How to Prepare for the NCLEX: Top 8 NCLEX Tips

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Wondering how to prepare for and pass the NCLEX the first time? The NCLEX is a tough nursing licensure exam, so it’s best to begin studying almost as soon as you start nursing school. Take multiple practice exams, answer some practice questions each day and practice using NCLEX testing strategies.

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Once you decide to become a nurse and enroll in Northeastern University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, you can begin working not only on your coursework and clinicals but also on your NCLEX prep. The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is the exam that all aspiring nurses must pass to become a registered nurse (RN). If you’re wondering how to pass the NCLEX the first time, know that it’s vitally important to begin your prep work early on. Below, you can learn how to prepare for the NCLEX.

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How Hard Is the NCLEX and What Can You Expect From It?

How hard is the NCLEX? The answer depends on who you ask. Some aspiring nurses may find the exam somewhat tricky, while others may find it extremely difficult. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the NCLEX has recently been modified. Every few years, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) evaluates the exam to determine whether it still meets current best practices and makes any necessary adjustments. As of April 1, 2023, all aspiring nurses will take the Next Generation NCLEX.

The Next Generation NCLEX emphasizes a new nurse’s ability to make clinical decisions based on sound judgment, particularly concerning critically ill patients. Given the nature of these situations, it’s fair to say that the new NCLEX could be more difficult than previous versions.

For the entirety of 2022, first-time, baccalaureate-prepared test takers had an 82.32% pass rate. The yearly pass rate for all NCLEX test takers was just over 63%. These statistics do not reflect the pass rates for candidates taking the new NCLEX. Needless to say, you should plan on spending a great deal of time preparing to ace the NCLEX.

You can expect questions on a variety of topics, including the following:

  • Safe and effective care environment (e.g., infection control)
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiological integrity

The NCLEX is administered in a computerized adaptive testing (CAT) format, meaning there isn’t one single version of the test; the test will recalibrate itself based on your answers.

How to Prepare for the NCLEX

The issue of how to pass the NCLEX doesn’t have a universal solution. Instead, it’s best to combine a variety of NCLEX tips and strategies. You should study in a way that works best for you based on your previous academic experience, but don’t be afraid to try new studying strategies too. Consider teaming up with other members of your nursing cohort for study sessions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your peers for help, as they are also likely wondering how to pass the NCLEX the first time and might appreciate an offer to form a study group.

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1. Begin Preparing Well in Advance

Nurses make life-or-death decisions every day. They hold a great deal of responsibility, so it’s essential to ensure that every licensed nurse can meet the challenge. Because of this, the NCLEX is a rigorous test that will assess your nursing knowledge and ability to make ethical and logical clinical decisions in high-stakes situations. As you might expect, a test of this rigor and scope demands extensive prep work.

You should begin working on how to pass the NCLEX right from the start of nursing school by creating an NCLEX study plan that works for you. Determine how much time you can devote to studying for your classes and the NCLEX exam. For best results, scheduling shorter, more frequent study sessions rather than less frequent, marathon study sessions is ideal.

2. Review Material Frequently

Take extensive notes during your classes, labs and hands-on simulation experiences. If possible, review your notes immediately following each class. If your schedule doesn’t permit that, set aside time at the end of each day to review the material from that day. At the end of each week, review all the material from that week.

Try to use a combination of passive and active studying techniques. A passive studying technique is to read over your notes. An active study technique is asking yourself questions like, “How can I apply this information in a clinical situation?” or “What should I have done differently during that simulation?”

3. Answer a Few Practice Questions Each Day

There are countless NCLEX practice questions available online. You can even sign up for a “Question of the Day” service. It’s a good idea to answer a few practice questions every day. This will give you a better idea of what to focus on during your study sessions and help you confidently take the test.

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4. Take a Few Practice NCLEX Tests

Speaking of developing greater confidence when taking the NCLEX test, it’s a good idea to take at least a few full-length exams. You may want to take your first practice exam during your second or third semester. You should definitely take one by the start of your fourth semester. Treat the first practice exam as an assessment, identifying your problem areas and strengths. This will enable you to tweak your study plan to better fit your needs.

Take at least one or two more practice exams by the end of your fourth semester to see how you are progressing. When you graduate with your nursing degree, you can devote more time to studying and taking practice exams before your NCLEX test date.

5. Take Advantage of Online Resources

One advantage you’ll have is the wealth of available support resources, such as student study groups and advice from your instructors. However, it never hurts to look beyond your provided resources. Plenty of credible websites offer NCLEX tips and video tutorials on nursing topics. Consider looking for NCLEX study guides and similar resources online.

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6. Understand the Testing Strategies That Do Not Work

The NCLEX exam is a test unlike most. Memorizing hundreds of facts about diseases and pharmacology won’t help you as much as you might think. This is because the NCLEX tests your critical thinking and ability to apply nursing knowledge to clinical situations. The questions on the NCLEX aren’t “content” questions so much as they are “application of content” questions.

Some testing strategies that help for other tests do not work for the NCLEX. These include the following:

  • Selecting a response that is of a different length than the others
  • Choosing C or D when in doubt
  • Selecting the grammatically correct response
  • Recalling medical facts rather than applying analytical reasoning and critical thinking to a situation

7. Apply the Testing Strategies That Do Work

smiling nurse portrait

Although many common testing strategies won’t work on this exam, plenty of NCLEX tips do work. When considering how to prepare for the NCLEX, keep in mind the following testing strategies:

  • Put the question into your own words. Figure out what the question is really asking.
  • Mentally visualize each clinical situation. Imagine you are treating the patient being described.
  • Identify the difference between expected and unexpected patient outcomes. In any given question, is the situation being described within normal limits? If so, the correct answer might simply be to document the patient’s results in their chart.
  • Before choosing an answer, carefully consider all of them and use the process of elimination.

8. Avoid Burnout

Maintaining a school-life balance can be challenging, particularly when working through an accelerated nursing degree program. Yet, doing so is vital to avoid burnout. Take some “me time” now and then. Go for a walk on a nature trail, play your favorite musical instrument or catch a movie with friends to maintain your mental health.

With small class sizes and attentive instructors, the ABSN program at Northeastern University can effectively prepare you for professional success in healthcare. In addition, our faculty and staff are here to guide you every step of the way, including during your NCLEX test prep. Contact an admissions counselor at Northeastern today to discuss your eligibility to enroll in our ABSN program.

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