NCLEX Priority Questions: What To Expect & How To Answer Them

SimpleNursing Editorial Team Mar 8, 2022
nclex priority questions title card

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  1. What are NCLEX priority questions?
  2. How to Answer NCLEX Priority Questions
  3. NCLEX Priority Questions Examples
  4. 7 NCLEX Priority Questions Tips

The NCLEX is the all-important test you take at the end of nursing school to gain your license as a registered nurse. It’s notoriously difficult and challenges the best of us. A big reason is because of NCLEX priority questions, one of the many next gen NCLEX questions

Let’s discuss what priority questions are and how you can prepare for them. There’s a thought process that goes into properly answering priority questions, and it’s important to train yourself to answer them to the best of your ability. 

What are NCLEX priority questions? 

Priority questions are unique because they are multiple-choice questions where every answer seems correct. However, priority questions aim to train your brain to choose the answer that’s “most right” or “most important.” They’re generally written at the analysis level and designed to test your comprehension. 

To identify an NCLEX priority question, you should be on the lookout for several different keywords. “Best,” “most important,” primary,” “first,” and “initial response” are a few examples of the type of wording of priority questions. 

It signifies that while every answer option is right in one way or another, your job is to choose the best answer. In other words, what you think should be your first course of action and take priority over the rest.

How to Answer NCLEX Priority Questions 

You should familiarize yourself with four basic methods that will help you correctly answer priority questions. 

  • Nursing ABC’s 
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy 
  • The Nursing Process 
  • Safety Strategies 

Let’s take a look at how each strategy plays a role. 

Nursing ABC’s 

One of the first things you learn in nursing school is the ABCs of nursing. The ABCs include airway, breathing, and circulation, the three most important details for every patient. 

If you see a priority question, the ABCs should be the first things you check off the list. Is the patients’ airway obstructed in any way? Is the patient breathing without difficulty? Does the patient have adequate circulation? 

If any possible answers include either of these ABC questions, it’s most likely the correct answer. Patients with obvious respiratory problems or interventions to ensure proper breathing always take priority. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is sometimes regarded as the first thing to look at with priority questions. This is because Maslow’s Hierarchy includes five levels of need: 

Physiological Needs. The most basic physiological needs of your patient are the priority. Ensuring that your patient has access to oxygen, food, fluid, clothes, safety, and shelter are examples of physiological needs.  

Safety Needs. Safety needs can be divided into both physical and physiological. These include health, property, employment, security of the environment, and resources.

Social Needs. These include love, family, friendship, and intimacy.

Esteem. These include confidence, self-esteem, respect, and achievement.

Self-actualization. These include creativity, morality, and problem-solving.

By first addressing the most basic physiological needs of the patient and working your way down, you can determine the order of importance for each task. 

The Nursing Process 

Along with the ABCs of nursing, the Nursing Process is hammered into your head from day one. It’s a simple five-step thought process designed to help you with patient assessments.

1. Assessment

Assessment involves gathering both subjective and objective information from the patient. You do this by observing them and asking them questions about their medical history and how they’re feeling.

2. Analysis

Step 2 analyzes your data and determines what it’s telling you about the patient.

3. Planning 

This step involves forming a plan to treat the patient after analyzing the information you’ve gathered.

4. Implementation 

A good plan is useful if you put it into action.

5. Evaluation 

It’s now time to evaluate how well your plan worked out. During this stage, you will repeat the steps and make adjustments as needed. 

6. Safety Strategies 

Finally, the patient’s safety is your number one priority as a nurse. Safety includes ensuring that the patient’s basic physiological needs are met, that there aren’t any nearby hazards, and that you’re minimizing the possible transfer of pathogens. 

You should also do your best to ensure that your patient’s mental health is cared for throughout their treatment. 

By using this formula, when you’re faced with a priority question, you’ll be able to answer most priority questions correctly.

Read here to learn about new NCLEX changes that took place in 2023.

NCLEX Priority Questions Examples 

Here’s an example of a priority question on the NCLEX. 

Question: An hour after admission to the nursery, the nurse observes a newborn baby having spontaneous jerky movements of the limbs. The infant’s mother had gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during pregnancy. As a nurse, what’s the FIRST action you should take? 

  1. Give dextrose water.
  2. Call the physician immediately.
  3. Determine the blood glucose level.
  4. Observe closely for other symptoms.

Each of the answers could be correct in one way or another. However, the correct answer to this question means picking the option that prioritizes the others. In other words, what’s the most important first step if you’re facing this situation? 

The correct answer is 3. First, determine the blood glucose level. As a skilled nursing professional, you should notice that the baby’s jerky motions are likely due to hypoglycemia. 

While in observation, calling the physician and giving dextrose water seem like great ideas, determining the baby’s blood glucose level is most important.

7 NCLEX Priority Questions Tips

NCLEX priority questions are designed to assess your ability to prioritize patient care. These questions require you to think critically and quickly about which patient needs should be addressed first. Here are some test-taking tips for answering NCLEX priority questions:

  1. Assess the situation: Before prioritizing patient care, you need to assess the situation. Read the question carefully, and consider all the information provided.
  2. Use the ABCs: Remember the ABCs of patient care – Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. These are the top priorities in any patient situation, so always address these needs first.
  3. Identify the most urgent needs: Look for cues in the question that indicate a patient is in distress or immediate danger. These may include vital sign changes, abnormal lab values, or symptoms such as severe pain or shortness of breath.
  4. Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a model that helps prioritize patient care. This model states that physiological needs (such as food, water, and shelter) are the most basic and must be met before higher-level needs (such as safety, love, and self-esteem) can be addressed.
  5. Think about the nursing process: Remember the nursing process – assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Use this framework to guide your thinking about how to prioritize patient care.
  6. Look for options that address multiple needs: Sometimes, you can prioritize patient care by selecting an option that addresses multiple needs. For example, administering pain medication to a patient with severe pain may also help improve their breathing and circulation.
  7. Practice, practice, practice: The more practice you have with NCLEX priority questions, the more confident you will feel on exam day. Use NCLEX practice tests and study plans to help you prepare.

Need additional help on passing the NCLEX? 

The key to answering NCLEX priority questions is to think critically and prioritize patient care based on the information provided. Practicing these tips can improve your chances of success on the NCLEX exam.

SimpleNursing has practice questions, video explanations and tutorials, NCLEX cheat sheets, comprehensive assessments, and detailed analytics. We’ve diagnosed over 10,000 sample NCLEX questions and offer one of the most comprehensive guides to passing the exam in our NCLEX Prep Course.

Stress less and learn more with SimpleNursing. 

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