Everything You Need to Know About the NCLEX

So you’ve done it; you’ve spent thousands of dollars and years of your precious life on nursing school, and it all comes down to one test: The NCLEX.

For me, this was pure anxiety. Never have I had so many thoughts of negativity going through my mind. What happens if I fail? What would all of my classmates say? What if the friends I made in nursing school failed, and I passed, what would I say to them? What would I do next with my life if I failed? What do I tell my family? All of these thoughts went through my head almost immediately after nursing school graduation and probably about every few minutes while actually studying for the NCLEX.

It’s even worse if you’re currently working for a hospital as a CNA, LPN, or Patient Care Tech. Everyone at work is probably wondering when you’re going to take the NCLEX so you can join the nursing club. The worst part is, sometimes you’re not even the first person to know if you’ve failed the test after you’ve taken it. Many times your friends or coworkers will actually know your NCLEX results before you by checking the “Online License Verification” page on the state board of nursing website.

So what happens if you fail the NCLEX, repeatedly? What would you do?

I guess the short answer is: if you can’t pass the test, all of your time was wasted. There’s almost no lateral movement in the field of nursing, or in the healthcare field in general. Even if you’ve been a nurse for 20 years, and lose your license for one reason or another, you aren’t going to be listing “ACLS Certified” on your application to be a bartender. I guess you could work in customer service… One could make a humorous comparison between wiping someones ass and kissing it. However, you won’t make nearly as much money as you would as a nurse and the question “Why did you decide stop being a nurse?” would get old in about an hour. One option would be to continue on with school but this would entail formulating an entirely new career path and would be devastating before you finally accept your new fate.

For many it takes multiple attempts to pass the NCLEX, with the likelihood of passing decreasing with each attempt made. So, ideally you want to get it right the first time. When it came to actually studying for the NCLEX, I had absolutely no idea where to start. I’m sure many others felt that way too but I’ve never been so overwhelmed with the amount of material that I felt I needed to study before taking a test. Something that many don’t think about is that you’ve been in a completely structured environment over the past few years of nursing school. You’ve probably known, or at least had a good idea, which material was going to be on each test that you’ve taken and when each test was going to be.

For the NCLEX however, you decide when the test is going to be and which selection of material you want to review before taking it. This can either be a luxury or a curse. It’s unreasonable to assume that you can review all of the material that you learned over several years of nursing school in only a few weeks or a couple of months. But there are some who try and probably succeed in doing so. I guess my best advice is to structure your NCLEX preparation time in a way that will benefit you the most. I’ll get into this a little more but you’re going to need to know how well you will work in an unstructured environment. How dedicated to studying can you be, and for how long. Another factor to consider is how much time can you spend outside of school before your basic test-taking skills become rusty.

I remember in high school I would come back from summer vacation feeling like I was in a fog for a couple of weeks. Considering this, once I got my authorization to test and was ready to select a date, I knew that three months out was going to be too long for me. So the most obvious benefit of scheduling the NCLEX further out would be that it would allow for more study time. However, there is also a benefit to scheduling the test for soon after you graduate too; material that you studied towards the end of school, and for your final exams, will be more fresh in your mind.

So when is the best time to take the test?

For me, I felt about six to eight weeks after graduation was ideal; however, for you this may be different. I had initially planned on taking two weeks off of studying completely and to celebrate graduating. Those two weeks were great and soon turned in to three and four weeks without studying. So I soon found myself with three weeks to go before my NCLEX was scheduled and I hadn’t even opened a book. I work best under pressure though, and outlined a three week study plan that ultimately led to my success.

How I crammed for the NCLEX

With too much material to study and a hundred different approaches to take, I felt that the most beneficial way for me to cover the most ground in the least amount of time, was to use NCLEX practice question software. Mainly because I’m a slow reader and skimming through chapters wouldn’t have gotten me very far. Try a few different types of software to see which one you like best. Or, if you have the time, use more than one software for some question style variety. Usually the software comes with NCLEX preparation books and probably doesn’t even get used by some people.

There’s no other way I would go about studying for the NCLEX if I had to do it over again. The “NCLEX style questions” play a huge role in what makes the NCLEX so difficult. I often found myself struggling to answer questions that appeared to be difficult but that were just worded horribly. In retrospect it doesn’t seem fair to ask a simple question in the most difficult way imaginable, it’s frustrating to say the least; but, after running through so many NCLEX style practice questions, I was beginning to feel more confident. The more practice questions you do, the better you get at analyzing what the question is actually asking and what type of answer you are looking for. Even if the question was something that I had never even studied, I could at the very least narrow down the answers to two options simply because I could deduce that those answers were unrelated to the topic.

It does help though to actually be able to break down each question to figure out exactly what the question is asking. You’ll find that a seemingly difficult question is actually simple and something that you would have otherwise been able to answer flawlessly. This is why a bulk amount of NCLEX practice questions is, in my opinion, the best way to study. Another benefit to using the software is that you can take practice tests too. I made sure to start my study sessions with a practice test to see which topics I needed the most work on. Once I knew that, for the next few hours I would only do practice questions for the topics that I struggled in. When I got questions wrong, the software provided a quick rationale to why and this is how I would further my knowledge. If there were any secret to passing the NCLEX, this is it. I felt as though I did not need to learn new material, I just needed to access what I had already learned by answering difficult questions and critically thinking through topics I hadn’t discussed since early on in nursing school.

Should you take a NCLEX preparation course?

I don’t think this could hurt. I never took one of these courses but I’ve heard great things. I’ve also heard of prospective nurses failing the NCLEX no matter how many NCLEX prep courses they can take. I think it would be a great way to start your studying but I would not use one of these courses as your only means of studying. I am sure that they have great advice and insight to share with you but, either way, you are going to need to dedicate yourself to studying for this test for a few weeks.