When preparing for the dreaded NCLEX exam, every nursing student is looking for the magic hacks, tips, or tricks to help them crush it. And there’s a lot of them out there. A lot. It’s no big surprise. The NCLEX exam is the final test of all those long years studying difficult subjects like anatomy & physiology and pharmacology. All the quizzes, tests, and clinical. All the sleepless nights and coffee-fueled mornings.
You’ve got to pass the NCLEX to reach your goal of becoming a registered nurse. Sure, you can take it more than once – but you really want to pass it the first time. The NCLEX is difficult. It’s a computer adaptive test that will test you on everything you know and things you don’t to evaluate your analytical reasoning and decision-making skills.
How do you study for a test like that? You prepare – and we’ve got three study hacks (plus some extra tips) that will help you find the right learning style, the right tools, and the right strategy to walk into the NCLEX exam fully loaded and ready to go.
So here are three NCLEX study hacks to help you out:
Have The Right Tools
There are so many books in nursing school – big, heavy books with lots, and lots, and lots of pages. It’s a lot of information to go through and trying to study only your textbooks and notes will eat up valuable study (and free) time.
There are three sure-fire, tested study tools that condense all of the information you need to know and questions you’re likely to see in one handy place.
1. Study Guides
Study guides are probably the #1-way nursing students prepare for the NCLEX exam and if you don’t have one, you need to get one. These guides include everything you need to pass the NCLEX from practice questions, charts, and tables, graphs, online practice tests, and quizzes.
Whether you go with Saunders, Mosby’s, or one of the several available, all will pretty much give you a comprehensive review and preparation. In addition to your NCLEX study guide, you may also want to check out the best NCLEX supplemental guide.
2. Online Prep Courses
There are a wide variety of online NCLEX exam prep courses. These are usually a subscription of one month, three months, or six months. They’ll give you access to an extensive bank of practice questions, quizzes, and practice tests that simulate taking the NCLEX exam in real-time. Some even offer video tutorials, downloadable apps, and more.
They might be a little more expensive than an exam guide book, but you’re also getting access to more questions and getting to practice taking the test so you won’t be surprised when it’s time to take the real NCLEX.
Flashcards are a low-tech way to review concepts and practice questions that are very effective. You can keep them in your bag and have a quick review while you’re waiting in line for a coffee or walking to your next class.
They work by repetition, reinforcing what you’ve learned until the information is committed to long-term memory.
PRO TIP: Do practice questions. Lots of them – as in hundreds. The more practice questions you do, the better prepared you’ll be.
Develop An Answering Strategy
Most of the questions on the NCLEX exam will be multiple choice. Sounds easy right? Well, not so fast.
First, you need to recognize the parts of the question. There are 3 parts:
- The Stem – The actual question being asked or situation posed
- The Case – This is the patient’s condition, or what is being presented
- Distractors – These are incorrect answers or answers that may seem right at first but are incorrect to throw you off
- Read the stem two or three times, paying attention to exactly what it’s asking so you understand the question.
- Identify any keywords that jump out.
- Only work with the information being presented – don’t make assumptions or read anything more into it than what’s there.
- Throw out the answers that are obviously wrong.
- Look for repeat words or synonyms in the stem (question) and answers.
- If a question is asking first, initial, or best – it’s a priority question. Use your ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation), Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Nursing Process (ADPIE) to find the best answer and primary action you should take.
PRO TIP: You’re not going to know every answer, sometimes you’ll have to guess. Why? Because a new nurse won’t know everything and the NCLEX wants to see if you can make the best decision that provides the minimum amount of care with the least harm to your patient.
If you don’t know, use your ABCs, Maslow’s, and ADPIE to help you make the most rational choice for your patient.
Know Your Learning Style
Different people have different ways of learning. Some may learn better by taking tons of notes. Others need to see something demonstrated. Knowing what kind of learner you are can change your world when it comes to studying, making it faster, easier, and more effective.
Here are the different types of learners:
Visual learners process information by seeing and observing. It includes everything from charts, graphs, and written instructions to visual demonstrations. It’s also called spatial learning.
If you’re a visual learner, make sure to include lots of visual elements in your notes, flashcards, and study information. Draw pictures, diagrams, and graphs yourself.
Auditory learners learn best by listening to someone describe and explain information. Lectures, podcasts and even talking themselves are more effective to them than a whole notebook of highlighted and cross-referenced notes.
If you’re an auditory learner, don’t miss your lectures, listen to podcasts or work with fellow students in a discussion/group study session.
Kinesthetic learners need to do the thing themselves. Also called tactile learners, doing something themselves is the best learning strategy.
If you’re a kinesthetic learner, try teaching the subject you’re studying to another person.
These learners are the masters of note-taking. Their notebooks are chock-full of indexed, bulleted, and highlighted notes. Writing the information and then reading it act together to commit the information to memory.
If you’re a reading/writing learner organize your notes with colored tabs, highlighters, and dividers to keep everything quick and easy to find.
PRO TIP: You also need to know how to control test anxiety if it affects you. All that studying won’t do you any good if you’re so anxious you can’t perform on the test. Two heads are better than one – find out why study groups are crucial for NCLEX studying.
You know how difficult nursing school is – you’ve been doing it long enough to be getting ready for the NCLEX exam. You know that to pass tests (especially the NCLEX) it’s not enough to memorize information – you have to absorb and understand the concepts you learn to apply them. So the #1 hack to help you pass the NCLEX exam? Study.
Study regularly – at least an hour a day 5 days a week. You’re not going to make it if you try to cram and if you study regularly, all you’ll need to do when the NCLEX exam rolls around is review everything you already know.
Apply these three hacks to your studying routine and when you sit down to take the NCLEX the only thing you’ll be is – ready.