Five Key Test-Taking Strategies for the NCLEX

1. Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Study

The best test-taking strategy is, of course, to arrive with a thorough understanding of the exam’s content and structure. While everyone has a different study style and pace, a guideline is to spend six weeks to two months studying and to spend the majority of that time doing practice questions (some experts advise answering roughly 3,000 practice questions before your test day). You may want to take advantage of a few different study guides and prep resources. For a self-paced online option, offers both an NCLEX-PN: Study Guide and Practice course and an NCLEX-RN: Study Guide and Practice course. Both provide a thorough review of NCLEX content and feature self-assessment quizzes and exams to help you make sure you’ve thoroughly mastered the content.

Most importantly, schedule your study time properly and do not cram. If you need help with your study skills, check out this short How to Improve Your Study Skills lesson for tips.

2. Take the Exam As Soon As Possible After Graduation

To ensure that everything you’ve learned in school is still fresh in your mind when you take the NCLEX, try to take the exam as quickly as possible once you’ve graduated. The shorter the time between your graduation and your test day, the less time you will have to spend reviewing content and concepts.

3. Be Confident in Your Knowledge and Abilities

Remember: you worked hard, learned everything you need to know, and have graduated. On test day, don’t feel rushed and take your time to read questions thoroughly before trying to answer. Expect to encounter some questions that you can’t answer and understand that is normal, not a cause for panic. Keep in mind the two key things to ask yourself for each question on the NCLEX: ‘Based on my choices, what would be the best possible thing to do?’ and ‘Which answer puts the patient’s well-being first and minimizes any chance of harm?’ Finally, don’t second-guess yourself and your answers. If you struggle with confidence, this short How to Build Self Confidence lesson might help.

4. Familiarize Yourself With the Testing Center and CAT in Advance

Getting lost en route to the testing center or trying to figure out the computer-adaptive testing (CAT) system when you arrive are easily averted test-day stressors that can distract you from doing your best.

To avoid such curveballs, familiarize yourself with the way this computer testing system works. CAT adjusts the types of questions you will see on the test based on how well you answer questions. Essentially, the test adapts to your abilities, using a pre-determined test bank. Each question that you get right or wrong determines the difficulty level of the next question that you’ll see. Each time you answer a question, the computer will become more accurate at choosing questions that demonstrate your proficiency.

Second, do a practice run to the testing location, so you know exactly where you’re going and how long it takes to get there, then you can plan accordingly and arrive, relaxed, at least 30 minutes before your exam on your test day. Finally, remember to wear comfortable clothing; layers are recommended, so you are prepared for either warm or cool temperatures.

5. Take Care of Yourself Ahead of Time and Do Not Stress

When polled post-NCLEX, most of those who took and passed the exam share the same advice: take care of yourself throughout your preparation and on test day. This includes eating well, getting the proper amount of sleep, not trying to study the night before the exam, and exercising or doing whatever best helps you relax. If you are prone to stress, these short lessons on Relaxation Techniques and Overcoming Test Anxiety will help.

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