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How to Pass the NCLEX The First Time

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Nursing school is a marathon, not a sprint. After years of going to class, studying, and taking tests, one final exam stands between you and your dream of becoming a nurse. The NCLEX, or the National Council Licensure Examination, is a standardized test taken on the computer by American and Canadian nursing students. Depending on where you take the test, the state will issue you your first registered nurse license after passing.

With the right preparation, passing the NCLEX is something every nursing student can achieve. Of course, it's a test that demands you take it seriously; passing your classes with flying colors or earning a high GPA isn't necessarily an indicator that the NCLEX will be a breeze. Here are a few tips to ensure you pass the test the first time you take it:

Get Familiar with the NCLEX

Test anxiety is very real. Even those who feel confident with the subject matter of the test can find themselves overwhelmed by the structure of the test. Don't let your first encounter with the NCLEX be the day you sit down to take it. Instead, familiarize yourself with the structure ahead of time.

Because NCLEX is taken on the computer, you'll find that no two tests are the exact same. The computer algorithm will produce questions according to how you're performing on previous questions. Different question styles and content make the bank of test questions incredibly comprehensive. At the very least, you can expect to face a minimum of 75 questions, with a maximum of up to 265 questions. Candidates only pass the test once they've answered enough questions to stay above the 95 percent confidence interval. Fall below that 95 percent and you'll fail.


Sound confusing? Think of it this way: if your test score is charted on a graph, you'll need to stay above a horizontal line called the "pass line." Below it is failure. You begin the test at the zero with each question bumping you either up or down based on whether you have answered correctly. With each right answer, the computer will give you a more difficult question. The test will only end when the algorithm determines competency.

Practice Makes Perfect for the NCLEX

There are a number of study strategies you can undergo when preparing for the NCLEX. In general, you should expect to spend between one and two months of studying for the test if you hope to pass on the first try. Study groups and flashcards are great for test prep, but nothing is as effective as taking practice tests. Studies have shown that the more practice a student gets before an exam, the better they learn the material on the test.

Of course, practice tests also make you more comfortable with the format of the test. It's important, though, to be intentional about how to take practice tests. Going through questions and answering them is just one aspect of practice testing. If you never go back through the results and see which questions you missed and why, you'll never learn from your mistakes. Instead of just answering questions, mark challenging topics and create a study guide from your notes.

Consider starting with a baseline score from a practice test. Sit for the entire practice exam online and then work to improve upon your initial score. You may want to take practice exams multiple times to gauge your retention of information. Go through as much of the bank of questions as possible before the day of the actual exam.

Prep for Test Day

In addition to the studying, you'll do well to prepare for the NCLEX, there are several crucial steps to take the night before you take the exam. Studying can get you far, but if there isn't gas in your car the next morning, you could find yourself running late for the test. Set a reliable alarm (or two), make sure you've gotten several good nights of sleep before the big day. Always remember to eat a healthy meal before heading into test.

You should also consider when you perform best when scheduling your exam. Not a morning person? No problem! Simply schedule your exam time for the afternoon. You'd be surprised what a difference this kind of preferential scheduling can have on your test score.

The Competitive Edge

You've worked hard in nursing school and the finish line is in sight. With so much riding on your NCLEX exam results, you need all the support you can get. Thankfully, Exam Edge offers helpful tools to give you the competitive advantage you need to pass. Get started now by checking out our nursing page for study tips and practice tests.

How to Pass the NCLEX The First Time

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