You imagine her sitting in a dark, dank cave somewhere, a hoodie pulled up over her head. She cowers over a grimy keyboard, the green glow of a computer monitor gleaming off her pallid skin. A few taps of long fingernails on the keys, and the wretch throws her head back and cackles in delight: “Oh, yeah, they’ll never answer THAT question. Never in a million years!” She’s an NCLEX test item writer, and she likes to make student nurses suffer.
Well, not quite. It really is all about safety—for the nurse and the patients—for a new nurse’s first year on the floor. “What they are trying to test is what a beginning nurse needs to know, do and feel in order to be safe, and all the questions fall from that,” says Diane M. Billings, EdD, RN, FAAN, author of Lippincott Q&A Review for NCLEX-RN and Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus at Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis.
You know you’re a competent nurse—you’re just not a good test taker. We asked Billings, who is an NCLEX expert and guru to nursing students everywhere, for her best insider advice on approaching the exam and “cracking the code” on test day.