You’ve survived the rigors of nursing school and graduated from your program unscathed. Now all that stands between you and your new career as an RN is the NCLEX exam. Feelings of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are all normal right now, but don’t let them get the best of you. The NCLEX may seem insurmountable, but with the right tools, tips, and resources, you can ace it on your very first try. Below, we break down the exam structure, tackle test categories, offer study strategies, and get expert insight into preparing, taking, and passing the NCLEX the first time around.
Understanding the Exam
A good understanding of the exam structure is the first step to setting yourself up for NCLEX success. Before arriving on test day, students should know how the exam is scored, what types of questions they’ll be asked, and how long they have to complete the test. In this section, we will cover what you need to know to confidently sit for the NCLEX.
Types of Questions
The NCLEX exam is administered electronically using computer adaptive testing (CAT). CAT populates new questions based on a student’s performance and prevents students from cheating by presenting questions in a random order. Let’s take a closer look at the 7 question types you’ll encounter on the NCLEX.
NCLEX test-takers have a total of six hours to complete the exam including two optional breaks. The exam can be anywhere from 75 to 265 questions long and how long it takes you to complete the NCLEX exam will be based on the number of questions you answer correctly. If the test ends after 75 questions, it either means you’ve preformed so well that there’s no need to prove yourself any further, or it means you’ve gotten so many questions wrong that it’s time to terminate the exam.
NCLEX-RN vs. NCLEX-PN
The NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN are both prelicensure exams that must be passed before working with patients as a licensed nurse. These exams differ upon the different education and scope of practice of a registered nurse and a practical/vocational nurse. While there is some crossover on the fundamentals of patient care, the knowledge base is specific to each profession.
Inside the 8 NCLEX Categories
Becoming familiar with the distribution of content for the NCLEX is the best way to ensure your properly prepared to sit for the exam. Here are the key content areas so you know what to expect on test day.
|Subject Area||Topics Covered *including but not limited to. See NCLEX Test Plan for full details|
|Management of Care||Nurses must be able to identify the functions, roles, and responsibilities of the other members of the multidisciplinary healthcare team. Content includes resource utilization, interprofessional collaboration, patient advocacy, delegation, and care prioritization.|
|Basic Care and Comfort||Nurses must incorporate nursing concepts to promote comfort and assist clients with basic activities of daily living. Content includes mobility, nutrition, circulation, and elimination patterns and alterations.|
|Health Promotion and Maintenance||Nurses must utilize knowledge in human growth and development to promote health and safety of clients across the lifespan. Content includes age appropriate care, including neonatal, pediatric and post-partum, assessing health literacy, patient education, and health risk identification on the personal, community and population levels.|
|Psychosocial Integrity||Nurses must be able to assess and provide care for emotional and mental concerns of the client, including acute and chronic mental illnesses as well as be able to provide a supportive environment for emotional well-being. Content includes assessing psychosocial and family factors, caring for patients with substance abuse, and therapeutic communication.|
|Physiological Adaptation||Nurses must be able to manage and provide care for clients with acute, chronic and life-threatening physical health conditions and alterations. Content includes invasive procedures, telemetry, hemodialysis, wound care, emergency procedures and management of the patient on a ventilator or with a chest tube.|
|Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies||Nurses must be able to provide safe administration of medications and parenteral therapies. Content includes blood administration, medication (administration, assessment and education), pain management and parenteral nutrition.|
|Reduction of Risk Potential||Nurses utilize their expertise and clinical judgment to reduce the likelihood that clients will develop complications, adverse effects, or health problems related to existing conditions, treatments and/or procedures. Content includes diagnostic testing, insertion/maintenance of intravenous, urinary, and nasal/oral lines and tubes, pre/post-operative assessment and education, and moderate sedation.|
|Safety and Infection Control||Nurses must be able to protect clients, themselves, and other health care personnel from health and environmental hazards. Content includes fall and injury prevention, patient allergy assessment, physician order clarification, ergonomics/safe use of equipment, Standard Precautions/infection control/prevention, and proper use of restraints.|
Creating a Winning Study Plan
Your destination is NCLEX success and the road that will get you there is a winning study plan. So, where do you start? Begin by marking the NCLEX test-day on your calendar. You can always change this later on, but having a set day to work towards will guide your studying and help you stay on track. Once you’ve set your test date, work on filling in the rest of your calendar with various study methods and materials leading up to the NCLEX. Below are a few excellent study materials to add into your NCLEX study plan for exam-day victory.
Study Materials that Work
Every student studies differently and what works for one nursing student may not for the next. However, there a few study materials that are almost certain to bolster your chances of NCLEX victory. Let’s breakdown the top three.
The Value of NCLEX Prep Courses
As much as your instructors may have prepared you for the NCLEX, enrolling in a prep course is the best way to ensure a passing score. Students who take a prep course build clinical reasoning skills and learn to think like nurse while reviewing practice questions from past NCLEX exams under the guidance of nursing professionals. Whether you just graduated or your coursework was a few years back, a mental refresher is always a smart idea and NCLEX prep courses offer a wide variety of classes for every learning style, situation, and schedule. There are a number of well-regarded options to prepare for the NCLEX, from in-person review courses to online prep sessions and mobile apps, so no matter what your learning style is, there is a prep course for you. Below are 5 prep courses that are totally worth your money.
5 Prep Courses Worth the Money
The Calendar Countdown
Creating and implementing a solid study plan begins with setting a study schedule. Start by marking the day of the NCLEX exam on your calendar. This will give you something concrete to work towards and will keep your exam day front and center to help you avoid procrastination. Once your test date is set, begin filling in the days leading up to the exam with all your different study activities. Based on your study materials and whether or not you’re taking a prep course, here’s what a study schedule might look like.
Tips to Thrive on Test Day
You’ve made it to test day. All the late nights studying and packed days full of flashcards and mock exams is about to pay off, but before you click the start button to initiate your NCLEX, follow these test days tips to ensure you’re prepared before the exam, during, and after.
Ask the Expert: NCLEX FAQs
Jessica Dzubak has been a Registered Nurse for over 6 years and passed the NCLEX on her first attempt. Jessica has a master’s degree in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Education. Her specialty is nursing professional development and continuing education.
NCLEX Study Resources to Ace the Exam
Still looking to learn more about how you can nail the NCLEX? The additional resources in this section will help you feel as confident as possible on exam day.
The NCBN’s official questions are the gold standard when it comes to preparing for the NLCEX. These mock computerized tests are as close as you’ll come to the actual testing format.
This site is one of the best when it comes to practice exam questions. Students will receive access to 500 free NCLEX questions covering all categories tested.
UWorld.com provides sperate forums for the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN where test-preppers can chat about the exams, share study strategies, and give career advice.
Exam-labs.com provides a free NCLEX exam with a cool social feature that allows test-takers to leave comments on each one of the questions.
This blog offers a great review of the content you will need to pass the NCLEX. This is great site to give you a quick refresher and review of what you’ve learned in nursing school.
Once you sign up for a NRSG Academy account, you’ll get online access to various useful NCLEX practice materials and resources, including study tools, lessons, quizzes, and an app.
NCLEX Mastery is great for students who like to study on-the-go. This mobile app gets you over 1,600 NCLEX practice questions designed by experts and based on the actual exam.
Nurse labs offers over 3,500 free NCLEX questions with different modes for practicing. You can choose to view questions from a specific section of the exam or a random mix with an option for being timed.