NCLEX strategies that work

NCLEX strategiesEven though you graduate from nursing school, it doesn’t mean all your hard work is over. Nope. You still have countless hours of studying ahead of you…sorry to be the bearer of bad news! Of course, we’re talking about the NCLEX and if you’re a new graduate, then it’s on your mind…just like it is on this  new-grad’s mind as seen in this email:

I’m a new nursing graduate, I’ve used your site a lot for nursing school exams. Any tips or helpful advice for the NCLEX? I haven’t found anything on your site about it. I take it in 2 weeks and just figured I would ask about your experience and what you think helps and doesn’t. Thanks!

I get a lot of questions about NCLEX…and rightly so. It’s a Really. Big. Deal. So I will share with you the strategy I followed to pass in just 75 questions. Ready?

Schedule the NCLEX

Give yourself enough time to study, but don’t draw it out so long that you lose momentum. Personally, I think about 8 weeks is optimal, giving you enough time to study regularly without it taking over a large portion of your life. Are you going to be studying 8 hours a day for 8 weeks? Heck no…and I’d even suggest taking a week or two off with NO studying whatsoever right after graduation. If you’re like me, you will be so burned out after graduation that you can’t stomach doing ANYTHING for at least a couple of weeks. Note that in some cases, your test may be scheduled a few months out…if this happens to you and it’s the earliest you can take it…never fear. We have a study plan to get you through it!

Develop an NCLEX study plan

Depending on when your exam is, you’ll want to set aside time to study on a regular basis so that you never feel overwhelmed. Below is a typical timeline of how to break up your studying so it doesn’t completely take over your life.

As soon as you schedule your exam: Review your ATI or HESI exam scores, playing close attention to how well you scored in various areas. If your school doesn’t use exit testing that predicts your ability to pass the NCLEX, do some practice questions and make note of which areas you’re weak in. Now you know where to spend most of your time.

From scheduling up until 3 weeks prior: Start by focusing almost exclusively on the areas you score lowest in. As you go through each and every question, make sure you read the rationales for why the right choice is correct and why all the other choices are wrong. You will learn all sorts of valuable little nuggets of knowledge along the way.

Keep track of all these little nuggets of knowledge..write ’em in a notebook, create a Google document, make flashcards…whatever works. Plan to study for about 2 hours per day…spend about half that time doing practice questions and about an hour reviewing your notes.

As you start to get more confident in your weak areas, start working in the areas you’re strong in…I guarantee you’ll unearth a ton of little pearls of wisdom as you study this stuff as well.

3 weeks prior to your test: For two weeks you are going to amp up your studying to 3 hours per day…equally spent between doing practice questions and creating/reviewing your notes. Though your studying may still be weighted toward the topics you’re not so sure of, be sure to include ALL topics overall. Don’t blow off topics in leadership and think you can just focus on clinical/patho questions…the NCLEX is very well-rounded, and you should be, too.

The week before your test: At this point you’ve studied your wisdom pearls relentlessly and know them like the back of your hand. Now you get into major NCLEX test-taking mode. For the six days before your exam, do AT LEAST 75 questions at a stretch to mimic taking the actual test. It’s best if you can take actual NCLEX practice exams online in order to truly mimic your test-taking experience. Pay attention to your scores, adjust your studying and take another practice exam. Rinse and repeat.

The day before your exam: Take the day off! DO NOT study, DO NOT do practice questions, DO NOT do flashcards, DO NOT open your laptop, DO NOT talk about the test, DO NOT quiz your friends on their test experience, DO NOT google anything having to do with the test, DO NOT visit message boards where other people are freaking out about the test. Go have fun, relax, laugh. Hydrate well (the last thing you want is a test-day headache), get to bed at a decent hour and get a good night’s sleep.

It’s test day!

The morning of your exam: Again…NO STUDYING! Eat a good breakfast and, if you normally have coffee, go ahead and have a cup but don’t go overboard. The last thing you want is a case of the jitters. Plan to get to the testing center with plenty of time to spare. If you get there early…DO NOT study! Sit in your car and listen to music, call a friend, play a game on your phone..something to take your mind off your nerves.

Note that the testing area isn’t going to let you take ANYTHING into the testing room…so don’t take a bunch of stuff in with you. Whatever you do bring is going to go in a locker and they will probably search your bag. No coats, hats, scarves, gloves in the testing room. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a snack you can put in your locker…depending on the testing facility, they may let you take a break to have a small snack (and this might be a good idea if your test goes on for several hours). DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT accessing your cell phone on any breaks!

The testing center will give you something to write notes on…most likely an erasable white board…you cannot bring in your own scratch paper or writing instruments. They’re pretty serious people over there!

During your exam: The NCLEX is more-or-less just like all those exams you took in nursing school, so you should be well-prepared. The main difference is all the SATA (select-all-that-apply) questions, which are the bane of test takers everywhere! Take your time, go through each question, make sure you READ each question and really understand what it is asking (surely you’re no stranger to test questions being designed to trick you up, right???). If you’d like a review of how to conquer NCLEX questions, I’ve got you covered right here.

After the exam: Whether your test shuts off at 75 questions or grills you for the entire six hours…you are most likely going to feel like you failed. Whatever you do, don’t call a friend on the way home and cry to her while you get pulled over by a motorcycle cop for talking on your cell phone (I am speaking from experience!). Once you have finished your test…put it out of your head and go do something fun! You’re DONE STUDYING (at least for now…when you start your new job you’ll be right back at it!).

What are your “go-to” NCLEX study tips? Share them with us in the comments below! And BEST OF LUCK on your exam!!!

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