If you want to become a licensed nurse then you must pass the NCLEX exam. Sure, you have a nursing diploma or an Associate’s degree but why is that not enough? Unfortunately, acquiring a nursing license is a whole different spectrum and it doesn’t matter if you have spent an eternity in nursing school; you can’t cross that bridge without sitting for the NCLEX exam.
In other words, the NCLEX is designed to test your competence and evaluate whether you have the knowledge and critical thinking skills to practice as a nurse. However, if you want to pass the NCLEX exam, you must prepare thoroughly. The real question is; how do you do that?
Make an Extensive Study Plan
Passing the NCLEX exam the first time requires serious commitment. In fact, as soon as you graduate with a nursing diploma or degree, you should prepare for the NCLEX at least 3 months prior to the eventual appointment. It would only make sense to make an extensive study plan to keep track of your progress rather than studying willy-nilly.
Of course, a study timetable should include the days and weeks you’re planning to study but it would be more objective to highlight the areas you ought to cover. For instance, you could do practice questions on a specific day and study the 4 categorized NCLEX topics on different days (safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial & psychological integrity).
Work on your Studying Technique
Creating a studying timetable and re-reading your nursing notes is just not enough. The NCLEX exam not only emphasizes nursing knowledge but also your critical thinking. Hence, there is no way you can cram and just cruise through the exam like a walk in the park.
That is why it is very important for you to focus on a studying technique that is more effective. Don’t just copy notes word for word but instead rewrite the notes using your own words. Alternatively, you can use visual cards or mnemonic tools (popularly used by nursing and medical students). Until you can explain complex nursing procedures in your own simple words to the average Joe who hasn’t done a medical course, don’t consider yourself ready.
Don’t Count your Internship or Work Experience
Most nursing graduates have working experience in hospitals and clinics. Nevertheless, the experience can cloud your judgment to answer NCLEX questions correctly. Remember, the NCLEX criterion assumes the candidates are not experienced in practical work.
For that reason, you should always approach the NCLEX as if you don’t have any working or internship experience. Moreover, the answers are pre-researched and backed up by nursing textbooks. But that doesn’t mean you should dismiss critical thinking.
Familiarize Yourself with the NCLEX Format
It has always been said that if you know your opponent and know yourself, you will triumphant over any battle. In this case, the NCLEX is your worthy opponent. Unlike the exams that you did in nursing school, the NCLEX is entirely different and the test is personalized. For instance, the questions that you answer will not be the same questions that the next candidate will be asked.
Not to forget, you won’t have a clue when the exam will end since you’re expected to answer not less than 75 questions and not more than 265 questions. It could be 2 and a half hours or 6 hours. The computer will only end the test once you have demonstrated enough competency with little room for doubt.
Self-Evaluate Using Practice Questions
Taking a lot of practice questions is one of the most effective ways of preparing yourself for the NCLEX. Under no circumstance should you skip this process if you really want to pass. There are a lot of practice exam books such as UWorld and Kaplan that you can use to self-evaluate yourself.
Besides answering the questions, you need to understand the rationale behind the question to conclude why the accurate answer is the best choice. If you notice there are questions which you answered incorrectly, you need to revisit the problem area.
Avoid Anxiety and Relax
If you graduated from nursing school, test anxiety is something you have dealt with before. Regardless, it is easy to forget when you’re faced with the pressure of preparing for the NCLEX test. But what you ought to remember is that the NCLEX is just a test; not a Russian roulette life or death situation.
Even if you fail the test, you will still have plenty more chances to retake. It is okay to go out and have some fun during the weeks or months prior to your exam. Do whatever makes you calm and relaxed for the sake of your mental health. It could be running, hitting the gym, listening to music, watching a movie, cooking a nice meal, fishing, swimming or going out with friends. Just don’t overdo it and end up cramming the night before the test.
On the week before the test, make sure you sleep well and do not disrupt your sleeping pattern. If you’re an early riser, you can schedule a morning test but if you’re a slow morning person, you can schedule an afternoon session if available. Most importantly, don’t be late for your NCLEX appointment and bring all your necessary documents.
Since the exam can go on for as long as 6 hours, you can carry a few snacks and keep them in the locker in case you want to eat something in between the breaks. Don’t forget to bring a sweater or jacket to keep you warm if the environment turns cold.
Above everything else, be confident that you will ace the test and it will come to pass.