Preparing for the NCLEX – 4 Tips from a Nurse

Preparing for the NCLEX is a daunting task. I took the NCLEX back in 2010 and passed in 75 questions in 1 hr and 20 minutes. I’m not a great test-taker and wasn’t a 4.0 student. I did, however, do what I outline in this post.

I wanted to share my thoughts with you in hopes that it’ll help you in preparing for the NCLEX so you don’t feel like you’re guessing at a good approach in both studying and mental preparedness. You don’t have to be an A+ student to pass, but there are some important practical steps to take that can make a big difference in whether you pass or fail. Below are my 4 practical tips for preparing for the NCLEX.

1. Don’t fixate on 75

A lot of people will get a mental goal of passing in the minimum required (75 questions). However, if you fixate on that and anticipate it shutting off at 75 questions (and therefore consider yourself a failure if it doesn’t) it’ll psych you out unnecessarily. I’ve never had a patient, loved one, colleague, or… well, anyone ask me how many times I’ve taken the NCLEX, let alone how many questions I answered.

2. Know how it’s structured

The NCLEX is NOT like other exams. It is a computer adaptive test. What’s that, you ask? Basically, the first question you are given is of medium difficulty. If you answer it correctly, you’ll be given a more difficult question. If you answer it wrong, you’ll get an easier question.

They will keep asking you questions until they can definitively decide if you are above their predetermined passing standard. The NCLEX does shut off if it determines that you will not be above the passing standard as well.

3. Pick a plan and stick to it

There are a lot of NCLEX review options out there. Whatever you pick, develop a study plan and stick to it. You must be disciplined right now; it is not the time to kick back, do a few practice questions, read a few pages of an old text book, and give it a try. Be active and intentional with your studying. Do not be passive and relaxed. Focus.

4. Bring down your anxiety threshold

The NCLEX is a big deal and creates anxiety in even the calmest of individuals. Spoiler alert: we’re all nervous about the NCLEX, some are just better at pretending than others. Even if you don’t struggle with anxiety, this test will make you worry and anxious. The last 2-4 years culminating into one big scary exam is no fun. However, there are some active steps you can take to get control of it.

Plan out your NCLEX exam day

Once you know where and when you’ll be testing, start planning. If you test at 8:00 am in a city that’s 2 hours away, consider that travel time. Do you have to worry about driving and traffic? Do you know where you’re going? The more structured you can be and the more predictable the day is, the better.

Maybe you’ll want to get a hotel nearby so you don’t have to stress in the morning about the unknowns. I tested at 1:00 pm in a city about 2 hours away. My husband drove me, we went really early and grabbed lunch nearby, and was at the testing center about 45 minutes early. I walked in… and right back out about 1 hr and 20 minutes later!

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