7 Strategies to Pass the NCLEX-RN on Your First Try

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WRITTEN BY:
Shannon Lee
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REVIEWED BY:
Edumed Editing Staff
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As the name implies, registered nurses (RN) must be registered. This means they must obtain a license. To get licensed, future RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination – Registered Nurse, or NCLEX-RN. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) owns this exam, and this computerized test is administered by Pearson VUE.

Until you pass this exam, you cannot become a registered nurse. If you fail the exam, you have an opportunity to take it again, although you want to avoid that as much as possible, for obvious reasons.

The good news is that most people (about 80%) pass the NCLEX-RN on their first try. To make sure you are one of these people, try implementing the following tips and strategies.

Strategy #1: Start the NCLEX-RN Registration Process as Soon as Possible

The schedule of the exam varies based on what state you’re in, but you can usually take the NCLEX-RN within 45 or so days after graduating from nursing school. You can’t usually take it sooner because to schedule your exam, you first need an Authorization to Test, or ATT. First-time test takers will receive a test date 30 days after scheduling the exam.

Because it will probably be more than a month after your classes before you can take the NCLEX-RN exam, don’t put off getting your ATT. The longer you wait to take the exam, the more time your brain has to forget what it’s learned in nursing school.

Yes, having more time to study for the exam can have its advantages, but this preparation time will be less if you can rely on what you learned in nursing school as much as possible and not rely on relearning material. Plus, the sooner you pass the NCLEX-RN exam, the sooner you can stop worrying about it.

Strategy #2: Get Outside Help

Can you pass the NCLEX-RN without getting help from anyone else? Sure, but it probably won’t make things any easier for you. There are several benefits to getting help when preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam, whether this help comes from classmates, study materials, and/or a formal prep course.

First, you’ll learn techniques and receive advice you never knew about. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Second, you’ll learn not just what you need to know for the exam, but also what you don’t need to know. This can save valuable study time and stress by avoiding information that won’t be on the exam.

Third, outside help can provide a support network. From positive encouragement to commiserating about the stress of the exam, getting through this stage in your early nursing career with others can be beneficial.

Fourth, an informal study group or official preparation course provides structure and accountability that you can’t get when studying on your own. This can help you learn more efficiently, keep you on your study plan schedule, and make better use of your limited study time.

Finally, a good way to solidify knowledge is to explain it to someone else. This protégé effect reinforces what you already know and helps you better understand any nuances to what you’ve learned.

Strategy #3: Don’t Forget That This Is a Test, Not Real Life

It’s difficult for a standardized test to perfectly measure a person’s ability to apply real world knowledge to artificial situations. This can lead to situations where you feel the right answer on the test is not the right answer in real life. Because of this, when studying (and taking) the NCLEX-RN, remember the big picture: you’re trying to pass a computerized test, not save a person’s life or improve their health.

By keeping his in mind, it will be easier to eliminate the wrong answers on the exam. For example, when you encounter a particular real-world situation with a patient, the best course of action might be to do nothing to the patient. But on the NCLEX-RN exam, this is never the correct answer.

A corollary to this is to approach the exam without always relying on your past experiences from your clinicals. A hospital’s policy for a given scenario may be different than what the NCLEX-RN says the correct answer is.

Strategy #4: Practice, Practice, Practice

Taking practice exams and answering practice questions will comprise the bulk of your exam prep. But once you feel confident in your understanding of the material, it’s still a good idea to continue practicing. This practice is important because it’s not just about testing your knowledge, but becoming more familiar with the test’s format, directions, pacing of the questions, and reasoning behind the answers.

The more practice you get, the more second-nature taking the exam will be. You’ll start to recognize patterns in how the test is set up to trick you into selecting the wrong answer or distract you from pertinent information.

Also, you’ll eventually get to a point where your internal clock that tells you if you’re spending too much time on a question and if you’re on pace to have time to answer enough questions to pass the exam.

Strategy #5: Maintain Your Routine

When you studied in nursing school, you had a routine that worked for you. Maybe you’re an early bird or perhaps you’re a night owl. Either way, there are places, times, and routines that make it easier (and more comfortable) for you to learn and take tests. The same goes for studying for the NCLEX-RN and on test day.

If you had certain habits or rituals that you followed before a big test in nursing school, you should maintain them on the day of your exam. Also, when scheduling a time to take the NCLEX-RN, do it at a time that fits into your routine. For instance, if you do your best work late at night, it’s probably not best to schedule your exam first thing in the morning.

Strategy #6: Don’t Study the Night Before the Test

If you haven’t learned a concept the day before the exam, you’re probably not going to learn before your take the exam. So don’t stress out if you realize there’s a concept that you still don’t fully understand and it’s the night before the exam. This is a time where you should give yourself a break and relax as much as possible to be well rested before test day.

If you feel compelled to study, you can do some practice test questions or some other prep exercise. But understand this will be more about reducing your anxiety and improving your peace of mind than actually learning something new.

Strategy #7: Avoiding Pushing Yourself Too Hard When Preparing

You want to be physically and mentally healthy to make the most of your nursing school education and preparing for the NCLEX-RN is no different. You need to work hard and be disciplined in your preparation, but you don’t need to push yourself so hard that you become discouraged or get burned out. You also don’t want to get to the test center emotionally exhausted. All the learning in the world will be for nothing if you’re too mentally drained to give the exam your full attention.