Let me start by saying this, whether you pass in the minimum of 75, the maximum of 265 questions, or somewhere in between, all that matters is that you pass and that you become an RN. Even if you fail, it is not the end of the world and by no means a reflection of the nurse you will be!
When I started preparing for the NCLEX, one of my first thoughts was how crazy it was that the past 4 years of my undergraduate career came down to answering just 75 questions. After endless amounts of coffee, sleepless nights, what felt like thousands of exams and assignments, and blood, sweat and tears, all that stood between me and my RN license was 75 questions. When my computer screen went black after the 75th question, I did not feel relief, I felt sick to my stomach. I came out of the test center and cried as I thought, "There's absolutely no way in hell I just passed in 75." I had heard of people passing in 75 but it never crossed my mind that I could be one of those people. I was ready to sit the full 6 hours and write all 265 questions. I stayed up all night waiting for the dreaded email, but to my surprise, it read, “You have passed the NCLEX-RN exam,” and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Let’s rewind and talk about how I prepared…
Getting started was the hardest part. In general, there are two ways to approach this: 1) book a test and then create a study plan accordingly 2) create a study plan based on the time you want to study and then book a test.
I chose the first option because I knew if I would never feel 100% ready no matter how long I studied. So I went ahead and booked the test that would give me 2.5 weeks to study. My approach was efficient and effective. I used 3 resources: Mark Klimek audios, Hurst Review Videos, and UWorld. For my timeline, I studied for about 4-6 hours every day. As an anxious soon-to-be nurse, I asked around a lot to gauge if I was spending enough time studying. I learned that most of my peers spent a lot more time but I decided to stick to 4-6 hours of FOCUSED studying. I was disciplined and didn't use my phone during my study time- no Instagram or other social media, no music, etc. (unless I was taking a break, those are key, so please take breaks!). I found that this method worked best for me and this is what my day looked like:
0700: - Wake up and have breakfast. Food is key, you’re soon-to-be nurses and know that you won’t be able to effectively study if you aren’t eating well. I also took this time to do my morning stuff (daily devotion and my prayer time) and check my phone before I set it aside to study.
0800: Set up my study space. I like being VERY organized and struggle to get work down if my space is not set up correctly. I’d have my coffee, laptop, notebook and coloured pens ready to go. I also like to switch up where I study. I find a change in environment helpful, either I’d study at home or at the library or smaller changes like from my room to my dining table.
0830-1030: I would go through at least 1-2 Mark Klimek audios and 1-2 Hurst videos and make notes.
1030-1100: BREAK- coffee refill and watch an episode of The Office. TV shows with 20-minute episodes are AWESOME because 20 minutes is a really great amount of time for a break and it allows you to disconnect from “study mode” and let your brain have the downtime it needs.
1100-1300: 75-100 UWORLD questions. I would select questions based on what I studied earlier in the day. I did these questions as if it were the NCLEX. I used a notebook and pen to take notes on the content I needed to review and relearn. I took all the quizzes in tutor mode so that after each question, I would know right away if I got it right or wrong and I took the time to go through each rational VERY THOROUGHLY.
1300-1330: Lunch (remember when I said that food is important?)
1330-1530: 50 UWORLD questions and review all the notes that are taken that day and previous days.
My thoughts on the 3 preparatory resources I used:
- Mark Klimek Audios
To my knowledge, Mark Klimek does in-person sessions in the United States but not in Canada. However, audio recordings of his sessions are floating around the nursing student world so be sure to get your hands on them. Mark teaches you HOW to tackle the NCLEX- keywords/phrases to look for, easy ways to remember things, some content review but it was not comprehensive. As you go through the audios, don’t worry too much about taking notes. Rather, I found it helpful to listen and focus on understanding. You can even go through the audios while doing laundry, cooking, driving, etc.!
- Hurst Review Videos
These videos were focused on adult health systems and had pharmacology interspersed throughout. Overall great content review. I did take detailed notes while going through these videos.
