Sitting for the NCLEX-RN is one of the most important experiences in a new nurse's career. After spending years in school, the NCLEX-RN is what allows nursing school graduates to be able to become licensed and practice in their state.

Preparing for the test is essential. Not only will thorough preparation allow for the highest chances for success, but it can also help reduce some of the anxiety involved with sitting for the test. The following include some ways in which graduates can study and best prepare for the test.

1. Know What to Expect

It's essential for the graduate to know what to expect before the test. The NCLEX-RN is a computerized adaptive test, which means no two tests are identical and are adapted to the test-taker based on their knowledge of the material. There is a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265 questions. 15 of those are "pre-test" questions and are not part of the test-taker's final score.

The test-taker will have 6 hours to complete the test, which includes an introduction and tutorial on how the test is conducted. The computerized system also allows for pre-programmed breaks, which are optional. The test-taker will be notified when breaks are due.

One question at a time appears on the computer screen, and the test-taker cannot move forward until the question is answered. The test automatically stops when the test-taker has either passed or failed the exam. This is probably the most nerve-wracking part of the test!

One can find detailed information on the topics covered on the exam and links to NCLEX-RN exam study guides.

2. Create a Study Plan

Creating a study plan is an organized way for the test-taker to prepare for the test. An excellent way to do this is to set up blocks of time to study and mark it on a calendar. One should also be specific in their study plan. Focusing in on a clinical area, concept, or area of weakness can help keep studying organized. Moreover, planning the method of study is also critical; whether it's reading or practicing test questions, creating and sticking to a plan is essential for success.

3. Form a Study Group

Enlisting support from fellow nursing graduates is a great way to prepare for the NCLEX-RN. Knowledge-sharing is extremely helpful when preparing for the test. Some graduates excel in some areas and need support in others, and vice versa. Each person in the group may have unique ways to remember important concepts and may have tips to share with the group.

4. Use Available Resources

There are so many resources out there for nursing school graduates. Websites, books, in-person study courses, blogs, etc, are all available for the test-taker to take advantage of; see our top NCLEX review courses. It's essential for students to be aware of the most effective learning method for them. For example, some do better by reading over the material, and some with in-person review courses. It helps to ask around and read reviews of each resource as well.

5. Answer Practice Questions

One of the best ways to study for the NCLEX-RN is to answer practice questions. The NCLEX-RN has a unique method to check the test-taker's knowledge. It's not all about comprehensive recall. It's about applying concepts learned in nursing school to real-life scenarios. There are some questions with more than one correct answer, but the test-taker must choose the best answer. Finding a study guide with practice questions (preferably computerized) is essential in familiarizing oneself with the style of the NCLEX, which can lead to a higher success rate.

Graduates should also review each incorrect answer and determine why it was missed. Additionally, finding a pattern in missed questions may translate to specific concepts needing further review.

See our NCLEX-RN practice exam questions.

6. Take Study Breaks

Don't overdo it. It's imperative that the graduate takes breaks from studying. Otherwise, the stress and anxiety will lead to the inability to process knowledge. Breaks should be healthy and therapeutic and designed to recharge the test-taker and reduce mental shutdown. Taking a brisk walk or a snack break can work wonders. Finding a hobby can also take one's mind off the stress for a while as the focus is on something unrelated (and enjoyable!).

7. Maintain a Routine

Some graduates, when preparing for the NCLEX, have all-consuming study time every day. Along with taking breaks, graduates should stick to their daily routine as much as possible. Continue to exercise, go to the gym, spend time with friends and family, etc. Some people feel a lack of control when their routine is upset, which may affect focus. Most students also find that it's easier to concentrate on studying when the rest of their lives are tended to as usual. Bills, house cleaning, and meal preparation don't magically go away just because an important test is on the horizon.

8. Take Care of Yourself

It's imperative that those preparing to take the NCLEX to take care of themselves. It's easy to become obsessed with studying and preparing as there is a lot at stake. However, taking care of oneself is crucial to success. Regular exercise, for example, helps with focus, memory, and critical thinking. Adequate sleep also helps with mental clarity. A healthy diet low in saturated fats has also been found to help with memory. Taking yoga or meditation classes may also help with mindfulness and focus.

As a nurse, you'll need to manage self-care.

9. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

This is not necessarily a study tip; rather, it's a test-taking tip. When sitting down for the NCLEX, one's anxiety level is increased, and therefore the test-taker is more prone to rushing through. Breathe. Focus. Read each question carefully and think about it. Many times, the answer is common sense. Think about it, but don't overthink. Don't obsess over the number of questions, or that people are finishing first. Six hours are given to allow the test-taker to complete the exam. There is no rush!

10. Believe in Your Abilities

Nursing school graduates wouldn't have graduated unless they have met the competencies required of them in school for them to practice safely. Yes, the NCLEX is an important exam, and yes, there is a lot at stake if the test-taker does not pass. However, if a student has gotten this far, they can get through the NCLEX. Remember that pass rates are pretty high at 91%! Go into the test with confidence. Success is within reach - you got this!

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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