When reviewing the expectations for the NCLEX-RN exam, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. You may not feel prepared — and that’s okay. While horror stories of this standardized exam reign the internet, know that 86.57% of candidates passed on their first try.

What it Takes to Pass the NCLEX-RN

As someone who’s worked in the nursing field for over a decade, I’m very familiar with the ups and downs of exam prep. It can be stressful and tiring, but in the end, it’s always worth it.

So what do you need to do to be part of that 86.57%? Here are my top eight tips:

1. Stay Empowered!

Many nurses will tell you how challenging the exam is or how long it may take. While it’s hard not to worry about the questions you have completed, do the best you can to ignore the number. Despite many NCLEX myths circulating the internet, there is no magic in completing 75 or 265 questions before the test shuts off. The number of questions does not determine whether you pass. However, if you study enough, it’s not as difficult as everyone tells you.

2. Don’t Cram

Sign up for the exam as soon as you can and study a little each day. After graduating from nursing school, you know the tricks that help you be the most successful. Even if you were a master of cramming to pass exams during college, you will not pass if you only study the week before.

3. Create a Study Plan

Ideally, give yourself 30 to 60 days to prepare and detail your study process. Keep working on the key areas that you don’t understand or didn’t expect. Some candidates benefit from taking entire practice exams, while others prefer focusing on a few questions at a time. Figure out what works best for you and plan ahead. Document what you study and when.

4. Find the Right Study Tools

Invest in an NCLEX-RN prep app or course and go through lots of practice questions and exams. Concentrate on the exam sections where you need more work. By using exam preparation software, you will receive detailed feedback on where you’re in good shape, and where you need more focus. It is just as important to understand why a distractor is wrong as to why an answer is correct.

I asked several experienced nurses what the top three things are that candidates should know. Here’s what they said:

  • Know your lab values. A value may be slightly out of range and have few consequences, but some values can be life-threatening.
  • Always protect the client’s airway.
  • When in doubt about any question, choose the option that promotes safety or keeps your client safe.

5. Choose the MOST Correct Answer

Be aware of priority questions! They could all be correct, but which one could cause harm to your clients/patients? Always go with the intervention that would cause the best results (or, if not performed, would harm the patient the most).

6. Select All That Apply (SATA) Isn’t As Scary As You Think

Be mentally prepared to face a few select all that apply questions, and try not to feel defeated. They can be draining and throw off your rhythm, but remember: use reasoning and common sense, and you’ll figure it out.

An elimination method you could try is to read the question and cover up all but the first choice. Review only the first option and see if it is correct. When you’ve made a decision, uncover the second and so on. Repeat until you have selected the best solutions for the question. Do not second guess based on “how many” answers you have or whether the options are similar. Read them each one more time to make sure that they are “true” and then move on.

7. It May Not Get You Ready for Nursing Practice

Not all questions will benefit your career. Some parts of the exam do not directly relate to on-the-job experiences. During clinical, you may have witnessed human error, varying policies, or nursing tricks. When taking the NCLEX-RN, assume that you live in a textbook scenario where everything goes according to plan.

Luckily, some do. There may be application questions that you will regularly use on the job.  These include knowing the order for the process of drawing up medications, maintaining a sterile field, or performing nursing procedures. However, the most helpful questions evaluate safety or priority.

8. Believe in Yourself

At this point in your nursing journey, you likely understand the explanation behind each question. Many of us walked away from the NCLEX-RN feeling that we failed, but are now proud members of the most trusted profession in the United States. Get plenty of sleep the night before and reflect on your strengths.

The most important item to take to your NCLEX-RN exam is your confidence. You graduated from your nursing program by possessing an extensive understanding of nursing care. Believe in yourself and your knowledge to pass the exam.

What’s Next? Ace Your Exam

While myths abound surrounding this unicorn of a test, these are the tried and true suggestions to join the nursing profession. This exam guide aims to leave you feeling prepared and on track to ace the NCLEX-RN. Now that you have the tips from those who have gone before you, keep studying and prepare for positive results!