How to Pass the NCLEX: Tried-and-True Strategies for Nursing Students

How to Pass the NCLEX: Tried-and-True Strategies for Nursing Students

Payton Sy, RN, BSN Payton Sy, RN, BSN
6 minute read

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If you've completed your nursing school coursework, congratulate yourself! That is a huge accomplishment. It’s a part of your nursing journey, which doesn’t end after you pass the NCLEX. This is just another step in the process of learning and growing as a nurse – not an end goal. And if you don’t pass the NCLEX on your first try, you aren’t alone. It’s a minor obstacle that you can overcome with some additional planning and preparation.

Nail the Logistics

The first step to ensure you pass the NCLEX is to make some logistical preparations.

First, you’ll need to create a Pearson Vue account to register for the NCLEX. You’ll then receive your authorization to test (ATT), which contains a date range for when you can take your test.

After that, locate an NCLEX testing center. Testing centers are plentiful in large metropolitan areas. However, if you live in a rural area, you may have to drive several hours or across state lines to take the NCLEX.

Plan your testing day

  • In the best-case scenario, have someone pick you up and drop you off at your testing site. This way, you won’t have any stress about navigating or parking.
  • If your test is more than 3 hours away, consider booking a hotel to stay the night before the test. Check out of your hotel on the way to the testing center and drive home after.
  • On exam day, you’ll need a form of ID handy. Got married after graduation? Make sure to bring a copy of your marriage license if your ID name doesn’t match your ATT or diploma.
  • Plan to arrive at the testing center 30 minutes early.

Create Your Study Success Plan

1. Determine your timeline. Estimate or record the number of days until your test date. How many days per week will you realistically be able to study? How many hours on each day will you be able to study? (Example: 3 weeks until test day, 5 days a week of studying, 90 minutes per day)

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2. Choose your study materials. You don’t need to break the bank by spending money on test materials, but they should be evidence-based. Don’t rely on random online quizzes or your hand-written notes from class.

  • Use previous tests questions from class
  • Locate practice questions in your textbooks
  • Utilize questions from online modules you were given access to by your program
  • Use a paid program, like  Saunders, Hurst, Kaplan, or UWorld (or one of the many others)

3. Take a pre-assessment. It’s best to begin by taking a pre-assessment. This should ideally be at least 75 questions to mimic the actual NCLEX format.

4. Create your study plan. After the pre-test, calculate your score and determine your best and worst subjects. Write in your calendar which subjects you will cover each day, how much time you will spend on each, and what your study method will be to pass the NCLEX (practice questions, case studies, reading, active recall, etc.).

5. Plan your breaks. The NCLEX allows breaks at 2 hours and 3.5 hours into the test. It’s helpful to plan a similar break schedule in your study plan, especially when taking any practice tests.

6. Choose a study environment. The NCLEX allows test-takers to wear earplugs, or just listen to the ambient noise. There is no option to listen to music or white noise while testing. Plan to do any practice tests with earplugs (if you plan on using them during the test), or in an environment with very-low ambient noise, like a library.

7. Take a post-assessment. Try to take a test comparable to your pre-assessment, with at least 75 questions. Plan to take your post-assessment at least 5 days prior to your exam, if possible.

8. Polish your knowledge. After your post-assessment, make a mini-plan for the next few days. What will you focus on? How many hours of study time are remaining? What study methods will you use?

9. STOP. Your last study session would ideally be 2 days before your exam date. At the very latest, the morning the day before your exam. Do not do any practice questions the night before, or the day of your test. If you happen to miss a question, you could shatter your confidence and forget that you are ready for this.

The Day Of The Exam

The day of the test is going to be nerve-wracking. Accept that fact early on, and plan how you will tackle it. It’s going to involve some personal decisions, but think about how you can prepare to set yourself up for success to pass the NCLEX.

After The Exam

Find a way to celebrate after the exam. No matter how you feel that you did, you won’t know until your score comes back. Give yourself a moment of peace and accomplishment that you deserve after all your hard work.

Official NCLEX test results are given 6 weeks after your exam. Many U.S. states give unofficial results after 48 hours with the NCSBN “Quick Results” program.

While not 100% accurate, there is a method in nursing folklore called the Pearson Vue Trick that has worked for many nurses to see if they did pass the NCLEX almost immediately. Don’t put too much pressure on this hack, because it is not your official score.

You Can Do It!

You have everything you need to pass the NCLEX. You’ve already worked hard, completed your coursework, and are well on your way to the next big step in your career. Whether you pass the NCLEX on your first try or within a certain number of questions has no bearing on how good of a nurse you’ll be or whether or not you deserve to achieve your dreams. Many successful nurses take the NCLEX multiple times and it was a learning experience for them.

There are so many people in your corner, rooting for you to succeed as a nurse.

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