You vs. the NCLEX: 4 Strategies for Success

You’ve mastered medical calculations, made it through med-surg and conquered your capstone course. Now there’s just one more thing between you and a career as a registered nurse – the NCLEX- RN®.

For a few pointers on preparing for the licensing exam, we spoke with Stacey Kinney, MSN, RN, CNE, Academic Success Specialist at Chamberlain College of Nursing. She suggested students look at the NCLEX as a challenge that requires a dedicated strategy.

“Think about preparing for the NCLEX-RN the same way you would prepare for a race, game or other athletic competition,” she said. Here are a few of her tips for success on the licensing exam.

  1. Start preparing early.

If you’re training for a marathon, you can’t expect to go from couch potato to 26.2 miles in just a week. Instead, you need to slowly build your endurance over a period of months.

The same holds true for NCLEX preparation, said Kinney. Start early. Set realistic goals for yourself. Figure out what your weaknesses are and build a study plan to address them.

While you’re building your strength, keep an eye on the clock. Work at it until you can answer NCLEX-RN-style questions in one minute or less.

Most importantly, Kinney advised, make sure you have both short-term goals and long-term goals, and reward yourself for your accomplishments along the way.

  1. Know what you’re up against.

Before a big game or match, athletes from many different sports study their opponents and even the venue so they  know what’s coming.

Kinney recommends that you take the same approach here – get to know anything and everything you can about the exam and testing environment so you can go into the NCLEX-RN with confidence.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Where is the testing center located? How long does it take to get there? Where do you park? Do a dry run so that you’re ready to go on test day.
  • Understand the ID requirements and procedures so that you won’t get flustered right before the exam. Know, for example, that test administrators won’t just ask for your driver’s license – they’ll also do a palm vein scan when you arrive and before and after you take a break.
  • Learn what you can and can’t do. For example, the following items cannot be brought into the testing room with you: purses, watches, coats, scarves, drinks, or even lip balm. You won’t be given any scratch paper. Instead, test proctors will hand you a whiteboard with a marker.

More information about the NCLEX-RN and testing environment can be found on the NCSBN website.

  1. Practice under the same conditions that you’ll be facing on the big day.

If you play basketball, you wouldn’t practice shooting at a basket that’s under regulation height. If you’re training for a marathon with a hilly course, you won’t want to train just on flat terrain.

So when you’re preparing for the NCLEX, you should also be sure to mimic exam conditions, said Kinney. That’s when getting to know all the rules and regulations (tip #2) comes in handy.

Here are a few examples of ways you can practice:

  • Get yourself a whiteboard, and get used to working out your answers on it. Don’t let yourself get in the habit of erasing your notes, however, because you won’t be allowed to do so during the exam.
  • Practice NCLEX-RN-style questions in all of the different formats that might come your way – multiple response, ordered response, fill-in-the-blank and more. Use books if you want, but make sure you also practice some questions on the computer, since that’s how you’ll be taking the exam.
  • No matter how much it helps you concentrate, don’t practice while chewing gum and listening to music – after all, both gum and headphones are prohibited.
  1. Stay healthy.

Training too hard in any sport can result in injuries, which can affect your performance. The same holds true with preparing for the NCLEX. Balance your study time with other activities. Eat right, get enough sleep and stay positive – you can do this!

What other strategies would you recommend for preparing for the NCLEX? Leave your comments in the space below.

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