NCLEX Test-Taking Strategies


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Feeling overwhelmed by the NCLEX? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! We sat down with a nursing professor with 20 years of experience guiding students through the NCLEX. In this exclusive interview, he’ll tell you all about the most useful NCLEX test-taking strategies to calm your nerves and ensure you conquer the NCLEX with confidence.

1. Simplifying NCLEX Question Formats

Forget memorizing endless facts. NCLEX isn’t just about knowing facts, it’s about applying the nursing process effectively.

Break down each question into different steps – assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation – to arrive at the best answer.

Understand the different question formats – multiple-choice, alternate choice, fill-in-the-blank – and how to approach each one effectively.

By understanding these formats and adopting strategic approaches, you can turn each question into an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Multiple Choice

This classic format presents you with several answer choices, only one of which is correct. Here’s how to ace it:

  • Read the entire question stem carefully. Don’t jump to conclusions – identify the key information and what the question is asking.
  • Eliminate obviously incorrect answers first. This narrows down your options and saves precious time.
  • Don’t be fooled by distractors. Answer choices might sound plausible but harbor subtle flaws. Read them critically and compare them to the question stem.
  • Trust your first instinct, but also double-check. If you’re unsure, re-read the question and consider the remaining options carefully.

Alternate Choice

This format offers multiple answer choices, but you may need to select more than one correct answer. Here’s how to navigate it:

  • Pay close attention to the instructions. Some questions might ask you to select “all that apply,” while others might have a specific number of correct answers.
  • Analyze each option individually. Don’t assume that all seemingly correct answers are automatically included.
  • Apply your knowledge of prioritization. If the question asks about interventions, consider the order of importance based on patient safety and needs.


This format requires you to complete the sentence with the correct terminology or phrase. Here’s how to conquer it:

  • Identify key clues in the question stem. Look for partial information or context that points you toward the missing piece.
  • Focus on keywords and phrases. Pay attention to specific terms used in the stem to guide your answer.
  • Use your nursing knowledge and critical thinking. Eliminate options that wouldn’t make sense in the context of the question.
  • Double-check spelling and grammar. Avoid careless mistakes that might cost you points.

2. Practice

Practice, practice, practice. Mock exams are your training ground. Dive into NCLEX-style questions, analyze explanations, and identify your weak spots. Don’t just memorize answers; understand the “why” behind each choice. Remember, knowledge is power, but applied knowledge is mastery.

3. The Power of Prioritization

The NCLEX loves to throw wrenches in your well-laid plans. A patient might have multiple problems, but what’s the immediate threat? What action ensures their safety first? Develop a prioritization framework, a mental algorithm that helps you assess urgency and delegate tasks like a true nursing leader.

Let’s talk about the art of prioritization – the skill that separates a good nurse from a great one. Imagine yourself in a whirlwind, with patients needing your attention left and right. How do you stay calm, assess the situation, and delegate tasks effectively? That’s where your personal prioritization framework comes in. Think of it as your mental GPS, guiding you through the chaos. Here’s how to build your own:

Step 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy – Your Foundation:

Remember Maslow’s pyramid from nursing school? It’s not just a pretty picture! Its levels – physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – form the bedrock of your framework. In any situation, start by assessing which needs are most threatened. Is a patient struggling to breathe (physiological)? Are they experiencing anxiety (safety)? Prioritize actions that address the most fundamental needs first.

Step 2: ABCs – Your Quick Check:

Think Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. No matter the scenario, if any of these vital functions are compromised, they become immediate priorities. This quick check ensures you don’t miss life-threatening situations.

Step 3: Urgency vs. Importance – Know the Difference:

Not everything urgent is equally important. A patient might be demanding pain medication (urgent), but another might have a deteriorating vital sign (more important). Analyze the potential consequences of delaying each task. Remember, sometimes the squeaky wheel doesn’t need the most grease, it needs a closer look.

Step 4: Delegation – Empowering Others:

You can’t do it all! Recognize your limitations and delegate tasks appropriately. Consider the UAP’s skills and training. Can they assist with vital signs, ambulation, or basic hygiene? This frees you to focus on complex assessments and interventions. Remember, delegation is not dumping – provide clear instructions and ensure patient safety remains paramount.

Step 5: Reassess and Adapt – Be Dynamic:

Situations change, so your priorities must too. Continuously re-evaluate your framework based on new information and patient responses. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan as needed – flexibility is key.

Bonus Tip: Practice Makes Perfect:

Don’t wait for the NCLEX to test your prioritization skills. Practice in clinical settings, utilize case studies, and participate in simulations. The more you apply your framework, the more confident and efficient you’ll become.

4. Eliminate the Deceptions

The answer choices are often cunningly crafted. One might sound plausible, but harbors a hidden danger. Learn to identify and eliminate the distractors – the obviously wrong, the partially correct, and the tempting but ultimately unsafe options. Focus on the answer that aligns with best practices and prioritizes patient well-being.

5. Think First, Act with Precision

Time is precious, but rushing leads to misread questions and hasty choices. Take a deep breath, focus on the present moment, and trust your training. If a question stumps you, flag it and move on. Come back later with a fresh perspective. Remember, the NCLEX doesn’t penalize you for skipping questions; it rewards strategic thinking.

6. Believe in Yourself

Confidence is your secret weapon. Remember, you’ve poured your heart and soul into nursing school. You’ve faced challenges, mastered skills, and honed your critical thinking. Trust your knowledge, your instincts, and your ability to make sound clinical judgments. Walk into that exam hall with your head held high, ready to conquer the NCLEX.

Bonus Tip: Seek support! Find a study group, connect with mentors, or utilize online resources. The nursing community is there to uplift and empower you. Together, you can face any challenge, including the mighty NCLEX.

7. Address Common Pitfalls

  • Delegation Debacle: Remember, to delegate tasks, not assessments or interventions requiring critical thinking. UAPs can assist with daily living activities, vital signs, or ambulating stable patients. Leave complex care to the licensed pro – you!
  • Medication Mishaps: Master medication math, double-check every dose, verify patient identity, and clarify with a pharmacist if unsure. Medication safety is paramount.
  • Cultural Crossroads: Familiarize yourself with common cultural beliefs and tailor care accordingly. Cultural competency is about building trust and rapport with your patients.
  • Prioritization Puzzle: Develop a framework based on Maslow’s Hierarchy and ABCs. Identify the most immediate threat and address other concerns accordingly.
  • Confidence Conundrum: Trust your knowledge, instincts, and accomplishments. Visualize success and maintain a positive attitude.

8. Bonus Tip

Utilize NCLEX-specific resources with targeted practice questions and detailed explanations. Learn from your mistakes and solidify your understanding.

Remember, future nurses, these pitfalls are not unconquerable. With focused preparation, strategic thinking, and a healthy dose of confidence, you can conquer them all. Go forth, armed with knowledge and empowered by these strategies, and claim your victory over the NCLEX!