How to Pass the NCLEX RN Exam

OK, so you've graduated from nursing school. Now, while your communications major buddies are partying, you're worrying about the most important test of your life. Yes, it's frightening, but you can pass with a little determination and perseverance.


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    Pay attention in nursing school. This may seem oversimplified, but the better you do academically, the less stressed you'll be when the actual test comes around. That is, if you learn the material in the first place, you won't be trying to play catch-up in your senior year and beyond.
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    Take a prep test while you are still in school, such as the Mosby Assess Test, which is a set of NCLEX-style practice questions. These pre-tests can really show both your weak and your strong points, and give you a point to focus studying from. Also, doing it while you're still in school allows you to get help from your teachers while they are still easily accessible.
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    If you are unclear on a concept, be dogged about learning it. Whatever it takes, if you know your weaknesses, home in on them and don't give up. Eventually, many of them will become clear to you if you come at them from a couple different angles. And 90% of learning is perseverance.
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    Seek new opportunities in clinical. If you can learn concepts hands on, you will be a lot more likely to remember them later when you study. Look up your patients' labs and find out why they are the way they are. Look up your patients' meds and learn the side effects, proper dosages, etc, even if they are meds you've seen a hundred times. The key to learning pharmacology is (sadly) repetition.
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    Get a good NCLEX-RN prep book early in your academic career. It is never too early to start reviewing and practicing answering NCLEX-RN style questions. Getting used to the way the questions are worded is one of the best prep tools there is.
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    Take an NCLEX-RN prep class above and beyond what your school has to offer. Many independent institutions (such as Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions) contract with nursing schools and/or student groups across the United States to provide 4-day review courses to prep for the test. Some even offer reimbursement of test fees if you fail. If your school does not have this opportunity, seek it out elsewhere.
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    As soon as you graduate, set up your test. Your school should be able to help you out with this, but it's very important that you do it soon after graduating, while the knowledge is fresh in your head.
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    Study! Use more than one source for review information, and do as many questions as possible before your test. If you want to be confident going into the test, count on answering at least 5,000 test prep questions prior to the test itself. This takes a long time, so budget appropriately.
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    At some point before your test, sit down and do 265 questions in a row. Answering that many questions in a row takes discipline and stamina, but bear in mind that you can answer 265 questions and pass the test, so make sure you can.
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    Take computerized tests for prep if possible. Hopefully, your nursing school has already done this for you, but if not, get a review book with a CD-ROM in it, which will allow you to take the test on the computer, which is how you'll actually be taking it.
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    Drive to the test site the day before, especially if it is far from your home (i.e., in unfamiliar territory). This will cut down on stress the day of as you will already know where the test site is.
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    Try to relax and have fun the day before the test.
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    Your brain needs glucose to operate properly, so have a decent breakfast with the major food groups represented on the day of the exam, even if you are not hungry.
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    Make sure you use the bathroom before you take your test.
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    Ask the proctor for earplugs. They really cut down on the distraction of ambient noise.
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    Sit down and familiarize yourself with your computer station. Find the calculator. Complete the tutorial.
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    Take a moment, close your eyes, clear your mind, and visualize very clearly what you are about to do. This is also a great time to pray.
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    Calmly start the test, taking one question at a time and allowing each question to hold your attention completely. Remember that the test will shut off automatically. This can be quite jarring, but hey, you're done!
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    Get in your car and go buy yourself a treat.


  • Use mnemonics for learning new information. It's OK to use existing ones, but they will really stick better if you make them up yourself. For example, if you want to remember the value difference between hemoglobin and hematocrit, remember that HEEM-o-glob-in sounds a little like TEEN-o-glob-in, so you can remember that the number of hemoglobin is supposed to be in the teens. Tricks like that are more helpful than memorizing information.
  • Multiple, short study sessions are better than one long study session, particularly if you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Know your limits and if you find that you have read the same paragraph three times in a row, take a break.
  • If you and your fellow grads are broke, have everyone buy a different NCLEX-RN review book and then swap them when you're done.
  • During the test, focus on one question at a time. Remember, you can't go back, so imagine each question written on a dry erase board; then, when you've answered it, mentally erase the board and click "Next."
  • Use positive thinking and visualization prior to taking the test. Picture yourself with an RN name tag pinned on proudly. Tell yourself out loud that you are going to pass and believe it utterly.
  • Another trick if you're broke is to buy used NCLEX-RN prep books on the Internet (see Warnings section)
  • Use collective wisdom when you are studying, if studying in a group is an effective method for you (again, see Warnings).
  • Remember those CD-ROMs that came with your nursing textbooks? You know, the ones that warn you not to open them up? Well, now's the time to open them up and use them. They are full of advice, NCLEX-RN questions, games, and other useful tidbits to help you.
  • Listen to your teachers. They have been at it a lot longer than you have, they know you pretty well after spending 2 - 4 years with you, and, well, they've passed the test already.


  • If financially possible, do not start your new job before taking the test. Trying to learn the ropes as a Graduate Nurse at the same time you're studying can be extremely stressful.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: do not cram the night before. First, you won't retain the information, and second, you won't get enough sleep.
  • If you find that you are getting tired during a study session, stop and continue the next day or after a break.
  • Don't second-guess yourself on the test. If you truly feel like you've chosen the wrong answer, change it only if you are 100% confident of the right one. Do not change your answer back. However, your first answer is generally the right one.
  • Budget your time appropriately and don't procrastinate on studying. It will make you more stressed. Study in a place free from distractions.
  • If you fail the test, do not panic. It is not the end of the world, although it may feel like it. Try to think about the test rationally and figure out what went wrong, and where you need to bone up. Reschedule the test quickly, and use the time to study. DO NOT just re-take the test without re-prepping.
  • Don't bring anyone with you to the test. They will just distract you.
  • Do not count questions. You can pass with 75 or with 265 questions.
  • About prep books: do not use any book that is more than 5 years old, preferably, no more than three years old. The NCLEX-RN has gotten more difficult in recent history, and an adequately challenging book (or group of books) is absolutely essential. So, check copyright dates on used books carefully.
  • Collective wisdom is a blade that cuts two ways: although many minds can attack a problem from many angles, bear in mind that everyone can be wrong at once. Also, be wary of study sessions that turn into social hours.
  • During the test, do not obsess with questions that you've already answered. It is pointless, as you can't go back, and will not only undermine your confidence, but also distract you from answering the question at hand.
  • Don't make the test a stop to somewhere else, e.g., vacation. This is also distracting.
  • Selling nursing books back after the class is over is a bad idea, as you might find yourself reviewing old material that can be found in nursing textbooks, along with those handy tables and figures textbooks are famous for.

Things You'll Need

  • Discipline: often, studying for the NCLEX-RN is something that you have to make yourself do, and the only way is to take a page from Nike's book and just do it.
  • A Good Attitude: Stay positive. If you can graduate from nursing school, you can pass the NCLEX-RN.
  • Adequate, current review books with NCLEX-RN format questions: the more the better.

Article Info

Categories: College and University Study Techniques | Tests and Exams