All you need to do is slam two grande espressos, put on your favorite playlist, cram all night then breeze into the test and crush it.

Yeah, not quite. 

Studying for the NCLEX is a marathon, not a sprint. Then taking the NCLEX itself, which is a 6-hour, 75 – 265 question computer adaptive test that gets progressively harder the better you do is anything but a breeze. Add in a bit of test anxiety and it’s the perfect recipe for a nervous meltdown.

But don’t worry.

Here’s 20+ super clever studying and test-taking tips, recommended by nurses who’ve already taken (and passed) the NCLEX, that will help you ace it the first time.

How to study for the NCLEX:

  • Don’t cram, study regularly

Saving all your studying for last-minute cram sessions is a recipe for disaster – there’s just too much material to cover. Keep a regular study schedule so when it’s time to take the test, all you need to do is have the best NCLEX reviewer book.

  • Hold group study sessions

A good way to keep a regular studying schedule is to have weekly study sessions with your classmates. Your study partners also may have info you don’t and you can quiz each other.

  • Make sure you understand the concepts

Don’t just memorize facts and data. You need to fully understand the concepts you’re learning. The NCLEX isn’t just asking for facts, it wants application of what you know.

  • Know your learning style 

You may take great notes and be able to read quickly. Or if you’re an audio/visual learner, find an NCLEX podcast or video tutorial to help you out. Find the learning style that suits you best and use it.

  • Teach

To get a solid understanding of the material, try teaching it to a fellow student.

  • Take practice exams

There’s no better way to be prepared than to take a practice exam. Here’s a link to official NCLEX practice tests (you’ll need to register) and a link to the test plans. You can find more online study aides at, or buy a book like Lippincott’s adaptive practice exam.

  • Talk to new licensed nurses who have taken the exam

Know anyone who has recently taken the test? Hit them up on what they did to prepare and what the test was like.

  • Use mnemonics and acronyms

Nursing has a ton of mnemonic devices and acronyms to help them remember the steps for care. A 10-second search of “nursing mnemonics acronyms” will turn up hundreds of results.

NCEX Test Taking Tips & Tricks

When taking the NCLEX you want as many arrows in your quiver as possible to help you pass. Here’s 10 test-taking tips that’ll keep the correct answers coming:

  • Don’t obsess about the time limit – slow down, breathe and take your time
  • Read the question carefully to fully understand what it is asking
  • Pay attention to details as they will give you clues
  • Look for keywords in the question and the answers
  • Rephrase the question to state it another way
  • Visualize yourself in the actual question situation
  • Throw out obviously incorrect answers (the distractors)
  • Beware answers that include absolutes like always, never, ever, all, no, only, except, none, because these are often incorrect
  • Don’t panic if you get close to the end of the allotted time and are still going
  • Don’t be afraid to make educated guesses using everything you’ve learned

PRO TIP: Sometimes you’ll have to make educated guesses

The NCLEX knows you’re a beginner nurse and won’t know every disease, drug, and procedure – it doesn’t expect you to. It wants you to make a competent judgment decision.

So when you have to make a guess:

  • Remember your ABCs – Airway, Breathing, and Circulation
  • Always ask: “What is the safest decision for the patient”
  • With multiple, similar answers pay close attention to the one that looks different and sticks out – it may be the correct answer
  • If all the other answers look wrong, or something in them is wrong, the one that is different is probably right
  • Ask: “Have I done everything possible that I can do” before contacting a physician or supervisor

EXTRA TIP: Be prepared before you go

You don’t need the added stress of waking up late or forgetting your ID. Get everything you need ready before the test – ID, supplies, directions, alarm, etc.  – so when it’s time to go you don’t have to think about anything else but how you’re going to crush the NCLEX.

How To Deal With Test Anxiety

Preparing to take the NCLEX exam can be stressful and everyone deals with stress differently. For some it may be sleepless nights and others may feel too nervous to eat. 

When the day of the test comes, your stress level can skyrocket and if not handled, can affect test performance. Here are some tips on how to deal with test anxiety both before and on the big day.

Before the test, while you’re still studying:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule
  • Eat, and eat healthy (this includes not going overboard on caffeine)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice self-care – take some time for yourself, whether is just going for a walk or doing something you enjoy
  • Think positive thoughts or try an affirmation (hey, you’ve made it this far)
  • Visualize success – imagine yourself acing the test (remember, the NCLEX has an 88% pass rate)
  • Take a day or two off before the test to decompress and recharge

During the exam:

  • Take a breath and calm yourself whenever you feel anxious – try a short meditation or mindfulness techniques
  • Take a short break
  • Bring a snack for a quick energy boost
  • Caffeine is OK, but don’t overdo it
  • Stay hydrated – you should know how important this is
  • If your mind goes blank, do a calming technique – let your mind be blank for a second to help you focus

Sure the NCLEX exam is the culmination of everything you’ve been working for and you need to pass it to practice nursing. It’s a difficult, stressful test but remember – you’ve made it this far. 

You’ve studied hard and worked even harder. 

You’re ready.

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