19 NCLEX Tips to Help Ace The Exam (and Avoid Retaking It)

nursing student using NCLEX tips

Related articles

Where to Find Pulse Points on Your Patients

In your daily practice as a nurse, you will complete client assessments. And one of the components of an assessment is checking their pulse in their pulse points. Pulse points are the areas on the body where you can feel the heartbeat.  Assessment of pulses is a vital fundamental skill…
Written by SimpleNursing Editorial Team
Read more

Travel Nurses Get the Best Salaries in These U.S. States

However close you are to graduating from nursing school, it’s always a good time to consider which specialty to get into afterward. One career path to consider is travel nursing across the US. Pay is a major factor in considering which state to work in, so stick around to find…
Written by SimpleNursing Editorial Team
Read more

You’re so close to your dream nursing career, but there’s just one more hurdle – the NCLEX exam. To get you one step ahead, you can utilize NCLEX tips, along with the countless hours of classwork, studying, and clinicals you’ve already completed.

The NCLEX is no joke – and it’s 100% understandable to be anxious about taking it. You want to enter the exam room knowing that you’ve done everything possible to prepare. It’s also understandable not to want to spend any more time studying than you have to.

If you’re still not sure that you’ll pass the exam, you’re not alone

NCLEX Tips for Passing

Gathering as many NCLEX tips and tricks as possible can be time-consuming. So we’ve compiled some of our best ones to help build your confidence and knowledge to ace the exam. 

1. Recognize the NCLEX Format 

The NCLEX isn’t your classic scantron or pen and paper exam; it stands out amongst other digital medical exams. You’ll answer questions the same way as your typical online exam, but it will adapt (in subject and difficulty) to your correct and incorrect answers.

The exam is split into four sections: Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity. 

Each of these sections has its own subcategories such as: Reduction of Risk Potential, Newborn Care, Safety and Infection Control, and Chemical Dependency.

Both the NCLEX-RN and PN have 75-145 questions, with five hours to complete. If you answer enough questions correctly in a row, you could pass the exam in 75 questions.

Knowing how this exam is laid out makes it easier to imagine how you’ll take it while you’re studying.

2. Develop Your Own Test-Taking Strategy

Everyone has their own preferred test-taking strategies to get through them as effectively as possible. Figuring out an NCLEX-specific testing strategy for you will help when the day comes.

There’s no “good score range” on the exam, so instead, work to develop a strategy to confidently pass on your first attempt.

Ask yourself: Do you typically get through questions quickly? Does it help to say questions out loud? Do you tend to get stuck easily? And keep the following in mind for the NCLEX, specifically:

  • Which types of questions you should spend more time on.
  • Questions typically get more challenging to answer progressively.
  • You can’t skip questions.
  • You have to answer a minimum of 75 questions.

3. Understand How the NCLEX is Scored

Since the NCLEX is a pass/fail test, you won’t immediately get your graded results. Instead, your state board of nursing will receive your overall passing score

But it’s still worth knowing the inner workings of how this exam is scored to help feel out your performance as you take the exam.

The exam is computer-adaptive and uses algorithms to determine your score. One of three rules is used by the computer to determine whether you passed or failed the NCLEX:

  1. Run-out-of-time (R.O.O.T.) Rule – Maxing out the five-hour time limit could indicate failure. 
  2. Maximum-Length Exam Rule – Answering the maximum 145 questions could also indicate failure.
  3. 95% Confidence Interval Rule – The NCLEX will pass you if you hit a 95% confidence interval based on correct answers.

Taking the NCLEX next year? Find out what changes are coming in 2023.

4. Prepare for More Than the Minimum (Amount of Questions)

Technically you can pass the NCLEX at the minimum required 75 questions. But it’s not a great idea to expect to answer every question correctly (immediately).

You would think to just study for NCLEX questions asked within the first 75 questions, but it’s still an adaptive test – and studying for all sections is still worth it.

