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How to Study for the NCLEX

Are you close to finishing nursing school but still need to pass the NCLEX? Once you pass, you can finally realize your dream of becoming a licensed registered nurse (RN).

That's a huge accomplishment, but it's important to prepare to get over this next hurdle. The NCLEX is a unique exam, and it requires careful planning and study time.

The test isn't easy, and it's normal to feel a little anxious about it. The good news is there are strategies and tips you can use to increase your chances of passing the NCLEX.

Here's a guide to how to study for the NCLEX.

What Is the NCLEX?

The NCLEX isn't a typical scantron or paper and pencil test. It's unique among other digital medical exams. 

With the NCLEX, you answer questions as you would on a standard online exam. The difference is it adapts in subject and difficulty according to your correct and incorrect answers. 

It's a pass-or-fail exam and ranges from 85 to 150 questions. It begins with easier questions and then increases in difficulty as you get the answers right.

When you answer questions incorrectly, the questions get easier at first and then increase in complexity as you move along. If you can answer the questions consistently at a specific baseline, you pass. If not, you fail the exam.

The test varies in length. The lowest range of questions is 85, and this could mean you did very well or very poorly with no need to continue.

There's an algorithm in place that evaluates your responses and determines how many questions you receive. Candidates can receive different numbers of questions and still pass the exam.

The NCLEX Format

The NCLEX is split into four sections. These include:

  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Safe and effective care environment
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiological integrity

Each of the above sections has subcategories, such as newborn care, reduction of risk potential, chemical dependency, safety and infection control, etc.

Understanding the format of the exam makes it easier to know what to expect and how to prepare for it.

How Hard Is the Exam?

You have five hours to answer 85 to 150 questions. The exam is complete when:

  • The computer algorithm determines with 95% certainty that you are above or below the passing standard
  • You've answered all 150 questions and a pass or fail is designated
  • The time runs out before you've completed the minimum number of questions

The first-time pass rate for U.S.-educated candidates is around 88%. You can increase your chances of passing with proper preparation and an NCLEX study plan.

Make a Study Plan

A study plan helps you plan what you will study and when. A study plan also allows you to assign a certain amount of time to each section you need to focus on.

Ideally, you should study a few hours each day for several weeks. This will vary depending on how much time you have before you take the NCLEX exam.

There's not a "good score range" for the exam. Instead, it's important to develop a study strategy to pass the test on your first attempt.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you usually get through questions easily?
  • Does it help you to say the questions out loud?
  • Do you tend to get stuck on questions easily?

For the NCLEX, keep these things in mind:

  • Which kinds of questions you need to spend extra time on
  • Questions get more challenging as you move along progressively
  • You cannot skip questions
  • You must answer at least 85 questions

Understand How They Score the NCLEX

The NCLEX is a pass-or-fail exam. You won't get your results instantly.

The state board of nursing receives your score. It's good to know how the exam is scored so you can analyze your performance while taking the exam.

It's a computer-adaptive exam that relies on algorithms to determine your score. There are rules in place to determine whether you pass or fail the NCLEX.

  • The Run-Out-of-Time (R.O.O.T) Rule: If you max out the five-hour window, it could indicate failure
  • The Maximum-Length Exam Rule: If you had to answer all 150 questions, it could indicate failure
  • The 95% Confidence Interval Rule: If you hit the 95% confidence interval, you will pass 

Prepare to Receive the Maximum Number of Questions

You can pass the exam at the minimum requirement of 85 questions. However, it's not a good plan to expect to get every question correct.

The NCLEX is an adaptive test. It's wise to study for all the sections in preparation for the exam. It's great to have confidence taking the exam, but unrealistic expectations can add additional stress to your plate.

Have a Stress Management Plan in Place

Nursing students face their fair share of stress as they try to attain a nursing degree. Worrying about passing the NCLEX can add a new worry to the stress pile.

It's important to understand you may feel stressed and to have a plan in place to deal with it. As you put together your NCLEX study schedule, be sure to include:

  • Time for rest and eating before the test
  • Easy relaxation techniques
  • Sensory objects, like a stress ball
  • Memory tricks that help you remember key NCLEX topics

Understand Your Area of Weakness

Consider the feedback from practice tests and experiences in the classroom to assess your level of knowledge in the various areas the NCLEX covers. If you identify areas of weakness, start there and dedicate time to come back to these NCLEX questions during your preparations.

You can explore various methods to improve your knowledge in certain areas, including watching online review videos, re-reading textbooks and lectures, or focusing on test practice questions and their rationale. 

These types of self-assessments can be repeated during your weeks or months of preparation for the exam.

Invest in Quality Test Prep Resources

There are free NCLEX resources available, but you may want to find a comprehensive prep resource that will fully prepare you for the exam.

If you want the best chance of success, an NCLEX prep course is the way to go. This is perfect to help you focus on how to tackle the types of questions you will find on the exam.

The courses are typically run by experts who understand the exam and the best ways to prepare for it. It's a great way to get systematic test prep to keep you on track with your preparation.

A quality test-prep program will help you feel more confident as your test date approaches.

Know the Question Types You Will Encounter

Knowing the types of question formats in the exam can help you be more relaxed on the big day. Some question types you will encounter on NCLEX include:

  • Multiple choice
  • Matrix multiple choice
  • Multiple response select N 
  • Drag-and-drop cloze
  • Drop-down table
  • Bow-tie
  • Multiple response select all that apply
  • Highlight text
  • Highlight table
  • Matrix multiple response
  • Multiple response grouping
  • Drop-down rationale
  • Drag-and-drop rationale

It's important to consider details about NCLEX questions. Consider that keywords like most, first, best, increased, decreased, and immediately are bolded on the exam.

NCLEX uses generic drug names rather than brand names. Questions that ask you to calculate answers will indicate whether you should round to the nearest whole number or use one or two decimal places.

Consider the Nursing Process

Remember to consider the nursing process as you complete the exam. Consider the five core areas of nursing.

The steps of the nursing process are included in many questions in various forms. These steps include:

  • Assessment
  • Diagnosis
  • Planning
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Utilize Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

As you prepare for the exam, keep Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in mind to help you prioritize the patient in the questions. Remember that the hierarchy indicates you should address basic needs before moving on to higher-level needs.

For example, you would address physiological needs before needs of love, safety, belonging, esteem, or self-actualization.

Rest the Day Before Your Exam

Preparing for the NCLEX can be stressful, but cramming right before the exam isn't the best idea. Your body and mind need a break the day before the exam.

By this time, you have prepared for the exam and have the best chance for success. It's time to take a break from your NCLEX study schedule and celebrate all your hard work with some rest.

Give yourself a day to rest, eat well, relax, and get a good night's sleep. You deserve it!

This will help you set a positive tone for taking the exam in a calm and mindful state the next day.

How to Study for the NCLEX

If you're getting ready to take the NCLEX, you have already accomplished so much on your journey to becoming a nurse. You deserve the best chance of passing the NCLEX on your first attempt.

That begins with good NCLEX study strategies and a quality prep course. If you're interested in how to study for the NCLEX, we can help!

With Archer Review, you can achieve test prep success. We offer affordable online prices to help you achieve your dreams of becoming a medical professional.

To learn more about our course offerings, take a look at our test-prep products today.