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.

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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