It’s almost graduation season, which means thousands of would-be nurses are getting ready to take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). Once you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, you can sign up to take the exam to earn your RN license. You won’t be able to practice without it, so use this guide to pass it on your first try.
The number of RN candidates who passed the NCLEX on their first try fell to 80% last year as more students struggled to pass the test.
Christopher Battelli recently passed it on the first attempt. He says it’s important to focus on your mental health ahead of the exam.
“The worst thing is the stress and the fear and the pressure you build up for yourself. But I also knew that I had done enough studying. After I got done with the test, I was surprised at how good I felt. Now, I always tell people ‘It’s not that bad.’” Battelli said.
Nursing students are no strangers to stress. Studies show 25% of nursing program students develop depression. They tend to have higher stress levels than nursing faculty and medical students.
Barbara Klontz, who is currently studying for the NCLEX, says the pressure has been intense for her and her fellow students.
“A number of people in my cohort reported developing new symptoms of anxiety and depression. That’s partly because you’re studying, it’s frustrating because there’s no immediate reward after graduation; you’re isolated from people, you don’t have a normal schedule and you’re transitioning into a world that’s very scary,” said Klontz.
Klontz took about two weeks off to decompress after finishing her studies before she started preparing for the NCLEX. She thinks every graduate should spend time taking care of themselves before rushing into the exam. Klontz suggests signing up for the required background check while on vacation and then scheduling the test as soon as you get back.
As you start studying, Battelli says it’s important to take breaks when you get tired.
“Set a schedule. Once you meet that goal, leave it alone because your brain is going to be exhausted, you won’t be able to store information anymore and you’ll be wasting your time,” he said.
“For me, I would study four hours, do some reviewing and then the rest of the day I would not do anything. I would hang out with friends or go work out,” he explained. “I think the biggest thing is managing your nerves. You can do that by taking care of yourself, eating well, exercising and doing things that make you feel happy and healthy. You have to keep doing that even while you’re studying.”
It’s also important to research the exam ahead of time, so you can go into the test knowing what to expect. Find out what score you need to practice in your state and how much time you’ll have to complete the test. Kontz says the test is more about applying the knowledge you’ve learned rather than just regurgitating it for the sake of memorization.
“You can get a test question that you don’t know the answer to, and if you know the decision tree and safety, you have a good chance of getting it correct,” said Klontz. “It takes a completely different mindset and a completely different style of studying because, in addition to reviewing material, you have to understand the way they want you to think on the test. Understanding the decision tree they’re applying to those answers is as important as knowing your facts.”
Battelli says it’s mostly about knowing the basics and being able to make informed decisions based on existing data.
“They will also ask you questions that test whether or not you know if that is a procedure a nurse should do, or if it is something that’s beyond a nurse’s scope of practice. I think if you focus on the important, big, broad concepts in every kind of category, then you can apply them to most of the questions you’re going to get. That’s what I did. And that worked for me,” said Battelli.
Both said it’s a waste of time to review everything you’ve learned in nursing school. Instead, they suggest signing up for a prep course like Kaplan, U World, or Simple Nursing to make sure you’re going over relevant information.
“What’s great about these programs is that they will take you through it and it’s broken into different categories. There’s adult medicine, pediatrics, there’s pharmacology, etc. I focused on areas where I was weaker and tried to increase my knowledge in that area,” said Battelli.
They also said it’s best to avoid studying the day before the test, so you can give your mind a break. You might not sleep well the night before, so try to relax before the big day.
When it’s time to take the test, Battelli recommends signing up for the 8 a.m. slot instead of waiting until the afternoon. He also says you should ignore the clock when trying to answer questions, so you don’t stress out about the time.
If you don’t pass on your first try, don’t get discouraged. You can take it again after waiting up to 45 days. You can also take the test up to eight times a year.