Tips for Passing NCLX RN exam on first attempt

Written by Brandon L.
August 17, 202317 min read

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing( NCSBN) revealed that the first-attempt NCLEX pass rate in the US was 87%, while that for domestically educated students was 45.56%. These results show that NCLEX, which stands for National Council Licensure Examination, is an intensive test.

Passing the NCLEX exam, especially in the first attempt, is an important step that helps in verifying your nursing knowledge and determining your abilities as a nurse.

You must pass this test if you dream of working as a nurse, the noblest profession.

You should have the best study strategy and realistic practices that will give you a leg up in the nursing exams.

Even though the exam may seem challenging, remember that you have successfully gone through nursing school, and this is one hurdle you have to cross to reach your dream job.

With that said, the following tips can help you ace the NCLEX exam.

Learn the NCLEX Format

The first thing to do is familiarize yourself with the

NCLEX format as it's not your typical pen and paper exam. There are two different forms of

NCLEX; The NCLEX-PN evaluates aspiring practical nurses, and the NCLEX-RN tests registered nursing candidates. Even though they are somewhat similar, they have a few differences. RN tests on care management and assessment while PN evaluates coordinate care abilities.

The NCLEX exam is split into four main areas:

These areas also have subdivisions which include:

You will have five hours in either NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-RN to complete a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265. These questions range between multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, hot spots which involve pictures and diagrams, exhibit/ charts items, and ordered responses.

You will pass when you have successfully answered enough questions and reached a 95% pass line. If you answer a question successfully, it automatically generates a more complex question. The test will end when the computer determines competency after scoring above the pass line. This can happen at any point between questions 75 and 265.

Set Aside Time to Study

Without a plan, the only viable plan that materializes is a failure. If you want success at anything, including passing NCLEX the first time, you must have a plan. And that plan is studying, and there is no shortcut.

According to Morgan Dutler, a faculty member at Purdue University Global School of Nursing, studying for your NCLEX should become a full-time job as soon as you graduate.

Some ways to ensure that the time you've set is put into good is by doing:

Find a Quiet Place

According to the University of California Irvine, you will take about 23 minutes to get back on track every time your work is interrupted.

So, avoid unnecessary interruptions, and ensure you choose a place you can focus on studying for your upcoming NCLEX exams.

If you live with others, inform them you need quiet time or put a "do not disturb" sign on the door.

Clear All Distractions

If there is anything that can hinder you from concentrating fully on your reading, remove them. These could be loud music, TV, photos, and so forth. A minimalist environment is perfect for concentration on the task at hand.

Don't Get Too Comfortable

While it is recommended that you get comfortable as you study, too much comfort can make your reading less effective. For instance, if you study in your pajamas on your bed, you may be tempted to doze off. The same applies to if you study on a comfortable couch.

Make sure you adopt a reading mindset and sit on a comfortable chair and study table.

Gather the Resources

Having the right NCLEX practice exams will help you get used to the format of the exams and their length before the main test. This will then give you the confidence to tackle the main exam.

You will need the reading material for the NCLEX exams to ensure you are on the right track. These resources are:

NCSBN Test Plan

NCSBN tests all RN and PN nurse candidates in USA and Canada, making the test plan the best to use to revise for the NCLEX exams. The advantage of using this test plan is that they come from past NCLEX exams. However, these practice tests are not free; purchase and use them within 45 days.

Textbooks and Your Class Notes

Don't put away your nursing textbooks or class notes just yet. NCLEX exams are based on what you have already covered in school. So, go through them and familiarize yourself with them again that you have forgotten.

Nursing Plus Premium

Nursing Plus Premium from Nurse Plus Academy is a practical NCLEX prep resource. Nursing Plus Premium has over 2,500 practice questions and an NCLEX simulator that looks and feels like the real thing. Its algorithm matches how the NCLEX gets harder or easier based on your performance. The questions will get harder with every correct answer and become easier with every missing question.

