Monday, July 22, 2013


Passing the NCLEX exam requires part knowledge and part strategy. If you’ve just finished nursing school, you have the knowledge. But knowledge alone isn't enough. You also need to master specific key test taking strategies to help increase your chances of passing.

Follow these 6 tips to increase YOUR ability to do well on the NCLEX:

Prepare for NCLEX:

1.    Use practice exams wisely
Follow this pattern: Complete 50 – 100 questions every day. Identify what you got wrong and then close the book (or computer…or app). The next day, review the questions you got wrong and do another 50 – 100 questions. Then again, identify what you got wrong and close the book. Review the next day and continue repeating the same pattern until the day before the exam. On the day before the exam, don’t do any questions – none! Your brain needs time to rest.

2.    Eat, drink and sleep
So many people try to cram (pull an all-nighter); load up with caffeine, and either eat greasy food or don’t eat at all.  This is so bad for many reasons, but for test taking these behaviors minimize your chances of passing.  Think of it this way, from a physiological perspective, your brain requires 3 things to maximize performance – food, fluids and sleep.

Food – make sure you eat a healthy balanced meal prior to the exam. This should include protein. Avoid anything spicy, greasy or gas producing. The worst thing you can do is starve yourself. Your brain requires glucose to function, especially when you put it to work!

Fluids – water is the very best fluid to drink before the exam. Although a cup of coffee is okay, just be aware that too much caffeine can make you jittery and minimize your ability to focus. Avoid alcohol at least 24 hours before the exam. Wait until AFTER the exam if you want to celebrate with a tasty adult beverage!

Sleep – the night before you take the exam, prepare your brain by getting a good night’s sleep. I know you hear this all the time but really – it makes a huge difference in your ability to concentrate and tap into your memory stores. The minimum should be 7 hours to fully prepare your brain for battle.

Taking the exam:

3.    Read the question carefully – the whole question
Nervous test takers tend to skim through the question and jump right to the answers. The problem with this is that you can miss key words in the question that will help you choose the correct answer. Make sure you read the entire question and understand what it is asking. Spend a little time thinking about possible answers, and then look at the available answers. If you have the tendency to rush through the question, cover up the answers until you’ve read and understand the question.

4.    Look for key words
In multiple-choice exams, the questions typically contain key words that can help the test taker choose the correct answer or trip them up if they don’t recognize them: most, during, after, initially, first, etc. Look for these words while reading the question. Make sure you identify them before you read the available answers. It makes a huge difference in your chances of passing the exam – huge.

5.    Narrow down the answers
After you understand the question, read each answer. If you don’t know it right away, start by narrowing down the choices. It is typically easy to identify at least one answer that isn’t correct. As you narrow down your choices, try to then pick the answer you believe best fits the question. The more you can scratch out an answer, the higher your chances are of picking the right one.

6.    Don’t change your answers
So many people go back and change their answers, sometimes 3 or 4 times before turning in their exam. Just don’t do it! Typically, your first answer is the correct one. I never change my answers unless, I realize I read the question wrong and missed a key word.  Truly, that is the only time I change my answer. You have a greater chance of getting that question right when you stick to your first answer.

+1 = My own personal strategy:
I read each question. If I know the answer immediately, I answer it and move to the next question. If I don’t, I skip it and go onto the next question. I repeat this pattern until I get to the end of the exam. Then I take a deep breath and go back to the questions I skipped.  This is when I give myself extra time to think about the question, put myself in the situation, consider each answer as an option and then choose the answer I think is best. It has always worked for me. Try it.

Good test taking is part knowledge and part strategy. You’ve got the knowledge, now all you have to do is apply the strategy for success!  Good luck.

I hope these tips help you pass the NCLEX.

Thanks for choosing to become a nurse. I’m cheering for your success!



For more great tips, make sure you "like" me on Facebook,"follow" me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog. Also, check out my new book on nurse-to-nurse bullying and my new eBook titled, Survive and Thrive: A guide helping new nurses succeed!  

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