4 Important Tips for Taking the NCLEX-RN Exam

A stethoscope on top of a laptop.

-By Gloria Cockrell, BS ‘18

Three years ago, I was stressing about preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam. What helped relieve some of that stress was having a plan and collaborating with my classmates as we prepared together. There is no wishing or hoping about passing this test without putting in the work. The mantra that kept ringing in our ears was a quote one of my classmates shared with our study group during nursing school, “Luck favors the well prepared.” There are no shortcuts: you have to commit to studying for this exam more than other tests you have taken.

Below are a few tips I used that helped me not only survive the process, but succeed. 

1. Give yourself enough time.

Plan at least two months of study sessions on your calendar and give yourself a day off each week. You can decide how many hours a day you want to devote to studying. I usually scheduled two or three. It’s also a good idea to take the exam before too much time passes after graduation. I took my exam six weeks after I received my degree while the information was easier to recall and I was still in student test-taking mode. 

2. Utilize the right tools.

You can use a variety of tools for studying, such as lecture notes, NCLEX prep books, and YouTube videos. You know how you learn best, but the two most effective study tools I used were practice questions and tests from UWorld and group study sessions with two or three other classmates. I found that active, not passive, studying yields the best results.

I set a goal to answer a certain number of UWorld practice questions each day along, with allowing time to read the answer explanations, which was by far the most important and helpful part. It is also imperative that you take one or two full online mock tests to simulate what exam day will be like. The UWorld format is almost identical to the actual NCLEX exam. 

3. Carefully consider your answers.

Always choose answers that are evidence-based, not experience-based. You will need to suspend the experience you may have had as a certified nursing assistant or during clinical rotations and remember that the NCLEX exam questions are based on scientific data that comes from medical journals and textbooks. You will need to think through that grid. 

A few tried and true tactics you may have used on nursing school exams will be valuable to implement during the NCLEX as well:

  • Remember your ABCs (airway-breathing-circulation).
  • Do not choose “do nothing” or “call doctor,” since the exam wants to see you assess the patient and choose the most appropriate nursing action you should take.
  • Choose the answer that prioritizes physiologic need, then patient safety.
  • Eliminate wrong answer choices first (this is especially helpful with “select all that apply” questions).

4. Tame your anxiety.

This starts before exam day. Get a good night’s sleep, know where your testing site is, fill your car with gas the day before, arrive early, wear layers and bring snacks and water to put in your locker at the testing site. I also brought lip balm and mentos for my locker stash.

You may get stressed and maybe even panic during the exam. I know I did. Take a break; you won’t be able to focus on the questions anyway. Raise your hand and leave the room. Go to the bathroom, grab a snack from your locker, chew gum, put lip balm on your dry lips, and drink some water to relieve mouth and throat dryness.

Once you have completed the exam and left the testing site, keep yourself busy until you can access your test result 48 hours later. Go out for dinner, plan an outing with friends or maybe spend the night away somewhere. 

Good luck!

You can do this! You made it through a rigorous nursing school program which will help you as you engage in the prep process for the NCLEX-RN exam. Three years from now, you'll be like me: Reflecting on your success and grateful for the nursing career you have embarked upon.