The app also allows you to take unlimited questions in exam-like conditions as much as you want. Nurse Plus Academy also has performance metrics that will show your chances of passing at any point during the test. offers review guidance on how to tackle NCLEX- RN exams. It details the test, including its design, arrangement, and implementation. Experts also advise study tricks and what to expect on exam day. In addition, has many topics and subtopics of the four test areas that will be covered in the upcoming test.

Kaplan Free NCLEX Questions and Review

Kaplan Free NCLEX Questions and Review is a free practice test that tests your knowledge and shows you where to focus on prep. These questions are customized and come with explanations, topic refreshers, and so forth

Understand NCLEX Scoring

NCLEX doesn't offer a percentage-based grade; instead, it uses the pass or fail system. It uses computerized adaptive testing (CAT), which merges computer technology with modern measurement theory to increase the exam process efficiency. The computer will determine whether you have passed or failed based on:

Therefore, aim to pass the exam on the first trial. If you plan to take the exam in 2023, beware of the upcoming changes.

Set a Timeline for Study

Start preparing for the exam early on by setting a timeline for your study. Lay out a study plan depending on how far the exam is to ensure you cover the expected topics.

Here are the timelines you can set:

Six months

Starting six months before the exam will give you enough time to focus on areas you are struggling with and learn as much new information as possible. Use a digital planner to set a week-by-week study plan, and ensure you include study tools.

Assign more weeks to those topics that seem harsh and review them from time to time. Consider this timeline if you are a slow reader or have a busy schedule. After learning new information, test yourself with the NCLEX practice Questions.

6 Weeks Before Exams

Invest heavily in topics that will be tested. Choose practice questions with mnemonics, with unforgettable characters for nursing facts you will quickly memorize long term. If you struggle to grasp certain things, contact your professor for help. They won't mind helping you because they are rooting for your success.

4 Weeks Plan

This timeline is recommended if you feel confident about all the topics that will be covered in the exam. Since it's only a short time, go over the initially challenging topics and break them down into weak areas and familiar areas. Start with the weak areas as you move to familiar areas as the exam date nears.

2 Week Schedule

A two-week schedule is such a short time to prepare for the most important test of your career, and it is highly discouraged. However, if you have no time to study in advance, you can use these weeks to improve your chances of success. First, take the 75-question practice test to determine your weak areas. Then, spend the first week working on these areas, then the last week on the areas you are familiar with. Finally, leave at least a day for a comprehensive review and to go over another practice test.

Remember that this schedule doesn't allow a day off like others because it's such a short time.

Prepare for More than Just the Minimum Amount of Questions

Even though you can pass the NCLEX at the minimum amount of questions required, which is 75, it's a bad idea to expect to get all these questions correctly. Remember, the exams cover topics you have studied since day one of your nursing studies, and these topics usually build on themselves. Therefore, if there is a topic you didn't grasp well, it may come to haunt you.

If you want to improve your chance of passing the first trial, don't study for these questions to prepare for the test. The best way to do this is by breaking down the NCLEX questions into small sections as they will appear in the exam. Note that these topics don't receive an equal number of questions, so breaking them down will help better prepare for the test.

The percentages of the NCLEX questions fall into these categories:

Don't Cram

Cramming is a short time solution for grasping information. It involves stuffing information quickly a few hours before an exam. Though it may seem like a good study technique, it is ineffective. Cramming increases your stress levels which can negatively affect your concentration. So basically, you will go around in circles grasping nothing meaningful.

If you cram for exams the night before, you will trade sleep for study time and wake up tired and stressed, which could impact your scores.

Cramming can only work when you familiarize yourself with the stuff you already know but do not study.

Pay Attention to Bolded Words

When you finally sit for the NCLEX exams, you will notice bolded words, a recently approved move. These bolded words are keywords that can direct you to answer the questions correctly. Some of the bold words include first, immediately, highest, best, essential, and so forth

These words provide essential clues which will steer you in the right direction. However, this doesn't mean you should ignore the rest of the words in the question. Instead, just read the whole question clearly and note the bolded words.

Beware of the Switchback Words

Switchback words include "but," "nonetheless," "even though," "while," and so forth. These words will change the course of your question. You may think you have the correct answer, but it's not, so you must read and read the question to understand it.

