The NCLEX-RN: How to Pass on the First Try

The NCLEX-RN: How to Pass on the First Try

Once you have graduated from nursing school, the next big milestone on your nursing journey is passing the NCLEX-RN exam. This can be daunting, but we are here to help with a few tips to prepare yourself to pass this exam on the first try.

Know Details about the Exam

One of the first things you should do is learn about the NCLEX-RN exam itself. This exam is a computer-adaptive test, which means every person’s exam is different. At a minimum, you will answer 85 questions, and at a maximum you will answer either 150 questions or as many questions as you get through in the five hours of allotted time. The computer selects questions based on how well you do on previous questions, and the exam ends when the computer determines you have a 95% chance of a passing score. The questions themselves are mostly multiple-choice, but there will be a few other question formats you can familiarize yourself with, including hot spot, drag and drop, multiple select, and case studies.

Know the Content of the Exam

The exam will cover the following areas:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
    • Management of Care
    • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity
    • Basic Care and Comfort
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
    • Physiological Adaptation
    • Reduction of Risk Potential

Have a Study Plan

As you prepare for the exam, create a study plan that allows for weeks or months to study so you are not trying to cram. Everyone has a different learning style, so use the tools that work best for you, which may range from flashcards to mnemonics. A great way to prepare is to take practice tests, aiming to simulate the actual exam by limiting distractions and taking the entire practice test in one sitting.

You will find great resources for preparing for the NCLEX-RN test, such as practice tests, study guides, and flashcards at Union Test Prep.

Remember Self-Care and Other Important Details

As you approach the days before the exam, make sure you are getting enough sleep, especially the night before the exam. When you schedule the exam, choose a time slot that fits your best performance time. If you’re a morning person, sign up for a morning exam; if you’re not a morning person, an afternoon exam may be better for you. Eat a good meal before the exam, and bring snacks if you think you will get hungry. You should dress comfortably but business casual. On the day of the exam, plan to arrive early so that you are not stressed if you hit traffic or have a hard time finding the testing facility or parking lot. Make sure you bring the appropriate identification, but do not bring personal items.

Taking the Exam

Pace yourself as you take the exam, because you have up to six hours. You cannot go back to previous questions so only focus on the question in front of you. There are a few strategies that can help you determine the correct answer for some questions:

  • Assess the patient and perform a nursing intervention before calling a physician
  • Keep patient safety as your first priority
  • Remember the ABC priority - Airway, Breathing, Circulation
  • Avoid extreme answers like ones that include “all” or “none”
  • Try to ignore personal or clinical experience; this is tricky because you have learned a lot in your clinical experiences, but the correct answers to the exam questions are evidence-based from textbooks and data. This means the correct answer may not align to your real-world experience.

As you embark on preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam, make sure you stay positive. Manage any anxiety by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating nutritious meals, and practicing self-care so that you are in your best shape when you walk into the testing center. Then you will be set to pass the exam on the first try!


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