After finally making it into nursing school, surviving through nursing school, and finally graduating there is still one final horror nursing students have to face: The National Council Licensure Examination or better known as the NCLEX-RN. It is 75 to 265 questions of pure terror.
While going through nursing school and waiting to take my own NCLEX-RN, if someone had come to me for the next big horror movie villain, without a doubt I would have told them the NCLEX-RN.
And here’s why:
1. The Buildup
The moment you enter the nursing program the clock on the proverbial bomb starts counting down. Nursing school is designed to prepare you for the test through learning the material and repeated exposure of the question style. The first semester of nursing school is often the worst for many students.
If you are like me and stress about grades, the first semester literally tortured me while I watched my grades drop after each test because the exams were like nothing I had seen before. I still have nightmares from the test rationales while I was technically right -- it wasn’t the best answer. Seriously?
2. The Limbo
In most cases, graduating from college marks the start of your professional career. For nurses, graduation marks the start of an awkward transition between school and test that sends you into limbo. Once you graduate from a certified program you have to apply to take the test through your start board, apply with the testing company, and wait for your school to submit the necessary paperwork.
This process does not have a set time frame, it can literally take forever if you are unlucky. Personally, I had to wait 3 months to receive my Approval to Test before I was able to schedule my test for a month later at the earliest. I felt my sanity spiraling as I waited every day for my ATT. When I finally got it I was actually terrified to take it because I couldn’t afford to fail it the first time for both money and time reasons.
3. Everyone Tells You Just Keep Studying
One of the most asked questions in nursing school is, “When should you start studying for the NCLEX-RN?” Immediately! No seriously, invest in a comfy study space because you will not only use it for the NCLEX-RN but you will spend most of your nursing school there too. The second you start your nursing school experience you are technically already studying for the exam the several ways.
Your program is teaching you how to read the specially designed questions, understand what exactly they want, and how to decipher the answers. Once you graduate, the studying doesn’t stop. Your life becomes studying. While I waited, studying took up my entire life, and I know what you might think I’m being subjective.
But I’m not. Every day my family, friends, and classmates asked if I had received my ATT and when I told them no they told me to just keep studying. My sofa has a permanent dent in the cushions from where I study for hours every day.
4. The Test Is A Nightmare
If you are at all familiar with the NCLEX-RN, you will know that the test is personalized. Using an algorithm, the test can range anywhere from 75 to 265 questions. There are 8 major topics featured on the test. While you take the test you are asked a question on a specific topic.
If you get the question correct, you are then given another question on the topic that is slightly more difficult. If you get the question wrong, you get a slightly easier question. The large range of possible questions is because of this tightrope balancing act continues until the test feels that you either know enough of the test to pass or you don’t.
Unlike most exams that you may have seen, the NCLEX-RN is not an all multiple choice answer exam. During the test, you can see any combination of multiple choice, select all that apply, sort the items, identify the visual or audio assessment findings, and fill in the blank math questions. Every nursing student fears the dreaded select all that apply questions for a good reason.
The current NCLEX-RN allows select all that apply questions to have any amount of correct answers. This means that there can be anywhere from one to all of the answers as the correct answer. Oh, and something I forgot to mention that may keep you up at night. Once you have pushed that submit button you CANNOT go back to that question so you do not know if you got it right or wrong.
5. The Test Basically Halted My Life
This final reason is a little more personal, but many of my classmates have had the same issue. After I graduated I waited 3 months to be able to just schedule to take my exam. The earliest test date that I could get was another month later. This entire time, I couldn’t apply for jobs because almost all job listings require your nursing license number.
Realistically I couldn’t work either because I was unsure how long the process would take, most employers don’t want to hire a new employee if they don’t know how long they are going to stay and definitely don’t want to hire a new employee if they may be there for only a few weeks. Many of my classmates quit their jobs after graduation because they believed that they would get their license in a month or two after graduation.
I was so terrified of failing the exam that I studied multiple hours most days. I didn’t know if the when I would get my ATT and it actually made me afraid of my email notifications. I was afraid that I would be informed that there was a complication with my application and that I would need to start all over again.
I was afraid to finally have to take the test that I had grown to fear after all the buildup and wait. And finally, I was afraid to get my ATT because everyone I knew kept asking if I had gotten it yet. I felt like some of my family and friends were becoming frustrated with me and that the blamed me for how long it was taking. In no way was I stalling to take the exam and it only made me fear the test even more.
All I could do was keep studying. Studying to keep myself busy. Studying to keep from forgetting material. And studying so I didn’t go crazy. The NCLEX-RN paralyzed me with fear and it basically kept me from living.