How to Pass the NCLEX on the First Attempt – My Top 10 Tips

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NCLEX study tips

Passing the NCLEX-RN is a great achievement. After completing nursing school, it is the NCLEX that stands in the way of the true beginning of your nursing career.

Because of this, it can seem daunting. However, it doesn’t need to be that way.

Clearly, you have to put the study in. Yet there are some sure-fire ways you can increase your chances of passing the NCLEX the first time.

And that’s exactly what I am going to dive into today. These are my top 10 tips for nailing the NCLEX on your first attempt.

1. Get on top of your NCLEX study

NCLEX study

Life can get in the way of many things, but you must not let it impair your NCLEX study time.

To pass on the first attempt, you need to put in the necessary study time and revision. The good thing is, there are a ton of useful NCLEX study aids, textbooks, and online resources to help you get on top of things.

It is important to understand what your weak areas are and to find the most effective way for you to study.

For example, if your understanding is better served with visual aids, opt for study methods that prioritize this. There are plenty of interactive study aids out there.

Use pen and paper to write down your notes and create diagrams and drawings. Use color-coded reminders for your revision.

It might be that you are an auditory learner. Podcasts, Youtube videos, and your in-person lectures will be your most effective form of learning in that case.

Look for, and prioritize the study aids that work best for you.

And remember, recall is a big deal with the NCLEX. Use mnemonic devices to help formulate and solidify key concepts in your brain.

By taking a pro-active attitude in line with your preferred learning approach will definitely put you in good stead.

2. Beat Procrastination: Create a study plan and diary

It is all well and good finding the best resources for your study, however, if procrastination sets in you will be in trouble.

A study plan and diary will help to overcome this.

Set yourself a robust schedule that sets out the days of the week you will study, what days are free and when you will take practice exams.

On top of this, set out a to-do list and goals for each session. This could be the amount of reading you will do, chapters to cover, or the number of exam questions to tackle.

You can even reward yourself for reaching those goals, (a drink with a friend or some much-needed Netflix time out).

Try to be realistic with your aims while at the same time challenging yourself to a degree.

You should not attempt to cram and do last-minute revision just days before the exam.

Setting yourself a workable study plan with enough time for any necessary adjustment will definitely help you pass the NCLEX that first time.

3. Understand the NCLEX Format

Simply knowing what to expect with the NCLEX exam and the format it uses will also put you in a good place.

Not only will it increase your confidence, knowing the format will help with your stress levels on the day.

The NCLEX exam uses a CAT format, (computerized adaptive testing), which means the exams are not identical in terms of the questions asked.

A computer algorithm is used so that each question is based on your performance from previous questions.

This also means there are countless questions that could possibly come up, so attempting to memorize all potential variations, is actually quite futile.

4. Invest in NCLEX Review Test Prep Resources

NCLEX study laptop

I have managed the different types of study aid available. There is a lot.

I have reviewed some of the best NCLEX review books here. You can also sign up for programs such as that offered by Nursing.com, (reviewed here).

For a subscription, you will gain access to myriad study aids that can help maximize your chances of passing the NCLEX the first time, (I actually highly recommend a program such as this).

Picmonic (an medical learning app) and Kaplan are also worth checking out.

5. Take lots of practice tests

Although the NCLEX takes the CAT format in terms of the questions that are set, you will still be able to recognize themes within the correct answers; if you know what to look for.

Of course, you do need to know the information to answer, however, try to avoid extreme ALL or NONE answers.

Furthermore, patient safety will be held as a number one priority, so ensure your answer takes this into account.

In your answering methodology, always assess the patient first and use the Airway-Breathing-Circulation approach, to ensure the safety of the patient.

Deductive reasoning will help you narrow down the possible outcomes in terms of your answer.

Also, when you come across select-all-that-apply questions, the process of elimination is your friend here.

Apply your logic calmly and systematically, so that you better your chances of reaching the correct conclusion.

Practice taking the test so that all of the above starts to feel like second nature. This will greatly help you to pass the NCLEX on the first attempt.

6. Go Beyond the Practice Questions

Despite what I have said above, you will still need to do more than tackle practice questions.

They do prepare you for the exam in the best way possible, however, you still need to work towards ensuring the correct information is there in your head in the first place.

Context is key here. Your study should focus on the explanations as to why each answer choice is correct or incorrect.

You also need to look into the content topic to ensure that you have a broad understanding of the relevant concepts. This will assist you in applying your knowledge to the various permutations of questions that might arise.

If you feel weak in any area or concept adjust your study plan so that you can revisit these areas.

By adapting your study alongside mock NCLEX exams and question/answer revision, you will build a broad knowledge base that will only help you to that coveted position of passing the first time.

7. Find Ways to Manage Your Stress Levels (for both study and exam)

NCLEX study stress

It is natural to feel nervous and stressed before your NCLEX exam. The important skill is to be able to control it and even harness the adrenaline for better performance.

Easier said than done, right?

Well, it is easier than you think actually.

Firstly, if you have applied all of the above points, you should be entering the exam with a degree of confidence.

You have studied well, you know the format and you have taken plenty of practice exams.

If you know that you have put the effort in to prepare, be reassured by this. Also, try to instill a good level of perspective.

Of course, you want to pass the NCLEX exam, it is important. Yet, no one is going to come along and harm you if you don’t.

This is on you; don’t panic and keep a clear head as you progress. If at any time you feel overwhelmed. Stop and take a breath. Regain your composure. You’ve got this.

In terms of minimizing stress during your preparation for the exam, it is important that you maintain a lifestyle balance.

Take breaks, exercise, ensure that you still meet up with friends, and enjoy time to relax.

If you have set yourself enough time and have a robust study plan, this should be easy enough to achieve.

If you leave it all too late and have to lock yourself up in order to be ready, you will burn out. The stress levels will increase and so will your lack of perspective.

You’ll be all over the place, in other words, and you’ll enter the exam with a real disadvantage.

8. Resist the temptation to self-evaluate as you take the test

As part of keeping calm and focused during the test, you should avoid all temptation to evaluate how you are doing.

To do so is completely irrelevant and will only serve to trip you up.

Tackle each question, one at a time. Each is as important as the next. The worst thing you can do is think back on an earlier question when you are in the midst of a current one.

Focus really is the key if you want to pass the NCLEX the first time. Your mind needs to be in the moment and has to leave any thoughts of self-evaluation until afterward. (And even then I would argue that it is futile; what’s done is done).

9. Have everything prepared for exam day

NCLEX study alarm

Do not stress yourself out on exam day with nonsense such as being late, or not packing the right gear, or not knowing where to go.

All of these are very easy to avoid with simple, non-taxing preparation.

Sleep well before the exam. Set your alarm with more than enough time for all eventualities. Don’t leave with an empty stomach.

Arrive early and if need be grab a coffee or go for a walk near the test location. Having ample time to spare is far better than rushing in at the last minute.

10. Be confident – You’ve got this!

I’ve already said it, but you’ve got this.

If you follow all of the above tips, there is no reason you cannot pass the NCLEX exam.

See it as a formality, the last step on your path to becoming a Registered Nurse. You’ve done everything right to get this far, and you deserve to pass.

Relax, try to enjoy it, and do your best. I am confident you will find it more than enough to pass with flying colors.

About Hannah Drake

Hannah Drake, RN, CSP is a registered nurse and owner and founder of Nurse Focus. Her nursing career spans almost two decades, and in that time she has developed her skill base across a variety of settings, including med surg nursing, clinical informatics system administration and implementation, and healthcare community management. Contact Hannah.

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