Nursing students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive their nursing license. The good news is that according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, approximately 73% of all candidates who took the test last year passed. But that doesn’t make it easy. After all, the purpose of the exam is to determine whether it’s safe for you to begin practice as an entry-level nurse.
While there’s no secret trick to passing the NCLEX, here are a few tips nursing students need to know.
1. Prepare Early
Nursing students should prepare for the NCLEX exam throughout their program of study, says Phyllis D. Morgan, PhD, coordinator of the family nurse practitioner specialization at the School of Nursing at Walden University. From the moment students enter a pre-licensure program, they should review books and test questions to help prepare them to be successful in nursing school and on the NCLEX-RN exam.
Morgan suggests students focus on the test plan categories for the NCLEX exam throughout their program. Students should participate in study groups and utilize this opportunity to focus on areas where they are having difficulty understanding the content.
“Prior to graduating, each student must complete a comprehensive NCLEX review to determine strengths and limitations of content mastery,” she says. “There are live and online course reviews students can invest in after graduating to prepare them for the NCLEX-RN exam.”
2. Train for a Marathon
Nursing students should consider the NCLEX a marathon and that training to take the exam is just as important as taking it, suggests Jan Jones-Schenk, DHSc, RN, NE-BC, chief nursing officer and national director of the College of Health Professions at Western Governors University.
“Even though you’ve done well in nursing school and you’ve had a great education, you must still prepare—and that means practicing,” she says. “Take 100 questions per day for two to three weeks leading up to your exam date.”
3. Take It ASAP
Another critical tip is to take the exam as soon after graduation as possible. Jones-Schenk says that data clearly suggests that students who wait months before taking the exam have a 25-50% first-time failure rate. “The sooner you take it, with good preparation, the better your odds are for a first-time pass,” she says. “Two to three weeks should be enough time to prepare.”
4. Know the Format
It has been said the most common reason nursing students fail the NCLEX is because they believe the exam mirrors their tests in school. Morgan says that the NCLEX is considered to be more of an application-based exam. Students must have critical thinking skills and be able to translate the theory content and apply this knowledge in a clinical situation. This is where some students may have challenges, including being able to apply theory to application-based questions.
“Nursing students should expect to use their critical thinking and decision-making skills to be successful on the exam,” Morgan adds. “They should know that over the years the exam has multiple multiple-choice answers, which means they may have to select all the answers that apply, and there are visualizations and diagrams on exam.”
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