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After graduating from nursing school, your next step is taking and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, more commonly known as the NCLEX. This test shows that you are ready to start working in the nursing field. Although being nervous about this exam is understandable, there are effective ways to prepare for it. Learning more about the NCLEX and how to get ready for it can help you feel more confident going into the exam.

What Is the NCLEX?

The NCLEX is a test designed to determine if nursing school graduates are prepared to work as registered nurses (RN) or practical nurses (PN). Instead of being a knowledge-based test, this exam focuses on critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and other aspects of nursing. The NCLEX covers four areas, including safe and effective care, physiological integrity, psychosocial integrity, and health maintenance and promotion.

When Do You Take the NCLEX?

When you take the NCLEX depends in part on where you live, since the earliest test date varies by state. In most cases, nursing students are able to take the NCLEX roughly 45 days after they graduate. Keep in mind that you will need to complete the registration process in order to take this exam.

Is the NCLEX Hard?

Whether or not the NCLEX is hard for you can vary based on factors such as how prepared you are for the exam. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN), just over 82 percent of candidates passed the NCLEX-RN exam on the first try in 2021. The passing score for the NCLEX is adjusted from time to time due to changing standards in the nursing field, see NCLEX for updated standards.

How to Prepare for NCLEX

Being prepared for the NCLEX can help improve your chance of passing it on the first try. This involves knowing how to study for the NCLEX specifically and following a few general test-taking tips. The following tips can help you get started on preparing for this exam while you are still a nursing student.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the NCLEX Format

The NCLEX includes questions in different formats, such as multiple choice, hot spot questions, fill-in-the-blank, and ordered response. While the majority of questions on the exam are multiple choice, you should make sure you are comfortable with the other formats, as well. The NCLEX uses a computerized adaptive testing format, which means questions are adapted based on your performance as you go through the exam.

2. Know What to Expect on Test Day

When you get to the testing center on test day, you should be prepared to show ID, provide your signature and other biometrics, and receive your testing materials. You will have a maximum of 5 hours to complete your exam, so plan on pacing yourself. You will not be able to change answers to any questions once you submit them.

3. Form a Study Plan

Come up with a plan for studying for the NCLEX, since this can help you stay more organized and focused. Decide how often you will study for the exam, how long your study sessions will be, and what kinds of studying techniques you will use. For example, you might spend an hour each day going through study guides or doing practice questions.

4. Do Not Cram

Start studying for the NCLEX early instead of waiting until the last minute. Cramming for this exam just before you take it can backfire. When you cram for your exam under pressure, you might have a harder time retaining the information. Give yourself plenty of time to study for the NCLEX, so that you will feel more confident about your exam on test day.

5. Take Practice Exams

Getting an idea of what kinds of questions you will be answering on the NCLEX can help you feel more prepared for it. As part of your study plan, take practice questions from time to time. NCBSN provides online practice exams for the NCLEX, and you can try other online NCLEX practice exams as well. Keep in mind that the NCBSN practice test is made up of questions taken from previous exams, so you are unlikely to see them on your exam.

6. Manage Your Stress

Being stressed about the NCLEX is common, but it makes it harder to prepare for this exam. Finding effective ways to manage stress can help clear your mind, so you can focus on studying. Doing activities such as writing in a journal, practicing mindfulness, or meditating can help you feel calmer. Regular physical activity, such as going for walks or working out, can also ease stress.

7. Utilize Outside Resources

When preparing for the NCLEX, turning to outside resources can be a big help. Online and print study guides, NCLEX review classes, and other resources can provide you with highly effective ways to get ready for this exam. Explore outside resources that are available, and make use of them in order to be better prepared for the NCLEX.

8. Form a Study Group

Having fellow nursing students to study with can help you feel less stressed and more prepared for the NCLEX. Your study group provides a practical way to get ready for the exam while also offering some emotional support if you have test anxiety. Form a study group to go over material, take practice exams, and discuss any concerns you have about the NCLEX.

9. Do Not Rely on Past Experience

Whether you have worked as a nurse in a hospital before or done clinicals as a nursing student, avoid drawing from your past experience. Instead, rely on what you have learned in nursing school rather than real-world experience. The NCLEX questions come from evidence-based practice and research, which is important to keep in mind when selecting or providing your answers.

10. Practice General Test-Taking Skills

Although practice NCLEX tests are important, you should also work on your general test-taking skills. For example, you should practice strategies for answering multiple choice questions, such as eliminating incorrect answers first. When you use general test-taking strategies for the NCLEX, you should look for answers that focus on patient safety, such as assessing patients before taking other actions.

11. Relax the Night Before

No matter how nervous you might be, relaxing the night before the NCLEX is important. Avoid last-minute cramming or focusing on your upcoming exam, which can make you feel more anxious about it. Instead, get a good night’s sleep, so that you will feel well-rested on test day.

12. Be Prepared on Test Day

Before heading to the testing center, you should make sure you have your ID. You will need to show your ID in order to take the exam. You should also be familiar with the rules at the testing center, such as what to bring or what not to bring. Wear comfortable clothes, and plan on arriving around 30 minutes before the exam starts.

13. Be Confident

Taking time to prepare for the NCLEX means you can feel confident when exam day rolls around. Remember that the majority of test takers pass on their first try, especially when they are well-prepared. When you have studied for the NCLEX and followed other preparation tips, you can count on being in a good position to do well on this exam.

If you’re looking for a quality nursing program to advance your career after you pass your NCLEX exam, please contact American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Science at Post University. We offer online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) programs, including a self-paced format and a traditional term-based format.

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