Ah, the NCLEX. The mother of all nursing exams and the exam that has, and will, continue to keep nursing school students awake at night. It’s the exam on which your entire nursing career depends and the exam that stands between you and those two critical letters, RN.

What to Expect 

If you’re a nursing student, then you’ve experienced a typical nursing school exam. The dreaded “select all” and the “which orange is the most orange” types of questions. The NCLEX is no different in the style of questions that you will see. Trust that nursing school has completely prepared you in the ability to master this type of question format. 


Group Reviews 

Many states will offer an NCLEX review through various organizations. I attended a three-day in-person NCLEX review to help me gain insight into the material for the exam. Let’s be realistic for a moment. It’s up to you to know the content, and if you’ve graduated nursing school, you understand that the material is quite comprehensive. It is not humanly possible to recall everything you learned in school regarding disease processes, medication side effects and uses, and how each body system functions. The review helped me learn how to group these items, then allowing me to compartmentalize similar material, therefore remembering the most pertinent information. 


Practice makes Perfect

My strategy was utilizing various SIMCLEX tests (NCLEX simulators) that I found online when I began studying. These simulators will provide randomly selected questions from their question bank to answer. After each question, you will get a “correct” or “incorrect” screen, which will also give you the answer rationale.  Trust me when I say to read EVERY SINGLE rationale.  Whether you got the answer correct or incorrect, the rationales will help you understand the logic behind the answer to the question.  It can also help to give you hints on other similar questions in the question bank. For example, you may have a general question about diabetic ketoacidosis. The answer may give you a rationale that includes information on medications that are used to treat this condition. Reading the rationale allows you to gain more information about the topic of diabetic ketoacidosis, and then some. Practice these types of questions as many times as you can to become more and more familiar with why an answer is correct. 


Timing is Everything

Make sure to schedule your NCLEX test date as soon as you have received clearance from the Board of Nursing. I can assure you from experience that testing sites fill up quickly, so you don’t want to wait to schedule your exam. I suggest you strike while the iron is hot and the material is fresh in your mind. The longer you wait, the less you will be able to recall. I spent four full weeks studying for the NCLEX and found that this was the sweet spot for myself, to feel most comfortable. However, on the other hand, you may think that two weeks of review is enough for you, so do what will work best for you and whatever sets you up for success.


General Tips and Tricks

The NCLEX is challenging but trust your knowledge and remind yourself throughout the exam that you know more than you think you do. There will likely be a question or two that you are completely stumped on, so use some of these tips to help figure out the answer: 

  • Rule out absolutes like “always” and “never”
  • Rule out the item that doesn’t belong, which will most likely be the correct answer 
  • Is one answer more general than the others? If so, that answer may include the other answers under the “umbrella answer,” making it the more correct choice 
  • If something seems right, it likely is right. 
  • If you don’t have any idea what the answer may be, use your common sense. 
  • Always answer a question based on what you do know.  Don’t pick an answer just because it’s something you’ve never seen before; it’s not always the correct answer simply because it seems more complicated.
  • Be prepared to be tested on the maximum number of questions. Don’t get nervous or anxious if your test keeps going after you’ve reached the minimum number of questions. This will only frustrate you and veer you off course. Stay focused.  


Lastly, and this is important, I suggest you do not study the day before the exam. Instead, take the entire day to relax your mind as much as possible. I know, easier said than done, but my experience is that if you don’t know the content by now, you’re not going to know it. It’s okay not to know everything that will be on the exam, so focus on what you do know, and I believe you will be successful.     


 smiling headshot of author Leah Matthews, BSN RNLeah Matthews is a Registered Nurse working on a Trauma unit at a hospital system in Dayton, OH. In 2019, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Xavier University with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. For Leah, Nursing is her passion and second career, as she has over seventeen years of experience as a marketing and advertising professional within various roles. Along with her love for writing, Leah’s future goals include obtaining her Masters in Nursing with a focus on Women’s Health.