If you’re studying for the NCLEX exam, chances are you’re stressed out and looking for any resource that’s going to help you pass.

That is after all why you checked out this article, right? You want to know what you’re facing when you sit down to that 6-hour stress-filled testing marathon.

Well, the NCLEX isn’t like any other test you’ve taken. It’s not only about facts, figures, charts, dosages and diagrams. 

It’s about whether or not you’re ready to care for patients.

What The NCLEX Wants To See From You

The NCLEX exam will test you on literally everything you’ve learned in nursing school. But it’s not testing how many facts you can regurgitate or data you remember – it’s testing your competency as a nurse.

The NCLEX is evaluating how well you can incorporate what you’ve learned and apply it to provide the most effective and most of all – safe – care for your patients. It wants to know that even as a beginner nurse, when you start that first shift, you’re ready to make informed care decisions.

When answering every question on the NCLEX, the first thing you should ask is: “Is this the best, safest treatment or course of action for my patient?”.

NOTE: Some questions will have the option to contact a supervising doctor. Even if you don’t know what to do, you should critically assess every action you can possibly take first. 

Ask yourself: “What is everything I can safely do for my patient before contacting a doctor or supervisor?”

The Types Of Questions You’ll See

That’s what everyone wants to know right? What kind of questions am I going to see on the test? 

You’ll be asked a variety of questions types including fill-in-the-blank calculation, ordered response, selecting all that apply (SATA), identifying a figure, chart or exhibit and audio/visual questions.

But 90% of the questions will be multiple choice. These questions have a similarity that you can learn to identify to help you more clearly understand what they’re asking and find clues to the answers. 

There are 5 parts to the multiple choice questions:

  • Item: includes the questions + answers
  • Stem: the question asked or situation proposed
  • Options: possibly correct responses
  • Distractors: incorrect answers to throw you off
  • Correct answer

These questions are meant to be direct and to the point, so don’t try to read any extra meaning into them.

Here’s an example:


The nurse provides care for a client who has had nausea, vomiting and diarrhea for three days. The client’s vital signs are BP 82/54 mm Hg and pulse 120 bpm. Which IV fluid prescription does the nurse expect to receive from the health care provider?

  • 3% sodium chloride.
  • 0.45% sodium chloride.
  • 5% dextrose in water.
  • 0.9% sodium chloride.


D. 0.9% sodium chloride

Explanation: An IV fluid prescription of 0.9% sodium chloride is an isotonic solution that will increase circulating blood and hydrate the cells

Probably the most dreaded type of question is the Select All That Apply (SATA). These require you to choose more than one answer to the question and you don’t get partial credit if you miss one.

Here’s some tips for the SATA questions:

  • There will always be more than one answer
  • Treat each option/answer as a true or false question and evaluate them individually
  • Pay close attention to the options and avoid absolutes (always, never, all the time, etc.)

Here’s an example:

Question: The nurse prepares to assess cranial nerves II and III. Which equipment does the nurse select? (Select all that apply).

  1. A wisp of cotton.
  2. Snellen chart.
  3. Sour-tasting substance.
  4. Otoscope.
  5. Penlight.
  6. Coffee for smelling.

Answer: B and E

Explanation: A Snellen chart is used to assess cranial nerve II (optic). A penlight is used to shine light into the client’s eyes to assess cranial nerve III (oculomotor).

Many of the questions, in all of the different formats, are going to ask you to use analysis, processes and rules to get the correct answer.

The most important thing to remember (just to restate it because it is so important), is to always ask:

“Is this the best, safest treatment or procedure for my patient?”

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