What Is the NCLEX Exam? (Plus Helpful NCLEX Tips)

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All aspiring nurses must pass the NCLEX to obtain licensure. Wondering how to prep for the NCLEX? There are lots of NCLEX tips to try. For example, it’s best to start studying early in your nursing program. You can also use active study techniques and join a study group.

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A nursing career can be gratifying, as it allows you to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Yet, it isn’t without its challenges. In addition to earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, you’ll need to take the NCLEX-RN, the national licensure exam all nurses must pass to work as a registered nurse (RN).

At Notre Dame of Maryland University, students in our Accelerated 2nd Degree BSN program receive access to Academic Success Coaches. Your Academic Success Coach will be there for you whenever you need help—not only during nursing school but also until you sit for the NCLEX. It’s part of our commitment to provide exceptional support to the next generation of nurses. Don’t hesitate to talk to your coach about how to prep for the NCLEX. You can also use the NCLEX tips below.

What Is the NCLEX Exam?

The NCLEX is the licensure exam you must pass to become a licensed RN. The exam is the same in all 50 states. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the exam. Periodically, the NCSBN updates the exam to reflect changes and evolving needs in the health care landscape.

Most exam updates are minor, but the NCSBN launched one significant update recently. The newest version of the NCLEX is the Next Generation (Next Gen or NGN) NCLEX. This enhanced exam offers a framework for evaluating clinical judgment and decision-making. In other words, it doesn’t test your ability to memorize information; instead, it assesses your ability to apply nursing knowledge to clinical situations and make decisions in the most appropriate way for the patient.

(You’ll still need to spend lots of time studying for the NCLEX, even though rote memorization won’t automatically lead to a passing grade.)

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Before diving into how to prep for the NCLEX, knowing the basics about the exam is helpful. The following are some common questions nursing students have, such as “How many questions are on the NCLEX?” and “Can you retake the NCLEX?”

What Are the Eligibility Requirements?

The main eligibility requirement to sit for the NCLEX-RN is to have a completed nursing degree. You can qualify for the exam with a BSN or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). You’ll also need to follow the registration steps (see below).

How Do I Register for the NCLEX?

You must apply for an Authorization to Test (ATT) through your state’s Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB). The NRB will review your information to determine your eligibility. Then, once you receive an ATT, you can register and pay the exam fee through Pearson VUE.

How Many Questions Are on the NCLEX?

It depends! There is no “standard” NCLEX since it is a computerized, adaptive exam that adjusts itself based on your answers as you progress through it. You’ll have up to five hours to complete a minimum of 70 scored items plus 15 unscored (pretest) items and a maximum of 135 scored items plus the 15 pretest items.

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If the computer system determines you have very low or very high ability, you’ll receive fewer questions to answer. If you’re close to the cut-off score, you’ll be asked more questions so the computer can more accurately assess your ability level.

Can You Retake the NCLEX?

Yes! Not everyone passes on the first attempt. There is no limit to the total number of times you can take the exam, although there are annual limits, which vary by state. In addition, different states can establish different waiting periods between each retake attempt.

Although it can be comforting to know you can retake the NCLEX if necessary, passing it on your first attempt is preferable. If you have to retake it, you’ll have to wait longer before landing your first nursing job, and you’ll have to pay the exam fee again.

When Will I Get My Results?

You’ll receive your test results from your NRB within six weeks of taking the exam. If you don’t receive them after six weeks, you can contact your NRB for more information.

NCLEX Questions: What to Expect

One of the fundamental NCLEX tips is to know which content areas are included. While we can’t give you an overview of exactly which questions will be on the NCLEX, we can give you a leg up on what topics to expect. Keep in mind the NCLEX includes answers to some questions that are all correct, and you’ll have to choose the most clinically appropriate response.

1. Managing Care

The NCLEX will test your ability to prioritize patient care, create a safe patient care setting, and respond to urgent situations.

2. Allergies and Illness

Some questions will give you hypothetical patient information you must treat diagnostically. For example, the patient could be suffering from allergies or disease. Knowing how to diagnose a patient will appear in many forms on the test.

3. Communication

As a nurse, communication is critical. The NCLEX will ask questions that test your ability to gather information, provide advice and support, and relay findings. It’ll also challenge you to overcome situations that may be tense — such as dealing with upset or unruly patients.

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4. Safety and Sanitation

Making patients feel safe and supported is the mark of any good nurse. You’ll be asked about sanitation procedures and best practices for tactfully treating a diverse group of people.

5. Terminology, Equipment, and Procedures

As a health care provider, you’ll use many medical tools daily. The NCLEX will test your knowledge about each tool, what it’s for, and when to use it.

Of course, this is just a broad list of the things you’ll encounter while taking the NCLEX. We recommend taking a practice exam for a more in-depth look at test questions.

Essential NCLEX Tips

It’s never too early to start thinking about how to prepare for the NCLEX! Use the following NCLEX tips to get started.

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Earning a nursing degree and obtaining licensure requires much study time. Use these top 11 study tips for nursing students.

Start Studying ASAP

It’s impossible to prep for the NCLEX in weeks or even a couple of months. For best results, beginning your NCLEX prep is advisable shortly after starting nursing school. While diving into the coursework at Notre Dame online or on campus, you should also make time for NCLEX prep.

At this early stage, it’s OK to feel like a fish out of water. NCLEX practice questions will make more sense as you progress in your nursing coursework. The most important thing is to develop a consistent and reasonable study schedule. For example, instead of planning a marathon study session each weekend, set aside time daily to study your nursing coursework and do NCLEX prep activities.

Join a Study Group

Studying with peers can maximize your study experience and bring you closer to your cohort. Having some support from other students facing the same upcoming challenge can also be comforting. Plus, with a group, you can create study games, hear different perspectives, and quiz each other on the more challenging topics.

Use NCLEX Study Guides

There are lots of NCLEX study guides and similar material available online. Working through one or more study guides is a good idea to ensure you don’t miss any major content areas. You can supplement study guides with additional video tutorials, NCLEX question-of-the-day resources, etc.

Take Plenty of Practice Exams

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At Notre Dame, we highly recommend our nursing students take multiple NCLEX practice exams. It’s one of the most effective ways to study for the NCLEX. Taking a practice exam regularly allows you to:

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Adjust your study plan accordingly (e.g., focus more on areas you struggle with)
  • Assess your progress
  • Become familiar with the test format and the types of questions

In short, taking lots of practice exams may help you enter the testing center with more confidence.

Use Active Studying Techniques

Active studying techniques can enhance your memory retention and ability to truly understand the material rather than simply memorizing it. Instead of only reading material (a passive process), try also to incorporate active studying techniques:

  • Pause to think about the material as you read and develop questions
  • Explain the material in your own words; pretend you’re teaching it to someone
  • Find a way to relate theories to actual examples
  • Participate in group discussions about the material (such as a study group)

Pursue Your Dream Career at Notre Dame!

If your calling is to become a nurse, the NCLEX is just one more stepping stone to take on your way to a fulfilling career.

Are you feeling more prepared to pass the NCLEX exam and embark on your nursing future? Then, you’re ready to begin your nursing journey at Notre Dame of Maryland University’s ABSN program, which offers both on-campus and online-based coursework and in-person experiential learning components.

Contact us today to learn more about our ABSN program in Baltimore.