How to Pass the NCLEX the First Time

  • 25 March, 2022

The answer that every student is out to pin down: how do I pass the NCLEX on my first attempt? Unfortunately, there is no magical concoction that will guarantee each individual a passing score, but there are substantial steps that can be taken in order to increase productivity and lead you closer to gaining your credentials as a registered nurse. Advice from previous success stories of nurses who have been in your exact shoes can be a useful resource to utilize when figuring out where to start or what tactics to incorporate into your own study regimen. Coming from an RN who did pass the NCLEX the first time, the following pieces of advice are among my top suggestions for you to follow suit.

How to Pass the NCLEX the First Time

  1. Start studying early

    You do not need to wait until graduation is over before you begin reviewing material. Although it is not always easy to multitask when you have finals and other pertinent exams to focus on, remember, all this information is applicable to your NCLEX review. When you are studying for exams in nursing school, avoid rote memorization-the more you are able to retain, the easier it will be when it comes time to review, as you will already have basic knowledge regarding various topics. Be strategic in your approach so that you aren't working harder than you need to.

  2. Create a plan and stick to it

    Look at your schedule and make a decision regarding how many days a week and how many hours in the day you can realistically dedicate to your studies. Once this plan is in place, commit to it fully. Be strategic in how you go about setting this up, however, and set reasonable goals for yourself. It is important to not bite off more than you can chew. Focus on one topic at a time rather than multiple, and plan for at least four hours of productivity per day, with adequate breaks in between. Treat this crucial time frame like your full-time job, and your efforts will eventually pay off.

  3. Practice questions and practice exam

    Get your mind and body prepared to sit down and answer a large quantity of questions. You are doing yourself a disservice if you only review information but do not apply what you know to problems. Full length exams are also very helpful to determine areas of strength and weakness and to get a feel for how long you could potentially sit for during your NCLEX. It can also give you an overview of how effective your study habits are.

    Additionally, attempting to replicate the test can boost confidence levels and performance on test day. Every time you take a practice exam, pretend you are sitting for your actual NCLEX to get yourself mentally prepped for the conditions you will be testing in. Keep your phone tucked away, be ready to sit for upwards of five hours, and be sure not to use any study guides along the way. Replicating the environment can benefit your chances of success and calm any nerves.

  4. Rationales

    Understand why you answered a question correctly or incorrectly. This is imperative to retaining information and necessary to be able to apply what you have learned to scenarios. Determining why you answered a question incorrectly will help you the next time you come across similar content. Write out the rationales for questions you guessed on in order to have a better chance of remembering the information and the ability to go back and review it again later. Adopting this practice will not only help you prepare for your NCLEX but will also assist in the long-term when you are in the field practicing as an RN.

  5. Give yourself 2-3 months to study

    You already have a baseline of fundamental knowledge regarding what will be tested on the NCLEX, but there is always more information to be gained, and reviewing all of the topics that will be covered does take a great deal of effort. You want to be sure you give yourself ample time to look over material, but don't wait too long to test. The longer you wait, the less motivation you will likely have to keep up with your studies, and the second you let off the gas pedal, your chances of passing tend to trend downward. Take it while everything you learned in nursing school is still fresh but be weary of waiting too long. Trust that you are starting off with a solid foundation of what will be asked of you on test day.

  6. Do you want to pass your NCLEX exam the first time around? Enroll our NCLEX EXAM Prep Course today to learn the skills you'll need to get your nursing licence.

  7. Focus on the "most correct" answer

    Oftentimes, you will come across answers that may all feel appropriate. When this occurs, keep in mind the process of prioritization. Remember that the safety of the patient always comes first, and assessment precedes intervention. Keep these factors in mind when you face difficult questions and remember that the answer is never "do nothing." When a question has completely stumped you, break down the components, determine exactly what is being asked, and eliminate the obvious incorrect answers first and foremost. When in doubt, trust your intuition, and avoid second guessing yourself.

  8. Don't rush

    It is easy when we are feeling nervous to move at 100 miles an hour. However, this is not the time to do so. Take a deep cleansing breath before you begin and remember to spend an appropriate amount of time on each question. You have a full five hours to complete the exam, so be sure to prioritize your time and read every word. Avoid skimming, and even if you immediately think you know the correct answer, still take the time to read the question and all of the remaining options in the event that your mis-read something important. There is no advantage to finishing early, and you are better off to double check your answers.

  9. Take the time to learn about the type of test it is

    Because the test is evaluating you in real time, it is important to be aware that this exam will feel much more difficult than exams you have undertaken in nursing school. The way it is designed is meant to challenge you to a certain degree. Each time you answer a question correctly, you will be given something slightly more demanding, and when you answer incorrectly, you will be presented with a question that is somewhat easier. The computer continues this trend until it can determine that you are either at or below the passing level 95% of the time. It is important to be aware of this so that your mind doesn't play tricks on you as you proceed. Therefore, with that being said, try to avoid evaluating your progress while you are testing. Doing so will only add to anxiety levels and make it more difficult to focus on the content of the question.

  10. Stress management-do things that are fun outside of studying

    In the hours that you are not reviewing, you should be sure that you are resting your mind and thus focusing on things that you enjoy. While it is important to dedicate a certain number of hours to your studies, it is also essential to allow your brain time to synthesize the information effectively. Try your best not to neglect self-care, including but not limited to your diet, sleep habits, water intake, and activity level. Distract yourself from NCLEX related topics when you are not in study mode-spend time with friends and family, go out for ice cream, watch a good movie, etc. Allow yourself time to unwind and relax so that you have the energy and focus to dedicate to your study sessions. You cannot expect yourself to be able to grind 24/7, so when you are studying, be fully present, and when you are not, be fully unplugged.

    No matter what happens from this point on, be proud of yourself for taking the initiative to learn more about successful tactics to pass your boards. It is one thing to jump in headfirst and hit the books, but it is another to first determine tricks that helped other nurses find success and apply them to your own regimen. Dedicating time to figure out how to go about studying can sometimes be more beneficial than the studying itself. Learn what techniques work for you, capitalize on them, and you will be on your way to passing your NCLEX on your first try in no time!

About the Author: Kelsey Mangan

Kelsey Mangan is a registered nurse, who graduated from Linfield College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and minor in education. She is a health and wellness advocate, writer, wife, and a new mama to baby Paisley. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time with friends and family, finding binge-worthy shows on Netflix, and snuggling with her sweet daughter.

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