals is very important to keep you on track and make sure that you have covered everything you need to know for the NCLEX. If you want to go even further, daily checklists are great too.
This is an example of my monthly study schedule when I was preparing for the exam.
And here is an example of a daily study checklist and schedule.
And here is a checklist that breaks down the exam content into categories and the percentages of each category that will appear on the exam. As I go on to study each chapter and answer practice questions, I make sure to check off any areas of the exam that I have covered. This helps me manage my time with each category so that I can cover everything before the exam date.
Feel free to use these templates or create something similar yourself!
Do you know your learning style?
Identifying your learning style helps you develop a study plan and optimize your learning and retention of information. My learning style is visual. When I read a question, I tend to create a scene in my head. I benefit best from watching youtube videos and images.
There are 7 different learning styles:
- Visual (Spatial)
- Aural (auditory-musical)
- verbal (linguistic)
- Physical (kinesthetic)
- Logical (mathematical)
- Social (interpersonal)
- Solitary (intrapersonal)
Everyone learns differently. In fact, some people learn through a combination of learning styles. Get to know your learning style, understand it and utilize it to your advantage when preparing for the NCLEX.
It’s true what they say, practice, practice, practice!
You have to do at least 100 questions per day for you to feel comfortable with the way the NCLEX formats their questions. And I can assure you that the more questions you answer, the more you will get right.
- 2000+ questions that are just as challenging as the NCLEX
- Two self-assessments that are timed (100 questions each)
- Lots of different question formats such as “select-all-that-apply”, “placing the answers in the correct order” type questions that are pretty tricky to master
- You can also create your own customizable exams
- In-depth rationales for both wrong and right answers
- Create your own flash cards
- Great illustrations for visual learners
- Performance and improvement tracking
- Identifies your strengths and weaknesses in easy to read graphs
- Compares progress with others
- Flexible subscriptions for your needs
- 60 day, 90 day, or 180 day Qbank subscriptions
- Renewals of subscriptions at a lower price
Whatever your resource may be, make sure to answer as many questions as you can!
If you’re hoping that question about tracheostomy suctioning won’t show up on your exam, think again! That’s called “relying on false hope.” The NCLEX covers a wide range of nursing content using many different question formats.
If you are aware that you’re a little shady on an area of nursing practice, don’t avoid it! Identify your problem areas, learn about them and check them off your list! You’ll be glad you did.
Not only do you need to identify your weaknesses in nursing content, but you also need to know your weaknesses in test-taking skills. For example, if you know you’re terrible at select-all-that-apply type questions, focus more on answering those types of questions. Take them head on!
And by that I mean, don’t just memorize the content!
Yes, lab values such as electrolytes or the therapeutic drug levels for digoxin are good to memorize but go deeper.
The NCLEX-RN won’t just test you on knowledge and comprehension level questions that involve recall or recognition. It is designed to test your ability to make competent nursing judgments.
Understand what happens if the patient were to experience an overdose on digoxin and what to do in those situations. As a entry level nurse, you need to show them that you will safely know what to do if those ranges or levels are not within limits.
Invite some former classmates or good friends you’ve made in nursing school for a study session a few times per week. Sharing information and insight from others really improves your understanding on the content.
Here are some benefits to studying in a group:
- Prevents Procrastination: You are accountable to show up with your notes to the study group. Now that your group members are depending on you, it makes it harder to put off your studying to last minute.
- Fills in missing information or notes: Share information, gain insight, and ask or answer questions. Communication between your group members is key to effective learning.
- Makes studying more fun and interesting: Joining a study group can help eliminate the lonely study blues you get when you’re at home all by yourself. Change your study environment and find some motivation and inspiration from your study peers.
- Faster learning: Difficult concepts might be time consuming to understand alone. Who knows, maybe someone in your group might be an expert on that subject. It wouldn’t hurt to show up and ask.
That being said, aside from using the review guides and study groups mentioned above, you can also enroll in NCLEX-RN Prep Courses offered by colleges and universities. If you enjoy learning in a classroom with others, this might be best for you.
Last and arguably most important, self-care. It can be easy to neglect your self when it comes to preparing for your nursing boards. Make sure to create a study schedule that gives you time to eat a nutritious meal, meet with friends, take naps or indulge in your favourite hobbies.
Deal with your stress if you’re an anxious test taker. Here are some ways to help reduce stress and keep you healthy for your big day:
- Exercise, Yoga, Take a walk
- Take supplements
- Aroma therapy such as lighting a candle
- Soothing music
- Reduce caffeine intake – consider decaf or a healthy fruit
- Journaling or other forms of self-expression such as painting
- Talk and/or laugh with a friend or loved one and share your feelings
- Deep breathing exercises
Extra Notes: “Passing the NCLEX in 75 Questions.”
You don’t have to pass the NCLEX with the minimum amount of questions and it doesn’t make you any less of a nurse if you pass with the entire 265 questions.
Sure, your butt might be a little sore from sitting there for the whole 6 hours but what matters is that you passed! I found that I got slumped trying to pass the NCLEX in 75 questions to the point where that was all I focused on. When I wrote my exam and answered more than 75 questions, I started to get nervous and upset – almost as if I had already failed the exam.
As long as the computer continues to give you questions, you still have a chance at passing. Do not be discouraged. Keep answering those questions with that same confidence and determination you had with the first 75 questions and I assure you, you will do just fine.
And of course, no one wants to pay another $300 to do this exam again! And don’t get me started on all those feelings that accompany failure… I’ve been through it too.
But I can’t stress enough how important it is to not put yourself down if you don’t pass on the first try. This “failure” does not mean that you are not a good enough nurse or person. Do not give up. Take those 45 days to reassess your study techniques and test taking strategies. Give some of the tips mentioned above a try, and don’t forget to allocate some time everyday during your 45 days to indulge in self-care and forgiveness.
To those who are preparing to write the NCLEX-RN, I wish you the best of luck!
And as always, thanks for reading.