Completing a nursing degree is a major milestone for new nurses, but passing the NCLEX is the gateway to a career. Nursing students should begin to prepare for the licensure exam at least six months before graduation. The key to maximizing prep time is a well-structured study plan. Here are some tips to help you develop a plan to ensure a passing score on your first try.
Understand the Test
The NCLEX is a computerized adaptive test (CAT), which means that no two test-takers will have the same experience. The computer selects questions based on your answers to previous questions. The test can be as short as 75 questions or as long as 265. The test does not measure direct knowledge as much as it measures critical thinking and the nurse’s ability to apply knowledge to a patient care situation. In devising your study plan, spend less time memorizing facts and more time thinking of how what you’ve learned will be applied on the job.
Study and Set Goals
Consider your classroom and clinical experiences and determine how you learn best. If you are a visual learner, focus your resources on acquiring review materials that include flashcards and videos. If you do best reading and studying, buy one or two comprehensive review books and study guides. If you learn more in a group environment, seek out other nursing students for weekly study sessions.
Develop concrete goals for your study and review sessions; they should be measurable, written down, have specific time limits and be realistic. Write each study goal on an index card and put the cards in order to develop a timeline for your plan. An example of a good short-term study goal is: At the end of a three-hour session, I will be able to correctly answer the study questions related to patients with diabetes. A good long-term goal would be achieving a score of 90% or better on the pediatric practice test after spending one week focused on pediatric nursing.
Include a section in your plan devoted to dosage calculation and train yourself to write out all calculations to avoid careless errors.
Take Practice Tests
Take the time to assess your areas of strength and weakness by taking practice tests. There are many online resources that simulate the actual test experience and offer valuable feedback about your test readiness. Incorporate at least one study session each week devoted to practicing the unique question formats in the NCLEX. These include the “select all that apply,” or SATA, questions and questions that require you to put actions in order of priority. There is no partial credit for a question that is partly right; a question is either right or wrong. Keep a chart of your scores in various disciplines so you know where to focus your prep time.
Preparing for the NCLEX may seem like a daunting task, but starting early and developing a comprehensive plan will make the work more manageable and ensure your success. Take advantage of the tips and resources available on professional nursing association websites and you will be well prepared to pass the exam.