Taking and passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN®) is one of the final steps that nursing students will complete on the journey to earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN.) It’s understandable that you might have some anxiety about the NCLEX exam (it’s a big one!) and want more assurance and strategies to help you get you through the exam so you can become a registered nurse.
The goal of faculty, academic administrators and colleagues at great nursing schools is to begin preparing students to take the NCLEX from the very first day off class. At Chamberlain, it is one of the most thoughtfully considered topics across our campuses. These five tips come from faculty, academic administrators and nursing school graduates.
#1 – Start Early and Study Often
As we mentioned above, starting your NCLEX prep starts on day one of nursing school. It’s essential that you start thinking of your training in conjunction with passing your board exams. The NCLEX is designed to test your clinical thinking and ensure that it’s safe for you to begin as an entry level nurse. This means making time to practice NCLEX questions weekly, starting with your very first class, is very important.
Think of preparing for the NCLEX as a marathon as opposed to a sprint.
Barbara Oppenheim, associate dean of student learning at Chamberlain’s Charlotte campus, recommends the “4 and 30 Plan.” This is a simple time-blocking exercise. Find four hours each day that you can dedicate to studying for the NCLEX that fit in around your life. Your goal for each hour is to complete 30 practice questions.
#2 – Review Your Answers
Reviewing your answers is important in the learning process. If you work through a question and get it correct the first time, that’s great. But you should still practice that question frequently to keep the muscle memory fresh with the correct answer. Questions that you get wrong are not the end of the world. Figure out where you went wrong (by yourself, with the help of a tutor or a prep course) and take detailed notes to help you understand where you got off track with the question so that you can have the correct outcome the next time you try it.
“After going through questions, I would go back and review content on what I had missed and write notes. I studied five to six days of the week. I alternated days as far as how many hours I studied so I wasn’t draining myself too much. I made sure I took breaks. Coffee became my best friend for four weeks,” said Catherine Resendez, a 2017 BSN graduate from Chamberlain.
Need help finding a NCLEX-RN® prep course? Here are a few:
#3 – Make Good Use of Academic Support and Tutoring Centers
Tutors and academic support play a huge role in your NCLEX success. No matter where you’re getting your nursing degree from, make sure to check out your school’s tutoring center or academic support office on day one of your first year.
Chamberlain’s tutoring center is called the Center for Academic Success (CAS.) 2012 Chamberlain University BSN graduate, Maryam Syed, said that taking advantage of the CAS was a key to her NCLEX success.
“We constantly got to review that material over and over and over. I got more exposure to all the subjects. I would recommend students use the CAS regularly and spend time studying and understanding, instead of just trying to pass the exam for that one day,” she said. “It helps if you constantly refresh.”
#4 – Practice the Exam
Practice the exam under the same conditions that you’ll take the exam. If you replicate the precise conditions you know you’ll have the day of the test, the more confidence you will have that you are going to succeed.
Use a computerized practice exam, like the free on-demand Kaplan NCLEX-RN practice exam
Wear scrubs, this will remind you of why you are taking the test and put you in the headspace to succeed
Get a whiteboard to work out your answers on, remember you can’t erase your work, as you won’t be allowed to during the actual exam
Take your breaks at two and three and a half hours. Even if you just get up and stretch your legs or do some mindful meditation, the breaks are needed to keep you energized during the exam (plus, you’ll probably have to go to the restroom by hour two!)
Bring only water and a healthy snack to the table to take your practice exam
Remember you cannot use study guides or any other materials in the actual NCLEX, so don’t use them when you take your practice exam.
#5 – Relax the Night Before
Do not cram. By the time you get to the night before your NCLEX you know your stuff or you don’t. There are many suggestions of what to do the night before you take the NCLEX. Here are some practical examples:
You may want to lay out your scrubs and materials you plan to take with you to the exam. Double check the driving directions to the exam site. Meal prep so you can have a healthy and filling breakfast. Do the things needed to do to assure yourself that you’re prepped for exam day as soon as you wake up in the morning.
Oppenheim’s suggestion is one of our favorites, though – watch Finding Nemo. She says it’s impossible to be stressed while watching a Disney movie.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you get a very good night’s sleep.
By Kate Rice
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