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A focused nursing student in a hijab is studying for the NCLEX exam at a desk. She is wearing headphones and looking intently at her laptop screen while taking notes. A coffee cup and various study materials are organized around her, suggesting a productive study session in a quiet, indoor environment.

Tips for Passing the NCLEX Exam

6 min readApril, 28 2023

Congratulations! You've finished nursing school. Your next step is to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) so you can practice as a licensed registered nurse (RN). The NCLEX is a unique test that requires careful planning. Questions require critical thinking to ensure adequate competency and skills to practice safely as an entry-level nurse. Knowing the exam's structure, what to expect, and developing good test-taking strategies will help you better understand how to pass the NCLEX. For up-to-date information on the NCLEX-RN examination, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

What Is the NCLEX Exam?

The NCLEX is a computerized adaptive pass-fail exam with a range of 75 to 145 questions. The test begins with easier questions that increase in difficulty as you answer them correctly. If you get a question wrong, they get easier and then increase in complexity again. When you consistently answer questions at a specific baseline, you pass. If you don't, you fail the exam.

The test can vary in length. If it ends at the lowest range of questions (75), it means you either did so well or poorly that there's no need to continue. An algorithm evaluates your responses to determine the number of questions you'll receive. Two test candidates might answer a different number of questions, and still both pass.

How Hard Is the NCLEX?

You have five hours to answer a minimum of seventy-five questions. The exam ends when:

  • The computer determines with ninety-five percent certainty that you're above or below the minimum passing standard. 
  • All 145 questions are answered, and the final estimate determines a pass or fail grade.
  • Time runs out before you've responded to the minimum number of questions.

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), in 2021, the NCLEX first-time pass rate was seventy-nine percent. Proper preparation will help ensure you're in the NCLEX passing percentage.

What Types of Questions Are on the NCLEX?

If you're looking for NCLEX strategies that will help you prepare for the exam, familiarize yourself with the question formats.

Five Kinds of Questions on the Exam:

  1. Eighty to ninety percent of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions.
  2. Fill-in-the-blank questions require solving a problem, such as calculating a medication dosage.
  3. Select-all-that-apply questions have at least two correct answers out of four or more options. 
  4. Drag-and-drop questions ask you to arrange information in the correct order, such as for a procedure.
  5. Hot spot questions provide a diagram or photo and require identification, such as an injection location or assessment area.

NCLEX Study Tips

Another NCLEX tip is to get comfortable with question categories and focus on the ones that challenge you. Questions are created from four main Client Needs categories, with two of the four categories divided into subcategories.

NCLEX Client Needs Categories:

  1. Safe and Effective Care Environment
  2. Management of Care
  3. Safety and Infection Control
  4. Health Promotion and Maintenance
  5. Psychosocial Integrity
  6. Physiological Integrity
  7. Basic Care and Comfort
  8. Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  9. Reduction of Risk Potential
  10. Physiological Adaptation

How to Prepare for the NCLEX

A group of nursing students are gathered around a table, deeply engaged in studying for the NCLEX exam. They are surrounded by notes and textbooks, with one student writing in a notebook. The atmosphere is collaborative and light-hearted, with some students smiling and discussing their material in a well-lit room with large windows.

In most states, the earliest you can schedule the NCLEX through Pearson Vue is forty-five days after graduation. If you're unsure how long to study for the NCLEX, try a few practice tests to determine how prepared you are and to identify your strengths and weaknesses. 

Before scheduling your exam, plan for adequate study time but don't wait too long. You want to take the exam while the information and your study habits are fresh. Once you've set a date and reviewed the candidate bulletin, it's time to determine the best way to study for the NCLEX.

How to Study for the NCLEX

There are various resources available to help prepare you for the NCLEX. After years of schooling, you likely know how you learn and retain information best. Take advantage of our valuable resources to give you an extra edge.

Additional Study Tips for the NCLEX:

  • Review an NCLEX prep book and other study aids. 
  • Complete the NCLEX practice exams.
  • Participate in study groups. 
  • Listen to recorded lectures or podcasts.
  • Join NCLEX Facebook groups. 
  • Watch YouTube lectures.

Carve out study time and identify specific goals, such as completing a predetermined number of practice questions or reviewing a particular content area. 

Final Steps When Preparing for the NCLEX 

Get enough rest the night before the exam to feel alert and energized. On the morning of the test, relax and avoid last-minute cramming. Ensure you have all the required materials and plan to arrive early. 

Once you begin the exam, pace yourself. Read through each question carefully. If you're uncertain of an answer, trust your gut and don't dwell on one question for too long.

Other NCLEX Tips for Exam Day:

  • Remember your "ABCs" and always choose Airway, Breathing, and Circulation in order of priority in patient care.
  • Prioritize patient needs and address life-threatening physical conditions first.
  • Assess the patient before immediately calling the physician.
  • Never choose to do nothing for the patient.  
  • Assume you have all the necessary resources. 
  • Focus on your nursing school education, not what you might have learned on the job. Some facility practices may stray from the NCLEX rationale.
  • Practice reading select-all-that-apply options as true or false to eliminate wrong answers.
  • Don't spend more than one minute on any question.
  • Remember, the exam could take up to five hours, so schedule breaks if needed.

Passing the NCLEX

Your NCLEX exam results should be available about six weeks after the test, although some states provide quick service results forty-eight hours later. 

Since starting nursing school, you've been preparing for the exam and have worked hard to get here. Don't rush through your preparation. Go into the NCLEX exam with a positive attitude to increase your odds of success.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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