Having the utmost confidence while taking the exam is crucial, but high expectations of passing early could add unnecessary stress.

5. Put a Stress Management Plan Together

Stress management as a nursing student was challenging, right? And afterward, postgrads have outside responsibilities and new careers to worry about on top of the anxiety of passing the NCLEX.

So it’s important to know when you’re feeling overstressed, take action, and manage your stress while taking the exam.

When putting together your plan, make sure to include:

  • Time for quality sleep and food (for before the exam)
  • Quick relaxation techniques
  • Memory tricks
  • Sensory objects (i.e. stress ball)

6. Figure Out Your Own Unique Studying Style

You’ve undoubtedly gathered lots of studying styles, tips, and tricks – but what works best studying-wise is unique to you.

One of the best ways to find your own unique studying style is to try various tricks from multiple sources and see how they work out for you (scientific method style). This can take some time (and a lot of coffee), but it’s worth it.

Some factors to keep in mind:

  • Length: Do you retain more information in hours-long stretches or Pomodoro style (~25 minutes of studying and ~5 minutes of breaks back and forth)?
  • Environment: Which places give you the most peace? 
  • Rewards: Does a reward system help you stay on track for studying? 
  • Ambiance: Does listening to music help with your studies? White noise? Natural outside sounds?
  • Time: Although night studying isn’t ideal, you may have a preferred time of day for studying – although those with busy schedules can’t choose.

7. Get a Unique NCLEX Study Plan

When you find your unique study style, putting together a study plan is easy. Take what comes easiest to you (and what needs more focus) and place them in your study sessions.

With just five hours to take the exam (it can go fast), you need a plan that gets most of your time and energy. You can find one-size-fits-all NCLEX study plans for postgrads, but you can also tailor them just for you.

8. Invest in Test Prep Resources

There are plenty of free NCLEX prep resources, but you may want to consider priced materials if you need more specific help.

Free NCLEX prep materials sometimes come in one-page downloads and articles, but too many of them can get overwhelming. If you start with too many and don’t know what to do with them, it can be hard to figure out where to start in your studies.

Consider our all-one-one prep resource with the practice questions, quizzes, and more.

9. Enroll in an NCLEX Prep Course

If you really want to take your studying investment to the next level, an NCLEX-specific prep course is for you.

This is a great option if solo studying isn’t working out or you don’t have the time to fully prepare for the exam.

Prep courses focus on exactly what will help you pass the NCLEX with flying colors. These courses are typically run by experts specializing in the exam, and can share valuable knowledge on how to pass.

10. Find Which Subjects You Need Extra Time to Review

When studying section-by-section, you’ve got to give the squeaky wheel some oil. Giving extra time to the material you struggle with can help you with more difficult NCLEX questions.

Looking at past coursework is one of the best ways to determine which Nclex subjects you need to review. You’ll want to focus on the ones that gave you trouble and the ones you didn’t do well on.

For example, if you received a ‘D’ in Pharmacology but an ‘A’ in Pharmacokinetics and Drug Interactions, you should spend more time reviewing Pharmacology – and it’s more likely that you’ll see those topics on the exam.

Check out our Pharmacology Review of Diabetic Drugs.

11. Read Each Chapter Material at Least Twice

Naturally, You want all the info you read to stick in your brain and have it easily accessible when taking the NCLEX. To get it really stuck, try reading the material twice over, and also:

  • Write notes in your own voice
  • Utilize sticky notes in your textbooks or other material books

When you read over nursing material, ask yourself questions about what you’ve just read (and don’t be afraid to think outside the box). If a question doesn’t come easily to mind, find related practice questions (in the same material or online).

12. Don’t Rely on Cramming the Night Before

Cramming is a last-minute study technique that helps memorize information quickly, but not always effectively. 

It doesn’t work by itself as a studying technique, but it can help as a refresher right before you take the NCLEX. Instead, study over a longer period of time and focus on one subject at a time. 

