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

nclex priority questions

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If you’re studying and training to become an RN in nursing school, you’ve certainly heard of the NCLEX exam. It’s the all-important test you take at the end of nursing school to gain your license as a registered nurse. However, the NCLEX is notoriously difficult and challenges the best of us. A big reason that it’s so difficult is because of NCLEX priority 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 in that they are multiple-choice questions where every answer seems correct. However, the purpose of priority questions is to train your brain to choose the answer that’s “most right” or “most important.” They’re generally written at the analysis level and are designed to test your overall 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. 

NCLEX priority sample question 

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.

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

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 

While it’s second on this list, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is sometimes regarded as the first thing to look at with priority questions. 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 following your analysis of the information you’ve gathered.

4. Implementation 

No good plan is useful unless you put it into action, step 4 of the nursing process.

5. Evaluation 

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

6. Safety Strategies 

Finally, the patient’s safety is your number one priority as a nurse. Safety includes making sure that the patient’s basic physiological needs are met, making sure 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 correctly answer most priority questions.

Simple Nursing Study Guide for Additional Help 

Check out our Simple Nursing study guide if you’re still worried about passing the NCLEX exam on your first try. We offer practice questions, video explanations and tutorials, 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. Stress less and learn more with Simple Nursing.