How to Succeed at the NCLEX Examination

2 Nursing students are preparing for the NCLEX
2 Nursing students are preparing for the NCLEX

The NCLEX test is a timed, proctored exam developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Aspiring nurses must pass this exam before receiving a nursing license in any US state. Understandably, a big part of any good nursing curriculum will focus on preparing you to succeed on the NCLEX.

Let’s go over the basics of the NCLEX-RN-NGN (formerly known as the NCLEX-RN), including study expectations, strategic tips, and what else to know to do well on the exam.

Have there been recent changes to the NCLEX-RN examination?

First, we should note that the NCLEX has been significantly revised in the past year. Understanding this new format will help you succeed on the test.

As of April 2023, the NCLEX has been revamped to incorporate what they call “next generation” (NGN) exam question types. The NCSBN periodically reviews the way that their test is working and seeks feedback to improve it. These “next generation” questions are the result of over a decade of research and updates.

The new test focuses more on case studies and real-practice scenarios as opposed to traditional multiple choice. This shift in focus makes practice questions and time management strategies all the more essential.

Some of the new NCLEX-NGN examination question formats include:

  • Questions where test takers need to choose all possible correct answers out of multiple choices, instead of just choosing the answer they think is best
  • “Hot spot” questions that ask test takers to identify areas on a picture or diagram as part of their answer
  • “Cloze” questions that ask test-takers to fill in missing information in a chart or paragraph, based on a drop-down list of options

How is the NCLEX scored?

It’s also important to understand that this test isn’t scored like most other tests you may have taken. The NCLEX-NGN uses a computer-adaptive grading system called a “logit.” The logit system enables the test to adapt to the test-taker’s ability throughout the exam.

Each question is assigned a numeric value based on how hard it is. You’ll get more credit on the exam for answering a difficult question correctly than you would for an easier question. In the new version of this test, partial credit can be given if part of the answers to a question set are correct. Answering a difficult question correctly can also mean the next question you get will be more difficult. If that still sounds confusing, you can read more about the way the test is designed here.

Fifteen experimental questions will be asked to determine your basic knowledge level, and those won’t count toward or against your score. The test will take you through anywhere from 70 to 135 scored questions, adapting the difficulty levels of the questions throughout. Once the computer adaptive technology (CAT) is 95% certain that you know enough to pass the test, it stops asking questions, and the test ends.

How many hours of study does it take to pass the NCLEX?

The students need to study for the NCLEX regardless of how well the nursing program prepared the student. The exam is designed to test your critical thinking skills and clinical judgment, and also assess how well you can apply nursing concepts to day-to-day situations. You’re not just demonstrating your knowledge of healthcare; you’re showing how you would apply it.

Because of this design, the NCLEX-NGN is not the kind of test you can really “cram” for. Your consistent practice and review of nursing concepts during nursing school are key indicators for doing well on the exam.

How do you prepare for NCLEX

How do you prepare for the NCLEX-NGN?

The NCLEX isn’t a traditional exam, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be well-prepared for success on your testing day. Here are some tried and true strategies.

Create and maintain a study group.

Getting together with your nursing school classmates —in person or online— is a proven way to make headway on your NCLEX preparation.  You don’t have to wait until your nursing school program is nearing its end, either. A successful study group may form in the early days of nursing school and continue to support and help each other throughout the academic experience, through finals, and up to the NCLEX.

By studying together for months at a time, you’ll lay the foundation for good study habits, build on each other’s strengths, figure out who you can rely on (and who likes to procrastinate), and make some close friends in the process.

Regularly complete NCLEX practice examinations.

The NCLEX-NGN format is relatively new, so you won’t have a lot of people to talk to who have already taken and passed the test. The only way to get an idea of how you’ll stack up on the test is to take practice exams.

Successful nursing school students will often take the opportunity to practice whenever they can get their hands on some practice NCLEX examination questions. Make sure you’re using updated test books and online resources that reflect the recent changes to the NCLEX.

Focus on clinical reasoning.

The NCLEX is designed to gauge how well-prepared you are to apply your nursing school knowledge in the healthcare setting. That might sound intimidating, but you can use it to your advantage!

Memorizing the basics of anatomy, physiology, and nursing theory will always be crucial to nursing practice. But beyond these basics, you can focus on deepening your understanding and broadening your knowledge base instead of stressing over your ability to recall every minute fact you read in your textbooks.

Read case studies.

The NCLEX will typically include three case studies in your exam. These studies will describe a patient scenario and include underlying details like lab results, vital signs, medical history, and more. It will be your job to identify the best solution for the hypothetical patient using your knowledge and theories of nursing practice. It’s the kind of detective work that nurses encounter every day.

You can practice this kind of analysis anytime through the extensive archives of case studies available in medical journals and online. Walking through published case studies, identifying relevant details, and focusing on your line of inquiry will help you get more confident in answering these types of questions.

How to choose a nursing program to pass the NCLEX

You can prep for success on the NCLEX before you even start nursing school by carefully researching nursing programs before you enroll. When you choose a program with a reputation for preparing students well for the NCLEX, you’re improving your chances of doing well on the test.

Wilkes University graduates have high first-time pass rates on the NCLEX-RN, consistently beating the national average year after year. For the year 2023, Wilkes’ undergrad first time pass rates on the NCLEX-RN are 93.59%, compared to the national average of 88.55% (both stats are YTD as of October 2023).

As the NCLEX licensure examination evolves into the NGN (next generation NCLEX), Wilkes’ online ABSN program is following suit. The curriculum has been updated to provide a more robust and comprehensive nursing education, and a new emphasis on competency-based assessment will ensure that students are progressing on the right track.

Wilkes offers a robust and comprehensive curriculum to get students ready to take this exam, but it can still be completed in as little as fifteen months. Learn more about how Wilkes’ online ABSN can prepare you to succeed on the NCLEX by checking out the program guide.