NCLEX Study Tips for a Successful Nursing Career
September 4, 2014
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To obtain a license, every nurse in the U.S. must first pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This critical test ensures that only qualified, well-trained nurses enter the workforce.
The exam evaluates critical thinking and the ability to apply your knowledge and skills in typical nursing situations; there are no trick questions. Following these NCLEX study tips will help improve both your confidence and performance.
Don't Put It Off
You might dread taking the exam, but the longer you put it off, the more difficult it will be. The education you invested in loses its freshness quickly; be sure to schedule your exam soon, and at a time when it doesn't conflict with major events in your life. Many nursing students learn to prepare for their "boards" before they graduate.
Prepare your Mind...
Always maintain a positive mental attitude. Picture yourself passing and receiving your license in the mail. If you aren't careful, you can over-think the exam. Your mind can still work at its best under manageable levels of stress, so some concerns are good for you. Remember: If you've succeeded in nursing school, you can pass the exam. To be mentally prepared, keep these things in mind:
- Don't emulate others. Instead, understand your strengths and weaknesses. Study in a way that works for you.
- Trying to cram in the few days before the test will likely do more harm than good. Instead, spend time doing something you enjoy and focus on relaxing — especially the night before.
- Watching nursing lessons in action can be far more beneficial than reading about certain scenarios. Tutorials abound online, and there are likely some available in the areas you feel most challenged.
Get to know the NCLEX well ahead of test time. Because it is computerized and interactive, the exam alters question difficulty based on your answers to previous questions. Most are multiple-choice, while others might be fill-in-the-blank or require you to change a graphic image or rearrange items in a list. There is only a pass/fail grade, and the computer will continue to ask questions until you reach either threshold. Exam questions are organized into four categories and six subcategories.
Take advantage of the many study guides available. Practice tests can help predict your outcome and identify areas you need to work on. Just be sure the materials you use are based on the most recent test. Computers administer the test, so use computerized test simulations.
Preparing your body for the big day can make you comfortable and more apt to perform well. For example:
- Eat a hearty breakfast well before test time. Be sure to include plenty of protein and enough carbohydrates to keep you energized.
- If you're used to it, exercise before breakfast.
- Get a good night's sleep and avoid using sleep aids.
- Dress comfortably for the exam and take along a light sweater for cold rooms.
- Keep your body relaxed during the exam. If you feel yourself tensing up, stop and breathe. Take full advantage of breaks.
You're prepared mentally and physically, you've studied hard and you're ready to go. Relax and fall back on nursing fundamentals and processes. Think through the scenarios presented as if you're there at the facility. Here are a few other pointers to help you get through it:
- If the test is being held in an unfamiliar place, try to scout out the test site a few days before the testing date. Get yourself logistically ready by finding the parking area and the building where the test is held.
- Try to schedule the testing time when you are at your most comfortable, whether morning or evening.
- Show up early for the test and get yourself settled. Use deep breathing exercises to help yourself relax before and during the test.
- The computer will let you know if you finish sooner, but keep going and be prepared to spend the entire six hours allotted for the test.
During the Exam
Remember that the test is measuring your ability to apply the content you've learned to realistic scenarios, so take your time answering the questions. If you are bogged down, guess the best answer or skip the question. Often the first answer that comes to mind is the correct one. Above all, use the process of elimination or make important judgments on answers that are significantly different from the other three.
Keep in mind that as long as the computer is asking questions, you can still pass the exam. If the questions seem to be getting harder, you are probably doing well. Here's a little hint: Patient safety is a major clue to many of the answers.
As dismal as failing may sound, remember that you aren't alone. Take advantage of it by focusing on the areas you found difficult. Talk to your faculty, study your review materials and review these NCLEX study tips. You can repeat the test in 45 days, and your chances of passing are then much higher.
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