Five things students should do to pass the new NCLEX

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A brand-new year means brand-new standards, at least for the NCLEX.

With the December 15 announcement by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to raise the passing standard on the NCLEX-RN exam, aspiring nurses taking the test after April 2010 may find the exam more challenging than anticipated.

Historically, new standards have been shown to affect passing rates. The change in standards set by the NCSBN in 2007 resulted in a drop in pass rates by approximately three percentage points among first-time test takers in the United States.

New Test
First of all, how much has the test changed? Among other things, here are three changes you can expect on the new NCLEX test in April 2010:

  • The Management of Care subcategory currently comprises 13 to 19 of the exam; this will increase to 16 to 22 percent.
  • The Reduction of Risk Potential subcategory currently comprises 13 to 19 percent of the exam; this will decrease to 10 percent.
  • A newly designed test interface will launch, including a different font and reshuffled button placements.

Now is a better time than ever to develop proper prep skills and good study habits. Here are five simple tips to help you gain confidence and stay ahead of the curve.

1. Focus on strategy, not content. If you’re a recent nursing school graduate, you probably know enough content. Focus on the proper strategies for answering higher-level questions and the proper application of your content knowledge.

2. Learn to identify the proper topic. Make sure you know how to boil down each question to its essential topic. It will help you save time and also know what kind of answer you need.

3. Get to know the test. In addition to knowing the content, make sure you also understand what to expect as far as the length of the exam, NCLEX question format and passing-level-difficulty critical thinking. Work on your test-taking stamina and be prepared to sit for all 265 questions of the upper-level questions to make sure you’re ready for anything.

4. Take a diagnostic test to find your strengths and weaknesses. With everyone’s busy schedules, time is limited. Make the most of your valuable study hours by focusing your review on the areas in which you need most help.

5. Make a study plan and stick to it. Plan your studies and practice sessions with your test date in mind to assure that you cover essentials.

What nursing students should understand is that while the increased passing standard will make the test somewhat harder to pass statistically, the questions themselves won’t become any more difficult. But the increasingly tight job market for nurses means it becomes even more critical for test takers to prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam thoroughly. In such a competitive market, test takers will want to pass the exam the first time to make themselves as viable as possible for good positions.

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Barbara Irwin

Barbara Irwin, BSN, RN, supervises development of the Kaplan Nursing course for preparation for the NCLEX-RN® examination for U.S. nursing students and international nurses, as well as integrated testing, enrichment, and remediation programs implemented by nursing schools. While tutoring students who were unsuccessful on the NCLEX-RN® exam, Irwin developed a series of innovative critical-thinking strategies that help students achieve success on this high-stakes test. She has co-authored books about preparing for the NCLEX-RN® exam. Irwin received her bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Oklahoma. Her professional background includes experience in nursing education, home care nursing, hospice nursing, and director of a home health agency.

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6 Responses to Five things students should do to pass the new NCLEX

  1. Barbara- where did you get the info that says “The Management of Care subcategory currently comprises 13 to 19 percent of the exam; this will increase to 16 to 22 percent. The Reduction of Risk Potential subcategory currently comprises 13 to 19 percent of the exam; this will decrease to 10 to 16 percent.”?? It’s not on the PDF that the NCSBN has on their website.

  2. Hi Kayla,

    Thank you for your question.

    If you look at the new test plan percentage breakdowns and compare them to the old test plan (from 2007), you’ll see that in the plan established in 2007 has listed that Management of Care would be covered in roughly 13-19% of the questions on the NCLEX-RN exam. In the new test plan, these percentages for Management of Care have been changed to 16-22%. The same process can be followed to find the change for Reduction of Risk Potential as well.

    Here are the links from the NCSBN website for your reference.
    2007 Test Plan: Page 3 of
    New Test Plan: Page 3 of

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

    Amy Wang
    Kaplan Nursing

  3. Megan Gilbert RN

    Thank you for the wonderful article! As a nursing student I am constantly studying my NCLEX questions and this information is priceless! Thank you Thank you!

  4. Sloan, RN

    Great information for a new graduate to know and most absolutely absorb. I had no idea they changed the format in 2007 (the year I graduated so I wonder if these types of changes is readily available news to nursing students. If not, then this is a valuable source of information for them. It seems encouraging though to see the proposed changes to the test- it does not seem to be affecting content too significantly, which has to be encouraging for the preparing student. I’m highly surprised by the decrease in the number of questions in the Potential for Risk Potential because it seems in the hospital setting identifying risk potentials is a HUGE issue. I thought the test-taking tips could not have been more accurate. Oftentimes nursing students focus on cramming all the information they learned in nursing school into a month of studying- which is completely unrealistic- there is just too much. The best way is to find out what the student’s weaknesses are and cater studying to those areas, like said above. And familiarizing yourself with the test is half the battle, because of the unique format. Valuable article, wish I read it when I was studying for mine.

  5. karen

    hi good day!
    i would like to ask if i will still be included in the new test plan 2010 and the new passing rate if i am scheduled to take the exam this march 2010.

    thank you.

  6. Katherine G

    Wonderful tips! As a new grad and newly licenses RN (6/25/10) I thought these tips were spot on and I know that the month of review of questions (more for familiarity than content) was the key to my confidence and ultimate success in my boards.

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