Preparing For The NCLEX

NCLEX ExamBecoming a nurse, whether you are looking to become a registered nurse or pursue a degree in advanced practice nursing requires satisfactory completion of the NCLEX exam. NCLEX is short for National Council (of State Boards of Nursing) Licensure Examination. It is a nationally administered standardized test that every nurse must complete successfully to practice as a licensed practical nurse or RN in the United States.

Registering for the NCLEX

You are eligible to sit for the NCLEX once you have graduated from a nursing program and applied for the test through your state board of nursing. You will take the NCLEX at a third-party testing site and will have to pay testing fees plus application fees to your board of nursing. There are plenty of opportunities to take the test, and most are scheduled from Monday to Friday. Once you have been authorized by the state and your nursing school to sit for the exam, you will have a window of time in which to take the test. If your testing window expires, you will need to submit a new application and application fee.

Scoring the Test

The NCLEX is an adaptive exam, meaning the computer adjusts questions based on your answers. When you answer a question correctly, a question of equal or greater difficulty will be given next. If you miss a question, an easier question will be offered until you answer correctly. The computer will continue adjusting questions up and down based on your answers as it tries to determine your competency level. When the computer determines with 95 percent accuracy that you have met (or failed to meet) the predetermined minimum competency level, the test ends.

Tips for Testing

Allot yourself adequate time to study.

Make sure to study regularly. Practice with flash cards, practice exams, visual aids, or any method that best suits your particular style of learning. If you are missing more than 70% of questions from a specific area, focus more time on those topics until you improve.

Consider a prep course.

Many schools highly encourage students to complete an NCLEX prep course. These courses, while valuable to some, may not be as beneficial to others. Typically costing several hundred dollars, students can expect to spend many hours listening to lectures, but they are also given the opportunity to ask questions and find resources for areas in which they are weak. Classes are usually conducted by RNs who have completed the exam. Completion of a prep course does not guarantee your success on the exam, though, and many nurses find that they study equally as well without the classes. Some courses promise to provide a refund of class fees in the event that you don’t pass your exam, so you should check with your particular center if you decide to sign up.

Review the major subject areas.

The NCLEX exam bases test questions in four areas of client need:

Safe, Effective Care Environment
Health Promotion and Maintenance
Psychosocial Integrity
Psychological Integrity

Questions can come from any combination of these three areas, and you may see more of one type than another, so make sure you study all areas.

Be prepared for a variety of answering formats.

Not every question on the NCLEX is multiple choice, and it is important to be prepared for answering different kinds of questions, including short answer, fill-in-the-blank, and matching. Make sure to read the question and determine if there should be more than one answer, or if they are asking for the LEAST likely, MOST likely, or another combination to avoid misunderstanding the prompt.


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