You’ve gone through your nursing program. You’ve had late nights, early mornings, plenty of coffee, some tears, and a few laughs along the way. Now the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is on the horizon, and everything you’ve worked for comes down to this.
Start by taking a moment to recognize what you’ve done. The NCLEX is just the culmination of what you’ve learned over the past years. This isn’t to say that the exam will be easy — at up to 145 questions and five hours, it’s far from that.
But the NCLEX is the final hurdle before you get your license and can start your nursing career. You’ve done all the legwork to get here, and that’s a badge of honor in its own right.
With that said, the exam is coming up, and there are plenty of steps you can take to make sure you pass on the first try. The following study helps will guarantee you make it through the NCLEX and onto your career in nursing!
Understand the Intent of the Exam
You might already know the purpose of the exam, but this understanding is genuinely one of the most important aspects of the NCLEX.
The NCLEX is designed for a single purpose: to test your understanding of fundamental nursing concepts and to see if you can use sound judgment and reasoning to provide excellent patient care. That’s it — nothing more and nothing less.
Spending hours upon hours cramming obscure facts, reviewing past tests, and memorizing specific symptoms or medication names will rarely pay off on test day. Nursing classes are designed to dig into specific aspects of nursing and patient care; the NCLEX is designed to test the whole thing. Keep this in mind as you’re building your study plan.
Start Studying and Practicing Well In Advance
The NCLEX may seem like it’s still a long way away. However, many prospective nurses begin studying at least six months ahead of the exam. And while you’ll want to ramp up the amount and frequency of these study sessions as your NCLEX date approaches, it’s good to get in the habit of setting aside distraction-free study time many months ahead of the exam.
Carve out a chunk of time or a specific number of practice questions to tackle a couple of times every week. And of course, find a quiet place so you can have some quality studying time. If you keep a calendar or schedule, make sure you put this time on there and treat it as you would a class or an important meeting.
Take a Mock NCLEX
There are many sample NCLEX exams that you can take ahead of the real one. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) itself offers two practice exams.
When taking a practice exam, try to simulate the conditions of the real exam as best you can. If possible, reserve a library study room with a closed door and no distractions. Leave your phone, computer, smartwatch, etc. turned off or silenced, and take the entire test in one sitting.
When taking your mock exam, also make sure that you are staying within the time constraints of the exams. Both the NCLEX-PN and the NCLEX-RN give you five hours to complete the tests. Consider setting a timer to track how long it takes you to finish the exams and whether you’re on pace to finish the actual exam.
Do Not Over-Study
When you’re getting ready for the NCLEX, finding that balance between constructive prep and over-studying can be a real struggle. You might feel tempted to squeeze a couple more practice questions in after your scheduled study sessions or before bed, just to put your mind at ease.
Don’t do this. When putting together your study plan for the NCLEX, you want to set very specific boundaries for yourself. For example, you might schedule 120 minutes of studying after lunch, 55 timed practice questions during your preceptorship downtime, or an entire practice exam Tuesday afternoon.
Set these goals; then, stick to them. Randomly cramming more studying into your day won’t normally help, and it can negatively impact your mindset and lead to academic burnout.
Observe Your strengths, Weaknesses, and Progress
This tip goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Your goal should always be to study smarter and not harder. While there will inevitably be plenty of hard work involved in this approach as well, there's no point in frontloading extra energy that could be better used elsewhere.
Take some time to reflect on your classes: In which courses did you excel? Which courses did you struggle with? This can give you good context for focusing your studying efforts initially.
After that, practice NCLEX exams can be a great way of observing your progress. Taking one every month or two can help you track the areas of the exam that you’re strongest in and those that you need to work on.
These mock exams can also provide early indicators of the effectiveness of your studying. If you’re not improving between exams, you need to adjust your study habits accordingly.
NCLEX Study Helps: Some Final Thoughts
As intimidating as it may seem, the NCLEX is just a test. Spending plenty of time studying, answering practice questions, and taking mock exams can all add to your chances of passing on the first try. Plus, prospective nurses who don't pass on their first attempts can always retake the exam at a later date.
Starting early and scaling yourself into the hardcore studying as the test approaches can prevent burnout and keep you fresh when exam day comes. And focusing your studying and testing on your weakest areas will help you grow and improve at an incredible rate over the months leading up to the exam.
Some day you’re going to be an awesome nurse helping countless patients. The NCLEX tests your ability to do that. So keep your head up and your mind sharp—and don’t forget these NCLEX study helps!