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Sophia Sikowski

5 Things You Need to Know Before Taking the NCLEX

The NCLEX is very different from the other exams you will take as a nursing student, it is also important that you know what to expect on exam day.

Taking the NCLEX is one of the most important milestones you will reach as a nursing student, as it is the final step in obtaining your nursing licensure. Passing the NCLEX is not only a huge accomplishment, but it also means you are officially ready to begin your nursing career!

The NCLEX has been a rite of passage for nursing students for decades. It was originally known as “the boards,” or the State Board Test Pool Examination until The National Council of Nurses took ownership of the exam in 1982 and renamed it the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). Another significant change in the exam’s history was the switch to a computerized test format in 1994, which is how it is administered today.

Many first-time takers pass the NCLEX, but it takes a lot of preparation to be successful. Because the NCLEX is very different from the other exams you will take as a nursing student, it is also important that you know what to expect on exam day. Concern about passing the NCLEX can cause anxiety with many nursing students and graduates. Here are five tips that can help you prepare:

Here are five things you need to know before taking the NCLEX:

1. You will need authorization to take the exam

In order to take the NCLEX, you will need an Authorization To Test, also known as an ATT letter. To receive this authorization, you need to contact your nursing regulatory body (NRB) and apply. They will review your application an award you an ATT through your email. This authorization will expire after about 90 days; if you don’t take the test within that timeframe, you will have to reapply.

2. Understand the test format

There are two versions of the NCLEX, and your nursing degree will determine which version you need to take. One is the NCLEX-PN, which is specific to LPNs or those who have obtained a diploma in practical or vocational nursing. The other is the NCLEX-RN, which is for registered nurses or those who hold an associate (ASN) or bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing.

You will have up to six hours to complete the RN exam and up to five hours to complete the PN exam, including two optional break periods.

The NCLEX is split up into four major subject areas. These areas include:

  • Safe and effective care management
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychological integrity
  • Physiological integrity (the largest section)

You will need to be very knowledgeable in each of these areas to successfully complete the exam.

3. Expect a variety of question types

The NCLEX has three types of questions that are meant to challenge students and make them apply their critical thinking skills to nursing practice. The first are general knowledge questions, which are typically delivered in multiple-choice format. Then, there are several analysis and application questions, which may include charts, tables or graphic images. Level three questions are the most difficult and require students to apply facts, processes, and rules to find the answers. They are often delivered in an open-ended format. You can expect most of your questions to fall in categories two and three.

The test ranges from 75 to 265 questions, but the number of questions you are required to complete depends on how you answer each previous question. As a result, no two tests are the same. Additionally, 15 questions are considered “trial questions” and will not be counted in your final score.

4. Know your learning and study style

Understanding what method helps you learn best is an important aspect of preparing for the NCLEX. While some might like using flashcards or studying alone, others might do better with more interactive practices or in a group setting. Try out different studying methods and see what works best for you.

Here are some study tips to help you:

  • Ask professors or other students for feedback on answers to questions – you might get new insight on something you didn’t realize.
  • Talk to other students about their preferred studying methods or study with them!
  • Choose a study space with minimal distractions to remain focused.
  • Studying too much at once can be just as bad as not studying enough. Don’t forget to take a breather every so often to recharge your mind.

5. Remember the ABCs

The ABC framework from nursing school – airway, breathing, circulation – is one of the most important touchpoints. For example, answers should focus on stabilizing the patient and prioritizing their needs based on the scenario given in the question. The ABCs is a great way to run through test questions and determine what steps should be taken first.

When preparing for the NCLEX exam it’s important to review materials from outside resources like study guides and practice tests, and it’s critical to study the curriculum basics from your nursing school courses.

After successfully passing the exam, you will receive your nursing license, which is valid in the state you took the exam. If you happen to become employed in another state, there is a process by which you can transfer your license. You can find more information on transferring your license on the NCSBN website.

Lastly, if you are planning on taking the NCLEX soon, be sure to check out these NCLEX study tips so that you can feel prepared heading into your exam. We wish you the best of luck, and don’t worry – you’ve got this!

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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