You can cram with an NCLEX-specific cram sheet, which includes key concepts, terms, and numbers (such as heart rates). You can find the SimpleNursing Cram Sheet here.

13. Maintain an Even Study Pace with an NCLEX Study Schedule

Speaking of cramming – opt for a steady-paced study schedule and rhythm so you can retain information more effectively.

An even study pace can help prevent burnout and give your brain a rest while retaining nursing material. On the other hand, an uneven study pace (too many or too few hours, not covering each topic) can result in more questions popping up on the NCLEX that you won’t know.

To create your own NCLEX study schedule, consider:

  • When do you have free time to study?
  • Can you study during work breaks, commute, etc?
  • How many chapters, pages, or topics do you want to cover daily?
  • Are study groups or partners an option for you?

14. Take Practice Questions (Especially After Each Subject Chapter)

Reading nursing material and being asked questions on nursing materials can be very different. 

Taking practice questions will help you reveal which types of questions you get right or wrong on the NCLEX and which material you struggle with.

It’s a good idea to check answer keys and ensure that the question types you’ve been practicing are included in the set. In addition, you want to recognize error patterns so that when you’re taking your real NCLEX exam, you don’t make them again (and possibly fail).

Taking the NCLEX-PN? Check out our practice questions with a free trial.

15. Get a Study Partner

Camaraderie is crucial in nursing school. And when it comes to studying for exit exams, every postgrad is in it together for future nursing careers.

Study partners can help uncover particular material you may skip over, share memory devices, and keep each other accountable and motivated for the exam. 

 You can also give each other mock questions, flashcards, and study notes.

16. Be Careful with Drawing from Past Clinical or Work Experiences

Since each medical workplace has unique procedures, and medical practices change rapidly, it may not be reflected in the NCLEX in the same way.

If a question pops up about the amount of a specific painkiller to administer to a post-surgery patient, there’s only one set correct answer made by NCLEX writers. But in one of your past clinicals, a particular patient might have needed more than usual due to a unique precondition. 

Your own experiences definitely help you answer questions correctly, but proceed with caution and keep NCLEX-specific study material at top-of-mind.

17. Remember That It’s OK if You Don’t Know Absolutely Everything

You’ve already gone through years of schooling and clinicals, building a wealth of medical knowledge.

Although it’s not a good idea to always draw on personal experiences with NCLEX questions (as previously mentioned), your coursework studying material has done plenty of exit exam heavy lifting for you.

The exam isn’t going to question you on absolutely every medical subject. Instead, focus on topics that you struggle with the most, and invest time into NCLEX-specific study materials.

18. Don’t Get Stuck on One Question

Five hours sounds like a lot of time to complete the exam and really take some sweet time on each individual question. But a few minutes a question can add up, possibly resulting in a R.O.O.T. failure. 

If you run into a question that really stumps you, make your best guess, and hopefully your next question will ring more of a bell.

NCLEX questions proceed in difficulty according to the exam makers, but it doesn’t always mean it will be more difficult for you individually.

19. The Pearson Vue NCLEX Trick

The Pearson VueTrick is a third-party resource for those really wanting to know if they passed or failed the exam before getting their official results. 

Not knowing for days or weeks if you’ve officially passed or failed can be nerve-racking and affect your next steps into becoming a licensed nurse. This paid service is not entirely necessary, but nice to have if you want immediate pass/fail results.

A “bad” pop-up from the Pearson Vue Trick indicating NCLEX failure.

But if you invest plenty of time and resources into studying the NCLEX, your confidence in taking the exam might negate this. And we have all of these resources in one place.

Best Ways to Study for the NCLEX Starts Here

Don’t let too many study materials clog up your time. Along with other resources, using NCLEX tips (both before and during the exam) can help you pass.

SimpleNursing has video libraries, study guides, quiz builders, and a brand new adaptive assessment exam just for postgrads wanting more from their studying.

So make the most out of your NCLEX prep with the right resources.

Prepare to pass your NCLEX on the first try with a free trial today.