I am sure you have heard nothing but great reviews about UWORLD and I concur! Their test bank is reflective of the NCLEX, from the way it was set up to the level of difficulty of questions. There are different ways to use UWORLD, you can shuffle all the questions so you get a mix of topics or you can answer the questions in sets of systems or topics, which is what I chose. Yes, I know the NCLEX shuffles everything but for my approach, it would be more effective to be systematic. My advice is to review the rationales for each question regardless of if you got it right or wrong. The rationales are really detailed and helpful if you are reviewing stuff your know or helping you understand stuff you need to work on. Full disclosure, I only got through around 1600 of the 2000+ questions- completely leaving out paediatrics and most of the pharmacology. This was a risky choice and I wouldn’t typically recommend this. However, I made this choice because of my time crunch- I already booked my test and was leaving for a trip the day after. I also recognized that I would not be able to master paediatrics and I did well in pharmacology in school so I could do without reviewing it too much. LUCKILY, I only got 4 paediatric questions but I used my critical thinking to answer them. My peers completed all 2000 questions and some even went through the entire set twice! I decided against it and was at peace with my decision.
The dreaded day was here and I was a MESS. I know people say don’t study the day before or the day of the test...but I’m sorry, that is just not how I function. I studied all day the day before and on test day, I reviewed my notes all the way to the test center. Please do what is best for you! If you want evidence-informed practice, you can find tons of stress and anxiety studies that suggest relaxing before a major test or evaluation. This approach has never worked for me, I am physically unable to relax so I figure I might as well review and that gives me some level of peace. I’m big on honesty so let me tell you how big of a mess I was- when I was in my car, I truly thought I was having a stroke. At this moment, I prayed and read Psalm 121 and asked God for strength, peace, and wisdom and with that, I walked into my test center and wrote the NCLEX.
My exam wasn’t heavy in 1 topic, I felt like it was truly randomized and reflected what I had learned in nursing school. I had tons of SATA and prioritization questions. As I mentioned earlier, the NCLEX was set up just like UWorld. I finished the exam in less than an hour and wrote 75 questions. I walked out, cried, and went home. Again, I know everyone says not to check your email or your regulatory body website and to just to stuff to distract yourself. Can you guess what I did? As much as I tried, I could not distract myself. I went home and spent time with family but was still ruminating about the NCLEX. I didn’t get sleep all night and I truly expected the worst. At 0400, I got the email that told me I passed.
I am a big believer of intentional and meaningful self-reflection so looking back at the way I prepared for and handled the whole NCLEX situation, this is my advice:
- Decide how long you want to study and book your test, you will be tempted to reschedule but my advice is that you don’t. I don’t think you can ever be 100% ready for the NCLEX, you will always feel like you need more time and that is very normal! Work fills the time so that is why I chose to study for 2.5 weeks. My advice to you would be to create a 2-3 week study plan and if you really feel like you need more time then stretch it to 4 weeks. I also know that your anxiety will increase as time goes on.
- Do not spend too much money on preparatory resources. There are some really great resources like the ones I’ve mentioned. Also, you got through 4 YEARS OF NURSING SCHOOL and tons of clinical experience! I promise you that you have learned lots even though it might not feel like it.
- Don’t ruminate after the exam. I was a mess post-NCLEX and did not do myself the favour of relaxing before, but I was okay with that. However, after you have written the NCLEX, it is out of your hands, there is nothing you can change, so practice self-care!
- TRUST and BE KIND to yourself! You got through nursing school, you’ve studied hard, you’re kind and smart and have the makings of a GREAT NURSE- hold onto this truth as you prepare for the NCLEX and even as you enter the workforce. As a nurse, you show your patients endless kindness and compassion and it is crucial you give yourself that same grace. Even if you do not pass on your 1st, 2nd, or 8th try, please show yourself kindness! This is not a race, everyone has their own pace.
And with that, I wish you success as you prepare to write the NCLEX, you’ve got this!
With love and kindness,
Rebecca John (BScN, RN) was born in India, grew up in Thailand, and now calls Toronto home. She graduated from the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University. She is a new graduate nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). She has a heart for vulnerable populations and dedicates her time serving the underserved. Her passion has taken her around the world to the Dominican Republic, India, and Ecuador and at home, she advocated for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and people who are homeless. Rebecca is a lifelong learner, she sees herself growing as a NICU nurse, furthering her education and widening her scope of practice so she can increase her impact.