How to Prepare to Take the Nursing Exam (NCLEX-RN)

While graduating from an accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is the first and most important step toward becoming a certified registered nurse (RN), one additional hoop must be jumped through before you’re eligible to start working, and that’s passing the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).

About the NCLEX-RN

Unlike admissions exams such as the SAT, ACT, GRE or GMAT, which are all designed to measure your competitiveness as an applicant to a given degree program, the NCLEX-RN is intended to help determine whether or not you have the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to begin working safely as a registered nurse.

Similar to many other standardized admissions/certification exams, the NCLEX is completely computerized with all sections utilizing the computerized adaptive testing (CAT) method. How exactly does the CAT method work? Basically after each question you answer, the CAT technology adjusts the difficulty of the subsequent question based on whether you answered the previous question correctly or incorrectly. In other words, if you answered question one correctly, the software would increase the difficulty of the subsequent question (or decrease the difficulty if you got question one wrong).

Other important details about the NCLEX-RN exam format:

  • You will have up to six hours to complete the exam
  • You should receive news of whether you passed or failed within two to four weeks
  • Questions on the exam are broken down into the following content categories and subcategories:
    • Physiological integrity
      • Basic care and comfort (7-13%)
      • Pharmacological and parenteral therapies (5-11%)
      • Reduction of risk potential (12-18%)
      • Physiological adaptation (12-18%)
    • Safe, effective care environment
      • Management of care (7-13%)
      • Safety and infection control (5-11%)
    • Psychological integrity
      • Psychosocial adaptation (5-11%)
      • Coping and adaptation (5-11%)
    • Health promotion and maintenance
      • Prevention and early detection of disease (5-11%)
      • Growth and development through the life span (7-13%)

Tips to Help You Study and Mentally Prepare

While no two people’s learning or studying habits are exactly alike, these tips have helped former examinees in the past and could help increase your chances of acing the NCLEX on your first attempt as well.

Don’t Wait Too Long After Graduation to Take the Exam

After completing your RN-BSN program, you owe your brain and body a break after all you’ve put them through. Take a couple of weeks to relax, de-stress, catch up on sleep and refresh your mind; but don’t get too comfy, because you still have to take the NCLEX. Take it from students who’ve been there … you’ll want to take it sooner rather than later after graduation, while the content is still fresh in your mind and your brain is still in academic mode.

Plus, the sooner you take and pass the exam, the sooner you’ll be on your way to working with patients and earning a living.

Start Studying Early and Focus on the Subject Areas/Concepts You Struggled With

Most nursing students start studying roughly two to three months prior to the date they’re scheduled to take the NCLEX, with the vast majority of their efforts being exerted in the month prior to the exam.

Also keep in mind that at this point in your nursing education, you likely know the majority of what you’re going to know. Instead of diving deep into your notes and study guides from previous classes, focus instead on the concepts you struggled with most, and only touch on the major topics of each unit from each class.

The NCLEX is designed to assess your general knowledge and ability to think critically about a given scenario/situation, so don’t waste time memorizing specific statistics or incredibly detailed information, and focus instead on the bigger picture of what you learned in nursing school.

Take Advantage of Practice Tests/Questions

One of the main tips shared by people who pass the NCLEX is to complete as many practice questions and exams as possible. By doing so, not only will you familiarize yourself with the general format of the questions, you’ll also gain a better understanding of the types of questions you can expect to see. Of course no practice questions will be on the exam itself, but it will help you identify the content areas you feel confident in as well as those you might benefit from spending some extra time on.

There are a number of free resources and practice NCLEX exams online so we encourage you to try these before purchasing test prep materials.

Eliminate Any Unnecessary Sources of Stress on Exam Day

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not preparing for exam day like they do for the exam itself. Following these simple tips can help ensure you go into the testing center feeling calm and confident:

  • Get plenty of sleep in the few days leading up to the exam (and of course especially the night before)
  • Don’t waste time cramming
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the testing center (plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early, just to be safe)
  • Dress comfortably and in layers
  • Pack a nutritious snack to enjoy during one of the two optional breaks
  • Last but not least, relax – you have up to six hours to complete the exam, so breathe, take your time and don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself

UIU Is Here to Help You ACE the NCLEX Exam and Advance Your Career in Health Care

For additional tips to help you pass the NCLEX-RN or to learn more about UIU’s flexible, affordable RN-BSN program, contact us today! For more information about registering to take the NCLEX, how to prepare and what to do on test day, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website.