A question with these words is designed to trick you, showing that the question is not headed in the same direction you may be thinking. So even if a question seems simple, take a moment to think clearly.

Eliminate Incorrect Answers

To improve your chances of success, start by eliminating wrong choices. This will help you focus on the relevant information and narrow it down to the correct answer.

Whenever you eliminate an incorrect answer, go back and reread the question as you pay attention to keywords. Then, focus on the remaining choices and select the best one to solve the raised issue.

Managing the NCLEX Stress

Stress because of NCLEX is normal because it is a vital exam determining whether you can get a license to practice as a nurse. But what's not normal is excessive stress which leads to performance anxiety. If you experience performance anxiety, extreme stress will manifest in the following ways: rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, shaking, fainting, and nausea.

Preparing adequately for exams is the best way to prevent or manage stress. Ensure you go through all the learning resources and practice tests. The more prepared you are for the NCLEX, the less anxiety you will experience.

Other things you can do to manage stress include:

Thinking Positively

Positive thoughts generate positive feelings. So even when you don't feel like it, think about how nice it would be to receive your test results with a passing score. You will pass if you have done all the work, studied hard, and gone through all the practice tests.

Take Care of Yourself

As you study for the exams, make sure you leave time for yourself. Take care of yourself mentally by avoiding things or people stressing you. You can also exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. Physical exercise releases endorphins, happy hormones that will leave you optimistic about what is coming.

Understand Your Learning Style

There are several types of learning styles unique to every learner. Determining what kind of learner you are will help you avoid all the frustrations of trying to digest new information. The different learning styles are:

Once you have determined the kind of learner you are, you will be on your way to acing the test since NCLEX questions have different formatting, which favors every type of learner.

Get Enough Sleep

Don't underestimate sleep's power in helping you prepare for the exams. Many medical students glamorize the life of staying up late studying for exams, but studies show that all-nighters can actually negatively impact your grades.

Not sleeping well affects your memory, creativity, and logical reasoning, all skills needed to pass an examination. In addition, you will have a more challenging time concentrating during the exams.

The following tips will help you sleep better as you wait for NCLEX:

Take Naps

Studies show that napping improves your memory, especially when you do it right after learning something new. Taking naps is effective at retaining information better than cramming.

To make your naps more effective, limit them to just 30 minutes or fewer.

Sleep Schedule

Create a sleep schedule you can follow strictly. You should sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Having irregular sleep schedules is linked to lower GPAs among learners.

Get Comfortable

Make your sleeping areas as comfortable as possible to ensure you sleep properly. If your mattress is uncomfortable, get a new one and use cozy sheets.

You should also avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening. Research shows caffeine can interrupt sleep even when ingested a few hours before bedtime. Others like Nicotine and alcohol can also interrupt and worsen the quality of your sleep. You should also avoid using your phone or iPad when you are in bed.

If you make quality sleep your priority, you will have a better chance of passing the NCLEX exam.

Final Thoughts

Taking the NCLEX exam is essential in your journey to becoming a nurse. However, taking the exam is not as easy as you might think.

Related Readings:

Prepare ahead of time to increase your chance of success. The above tips guide you, so you should read and implement them as suggested.

But even with all the preparations, know that the nursing curriculum in colleges is also designed to help you pass in NCLEX exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the NCLEX Exam?

NCLEX exam, also called National Council Licensure Examination, is an exam used by state boards to evaluate your competence to practice as a nurse.

Is it Hard to Pass NCLEX?

NCLEX has an 87% passing rate, making it a pretty challenging exam to pass in the first trial. However, preparing well will increase your chances of success.

How Should I Prepare for the Exams?

To effectively prepare for the NCLEX, you should study the exam format, use the right resources to revise, and set a timeline for study. You should also take care of yourself by managing stress and understanding your learning style.

What Does NCLEX Cover?

NCLEX covers four main areas, which are divided into subcategories. These areas are as follows:

Are There NCLEX Resources That Can Help You Prepare Well?

Yes. You can use various online resources, both paid and free, to prepare for the upcoming exam.

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