5 NCLEX Tips to Pass the Exam the First Time

Nervous about taking the NCLEX? We have five NCLEX tips to help you pass the exam the first time. One of the best ways to prepare for the NCLEX is to attend a quality nursing program. Luckily, we can connect you to a nursing school that suits your needs.

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Most every college student has experienced some level of test anxiety. With nursing students, however, their anxiety tends to go off the Richter scale, especially when it comes time to earn their registered nurse licensure. Why? Because they’re super eager to start their careers, which means they need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), ideally the first time they take it.

Every nursing school graduate must pass the NCLEX-RN to legally practice the profession. Essentially, the exam is a layer of public protection that makes sure it’s safe for you to practice as an entry-level nurse. And to do so, it uses complex multiple-choice questions to gauge how well you apply your critical thinking skills when making nursing judgments.

But enough about that, let’s get to the five NCLEX tips that can help you pass on your first try.

1. Set Your Sights High

It’s important to attend an accredited nursing school and program that consistently yields high first-time NCLEX pass rates. It’s an indication that they are doing something right in how they prepare students for both the exam and the profession.

You can find the first-time NCLEX pass rates for a particular nursing school via the Board of Nursing in the state for which it resides. As a starting point, it helps to know what states have the highest percentage of graduates who passed the NCLEX on their first try.

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The national 2020 first-time NCLEX-RN pass rate was 86.5%. Looking for a school which meets or exceeds the national average will likely be a school that is focused on their students’ success.

2. Rely on Outside Resources

While a lot of nursing schools provide students with some form of NCLEX preparation, it doesn’t hurt to invest in some outside resources, such as practice exam books or a prep course offered by trusted entities such as ATI, Kaplan or UWorld.

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While relying on these outside resources can help give you a leg up on the NCLEX, your accelerated nursing program should prepare you for the exam. One of the reasons why accelerated programs are challenging is because they are meant to equip you with all the knowledge you need to do well on the NCLEX. Learn more about accelerated nursing programs and why they can be challenging.

3. Remember Practice Makes Perfect

One of the best ways you can prepare for the NCLEX-RN is by completing as many practice questions as humanly possible. Because NCLEX-style questions are not fact-based, it’s important to understand the rationale behind them, especially when it comes to the questions you got wrong. While many NCLEX practice exams charge you a fee, there are websites that offer a series of free practice questions — all it takes is a quick Google search.

4. Apply the Process of Elimination

While taking the NCLEX, you’ll encounter complex multiple-choice questions that put your critical thinking skills to the test. Before going into the exam, it’s important to know how to break down these questions and use the process of elimination to get to your answer. Here are some of the types of questions you can expect and ways to approach them.

  • Scenario-based questions that feature answer statements that are completely false. With these questions, you’ll want to read each statement carefully and then nix any options that don’t offer an ounce of truth for that given scenario.
  • Priority-based questions that want you to identify the most important thing a nurse should do in a given patient situation. With these questions, look at each answer with the nursing process and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind, eliminating any statements that focus on the psychological needs of the patient.
  • Questions that want you to identify the most appropriate nurse response to a particular patient statement. These questions seek an answer that offers a therapeutic response, which means you can eliminate any statements featuring a non-therapeutic response.
  • Questions where all of the answers are correct, but one is most correct. These questions often feature words such as protocol, activate, and initiate, so be on the lookout for these handy clues. And when it comes to choosing the most correct answer, it’s usually the catch-all statement that ties all of the options together.

5. Don't Wait to Take the Exam

The longer you wait to take the NCLEX exam, the higher your chances of forgetting important nursing concepts. Keep the momentum going by signing up to take the exam one to two months after you graduate. Also, if taking the exam weighs on your mind for too long, there’s a good chance you’ll amp up your anxiety. Plus, by attending a nursing program that prepares you well for the exam, and by following our other NCLEX tips, you’ll be ready to crush it after graduation.

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As bonus material for this blog, we thought we’d include some of the most common questions nursing students have about the NCLEX exam.

1. How many questions are on the NCLEX-RN exam?

When taking the NCLEX, you’ll complete anywhere from 75 to 265 questions. It’s a pass/fail exam that assigns a point value to each question. The more difficult the question the higher the point value. So, when you achieve the point value needed to pass the exam, you’re done with the exam.

2. Is there a time limit for completing the exam?

While there’s no time limit on individual questions, you have six hours total to complete the exam.

3. How long does it take for you to receive your test results?

The Board of Nursing for the state in which you took the exam will typically let you know if you passed or failed within four weeks of taking the exam. There’s no numerical score, just pass or fail.

4. How many times can you take the NCLEX until you pass?

NCSBN, the organization that develops the exam, states you can take the NCLEX up to eight times per year, with a 45-day waiting period between each attempt. While of course it may ease your nerves to hear that you can retake it, put your full effort in your first attempt so you don’t have to delay starting your career.

5. Why does the NCLEX use computer adaptive testing?

Computer adaptive testing does a great job of assessing if someone is ready to provide safe, effective care as an entry-level nurse. It administers questions that adapt to your skill level, stopping when your testing level meets a threshold of passing or failing certainty.

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Passing the NCLEX is the last step in your journey to becoming a nurse. See how to get there with the first steps in the path to a successful nursing career.

Ready for Nursing School?

Now that you are equipped with our NCLEX tips, it’s time to take the first step and look for a good nursing program. If you have a bachelor’s degree or some college credits outside of nursing, we can connect you with accelerated nursing programs at non-profit schools. Simply complete our online form, and we’ll match you up with the schools that best fit your criteria.

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Ready to start your nursing journey?