Mastering the NCLEX the First Time: Strategy and Tips

Mastering the NCLEX the First Time: Strategy and Tips

In this guide, experts share strategies for tackling the NCLEX nursing test. The NCLEX exam is a requirement for becoming a licensed nurse. Registered nurses take the NCLEX-RN, while licensed practical nurses (LPNs) take the NCLEX-PN. Both exams test nursing knowledge in four areas: safe care, health promotion, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

Most of the questions are multiple-choice, but other formats might be included. The exam adapts to your performance, becoming harder as you answer questions. It stops when it’s 95% sure of your pass or fail status.

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Top 10 Tips for Studying for the NCLEX

This guide offers test-taking strategies, with advice from nurses who passed the NCLEX-RN. While the RN exam has 74-145 questions, Alaina Ross, an RN and expert, advises not to worry if it goes beyond 75 questions. The exam stops when it’s confident in your result.

How Learning Styles Help in Test Taking

Anne Dabrow Woods, a nurse expert, suggests using your learning style. Methods that worked before, like visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning, can help. Use techniques like mnemonics, drawing, or teaching concepts to others.

NCLEX Test-Taking Strategies

To improve test-taking, understand parts of a question:

Stem: Asks the question
Correct answer
Case (patient’s situation)
Distractors (wrong choices)

Analyze a question by breaking it down. Read the stem twice to fully understand.

Here are key strategies for the NCLEX.

Identify Keywords

Focus on keywords, like finding an intervention when asked for one. Skip answers emphasizing signs or symptoms.

Identify Repeated Words

Pay attention to repeated words and synonyms in questions and answers. For example, “signs” might match with “symptoms.”

Do Not Second Guess Yourself

Trust your first answer, usually correct if reasoned through.

Look for Opposite Answers

If two choices are opposites, like increased or decreased heart rate, one is often correct. Know all question types on the exam.

Read the Entire Question Before Answering

Read the whole question before focusing on the answer. Understand what’s asked, whether in practice or the real exam.

Eliminate Distractors

Remove wrong choices first, then focus on the correct ones. If the question asks for an intervention, ignore signs and symptoms.

Use Prioritization Techniques

Words like “initial,” “first,” and “best” ask for prioritizing skills. Consider ABC’s, Maslow’s Hierarchy, and the nursing process for prioritization.


In the world of NCLEX, imagine you’re a nurse with one patient and clear orders. You only call the doctor when interventions fail. Don’t bother the doctor for things expected with the disease. It’s vital for nursing students to know normal signs and symptoms of a disease versus signs of complications.

Tips From Nurses Who Mastered the NCLEX

Handle Stress

Take the day before the exam off and relax. Practice deep breathing to manage stress. Eat protein and carbs before the test to avoid low blood sugar.

Focus on What You Can Control

Take a formal NCLEX prep course that follows the exam plan. Fill up your car and practice driving to the test location.

Practice a Lot

Practice tests show where you need more prep. Spend at least two hours daily studying.

Don’t Overthink Questions

Avoid overanalyzing and reading too much into answers. Trust your instincts and don’t bring personal experiences into the questions.

Test Early

Schedule the exam soon after finishing your nursing program. Fresh material is easier to work with.

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