Five Tips for NCLEX-RN Success

By Gbenga Lawal RN

So here you are. You've passed all of your nursing classes and taken what seems like hundreds of tests, including final after final after final. You've been a good student and have invested both money and time into your nursing education. You've spent countless hours at Starbucks or your favorite local study spot memorizing medications, creating care plans and learning about bodily functions you didn't even know existed four years ago!

You did it! There's no stopping you now. The euphoria is palpable. You've made it. You are a nurse!


Almost, I say, because at the tail end of all that schooling and hard work is this last itty bitty little thing called the NCLEX-RN. The last step in becoming a licensed Registered Nurse (RN) is passing the NCLEX, the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs. Yes, the dreaded NCLEX. A test so anxiety inducing that even coming up with what the acronym stands for can make you break a sweat. Of course, now that you've graduated nursing school you should logically be prepared for the biggest exit exam of all time. Right?

Right. But for some of you, it may feel like you are not prepared at all. When it came time for me to take the NCLEX, I scrambled around, freaking out. I knew that in order to get a job as a nurse I had to pass, and it's no mystery that the NCLEX can produce the fight or flight reaction like no other exam you've ever taken. A computerized test with hundreds of questions about nursing scenarios can be an intimidating thing. Perhaps it's because, after making it through nursing school, the last thing you want to do is study more. It may just be the anticipation of completing the final step before becoming a nurse. Whatever the reason for your anxiety, when it comes to preparing to take the NCLEX, there are logical ways to go about it in order to ensure success.

Tip #1: Answer NCLEX Practice Test Questions

Toughen your mental stamina by answering sample NCLEX questions to get used to the format. During my last semester of school, I would answer 265 questions every 3 days just to get my concentration level up to NCLEX standards. I would be cross eyed by the end of it, but it paid off.

I remember something a resident at work told me once. He said, "A question can only be asked in so many ways". That really stuck with me. Aside from understanding the information, once you understand the 2,347 ways a single question can be asked, you become more able to answer it correctly.

Tip #2: To Thine Own Self be True: Know Your Time and Study Habits

I learned what worked for me the hard way, after I failed out of nursing school and had to wait a year to re-enroll. I don't study well at home and I do my best work with some sort of schedule. So I scheduled time to go to my study spots, and while I didn't follow it precisely, it gave me a solid structure to work with.

It's also important to know how you learn best. Ask yourself: Would you benefit more from structured in-person NCLEX tutoring, or would an online review program work better? What about using books and reviewing NCLEX questions alone or with a group of other nursing students? If one method works better than the other, use it. Do what works! And don't forget to make the process fun, by rewarding yourself with breaks when you complete tasks and accomplish goals.

Tip #3: Get Familiar with your NCLEX Test Site

You've gone through all the steps needed to apply, register and pay for the examination. You've received your Authorization to Test (ATT), you've located your testing site and scheduled your exam. You've completed every NCLEX practice test available and answered thousands of questions about patient care scenarios you hope to never actually encounter. Now what?

I can't stress enough the importance of taking your NCLEX preparation to another stratosphere. At this point, I recommend getting in the car or on the bus and actually driving to your test site. You can scope out the directions, estimate how long it will take to get there and even allow yourself extra time in case of unexpected delays, but if you haven't actually traveled your route, you may be in for a surprise.

Sure, you can use Google maps on the day of your test to get traffic information, but what happens when you encounter an accident or find your route is delayed by construction? What happens when you get pulled over doing 100mph on the highway trying to make it on time? Even if you are the most prepared person in the world, how will you perform on the NCLEX if you are having a panic attack about the $200 speeding ticket you just got? Trust me on this one.

Tip #4: On the Day of the Test: Attend to your Basic Needs

You've done what you can to prepare for the NCLEX questions. Now it is time to attend to your own basic biological needs in order pull the information you need from that big brain of yours. You're a nurse. You know what you need to do now to pass the NCLEX. Get a good night's sleep. Eat a nutritious meal. Drink fluids. When you get into the testing site do three things: use the restroom, breathe deeply and clear your mind.

This is it. This is what all of those years of study have led to. You can do it!

Tip #5: Let it Go: You Either Passed the NCLEX or You Didn't

Once you're done with the test, regardless of how many NCLEX questions you were given before the test ended, let it go. This is something I did not want to hear and I'm sure you don't either. The truth is, after I answered my 265 questions and that computer at the test center shut down on me, I thought it was all over. I thought I would have to retake it.

But that's it. If you didn't pass, all you have to do is retake it. That's the worst that can happen. No one is going to kick you out of nursing school now, and your employer twenty years into the future won't ask how many times you took the NCLEX before you passed. A very experienced nurse in a supervisory position took me aside one day during nursing school and revealed that she had taken the NCLEX five times before she passed it. Five times!

So maybe you passed the NCLEX, and maybe you'll have to retake it. But that's really all there is to it. That's it. You prepared, you took it and now you're done for the day. Let it go.

Go buy yourself an ice cream and celebrate your accomplishments! You made it through nursing school and you took the NCLEX! Way to Go!

Gbenga Lawal RN (Google+ profile) enjoys sharing stories, advice and interviews that benefit nurses and nursing students. He believes that the key to personal success in the nursing profession is to utilize a broad base of support and encouragement, which he offers on his podcast, The Smart RN.

We at are grateful to Gbenga for sharing his "Five Tips to NCLEX Success." Feel free to share your own NCLEX comments, questions or stories below to help new graduates prepare for and take the national licensing examination to become a Registered Nurse.