3 Steps to Ace Your NCLEX Exam

Smiling African American Black nursing student taking nursing notes on a yellow pad in a class on nursing.

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  1. Focus on the most difficult subjects.
  2. Create a study plan.
  3. Summarize and memorize content efficiently.

We’re giving you the simplest, most uncomplicated way possible to get you through your nursing exit exam, whether it’s the HESI, ATI, or NCLEX.

Comprehensive exams are something that student look forward to but wish would never happen. It’s probably one of the most stressful times in a nursing student’s life. And more often than not, they make it difficult for everyone. 

And for that reason, we will provide what you need to do and should not do when taking your exams.

Preparing for Your Nursing Exit Exam

With exit exams right around the corner, you may feel like there’s still so much to comprehend, memorize, and remember. 

HESI or ATI week is one of the most stressful periods of students’ lives, and they even experience physical manifestations like ulcers, anxiety, panic attack, and insomnia.

Preparation for comprehensive exams feels like dumping a lot of information in your brain all at once and remembering nothing at all. But fear not, we’re here to help make things simpler and far less complicated.

Step 1: Focus on the top three most difficult subjects of the semester.

To pass nursing exams, you need to create a plan that works for you, and is effective enough to get you from point A to point B. Studying all the materials given at school is not enough. Initially, you need to create a strategic plan to conquer the most frustrating parts of studying.

So the basic goal here is to select which subjects are giving you the hardest time, and underneath that, prioritize the topics you find most difficult to comprehend. 

From here, you’ll know where to focus your time and effort. Instead of focusing on what you have already mastered by heart, concentrate on the areas that are crippling your mind.

To give you a solid example:

Your HESI or ATI is coming up, and you’ve realized these subjects covered by the exams are giving you a hard time:

  • Medical-surgical
  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatrics
  • OB
  • Psychiatric

Note: Community health questions usually don’t show up on the exams or significantly affect the test questions.

So among the provided list of subjects, which of the three give you a hard time? As for Mike of SimpleNursing, his Waterloos are medical-surgical, OB, and psychiatric nursing. 

The next thing you should do is identify which top three topics about medical-surgical, OB, and psychiatric nursing stress you the most. Mike has identified his topics like this:

  • Medical-surgical – Heart, Lungs, Brain
  • OB – Labor, Mom assessment, Prenatal
  • Psychiatric – Pharmacology, Two types of personality disorders

That’s basically the top three hardest topics of your top three subjects which you should focus on. But you should also identify underneath the top three topics, the sub-topics that you struggle with the most. 

For example, what lessons about the heart do you find most difficult? Write it down.

Because there are usually more than three sub-topics that we struggle with, that’s the time that we head on out to step two.

Step 2: Create a study plan.

Now that you know where your focus should be, the next thing you should do is make the plan and implement it in an organized manner. By creating the plan, you have to do a couple of things:

  1. Print out a calendar. Take note that HESI or ATI exams give at least two weeks of preparation. However, if you are in an accelerated program, you probably just have seven days to take it all in.
    1. That’s not sufficient at all. Now, to give you a better picture, if you are given two weeks to study, you will do so in four to six days in a week, (which means in 14 days), you’ll have eight to twelve rigorous study periods.
  2. Pinpoint important dates. To implement the study days, you should point out the date when you would start studying, as well as the date of the exam.
  3. Cross out your calendar. Get a red pen or marker, then diagonally cross each day out. The diagonal line divides your morning (AM) and afternoon (PM) study sessions. The division of AM and PM is to save your brain from fatigue. Rigorous study hours, usually up to eight hours a day, could be more helpful. This is because the exhausted brain will normally zone out what you’ve studied in between and just remember what you’ve learned at the beginning and the end.
  4. Break up the days. There should only be three hours of studying done in the morning. As for the PM study session, that will be tackled below in step 3.

Now, you’re wondering, “Why is it just 3 hours in the morning? And why does it have to be in the morning?” Mornings are the best time of the day to be active and productive. The brain has replenished itself from a well-rested sleep, making it fruitful enough to accommodate complex questions.

Furthermore, you should only study for three hours in the morning because you’ll be able to answer and rationalize 60 of the most difficult questions about the complicated sub-topics you have previously identified in a span of three hours. 

Here’s how:

  1. Break down your three hours.
  2. For every hour, you have 20 minutes to answer 20 questions, then 40 minutes to rationalize. You’ll also be doing this in your second and third hour.

This technique works effectively for anyone, especially for those slow, anxious test-takers. For those who have text anxiety, Mike suggests the following effective methods:

  1. Amp yourself up within the first 20 minutes of taking the 20 questions.
  2. Listen to loud, distracting music that you hate.
  3. Hop on one foot.

Distraction within those 20 minutes is recommended because it will take you out of your comfort zone and make you immune to other forms of distraction during the test day. You might think that’s nonsense but it actually works for most people because it lessens the anxiety and increases focus.

What to do in the remaining 40 minutes? Aside from rationalizing, you should note the topics you’ve missed. These are the topics that you’ve missed within those 20 minutes.

Not only have you accomplished 60 test questions in three hours, you’ve also accumulated and outlined 60 specific topics you are having problems with. This technique saves you much more time than scouring through all your nursing books and jotting down the topics you don’t know.

Read here to learn more about new Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) question types.

Step 3: Summarize and memorize content efficiently.

Now, we go to your PM study session. Study time here should not be more than four hours. With AM and PM sessions combined, you have a total of seven hours study time. Not bad!

We have a plan if your anxiety is getting the best of you. And this plan is going to take you from A to B. 

One of the main reasons why students fail (aside from not studying efficiently), is they don’t stick with their plans. Whether it’s a HESI, or an ATI, or NCLEX – as long as you have a plan and don’t divert from it, you’ll be okay.

So step 3 is about condensing information you don’t know. There are a couple of options that you can do to review these certain topics – go back to the same boring nursing books and climb that steep hill all by yourself or get condensed videos of those topics. 

During your PM study session, use the list of topics you’ve gathered in the morning from the test questions, then search the website database for keywords. 

So here’s what you have to do with the list of questions you’ve missed in your AM session:

  1. Match the questions or topics to the video content available on YouTube.
  2. Using a regular computer paper, make a four-square outline.
  3. In each of the box, write down the topics that you’re having difficulties with like:
    1. First box – Heart
    2. Second box – Lungs
    3. Third box – Brain
    4. Fourth box – Other
  4. These boxes are useful when watching our videos by getting the key information you might be struggling with and writing it down in the box.
  5. Write those key points, the only need-to-know information, inside the boxes which you can think of as a filing cabinet.

How to Track Your NCLEX Study Progress

So imagine that it’s been seven days. In a span of seven days, what have you accomplished?

  1. 240 to 360 questions. Inefficient instructors will tell you that you should finish test questions of at least 400. This may not benefit you. Your mind will reach its limit even before you get to 60 questions per day.
  2. Up to 360 topics are uncovered and understood with qualifying keywords on your piece of paper.
  3. That piece of paper can be brought anywhere and everywhere. So do not be chained to just your books.

This three-step technique is everything you need to make it through your exit exam. 

We Have Everything Here for You to Ace the NCLEX

For those struggling with HESI, ATI, or NCLEX, you can ease your anxieties with a nursing exam prep membership.

SimpleNursing offers thousands of videos available that you can rely on to carry you through these tough 14 days of your life. 

Save time on studying, starting with a free trial today.