NCLEX: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

There are many ways to approach studying for the NCLEX exam. The following tips have been found useful in helping the candidate study more quickly and retain more information.

Although individuals vary in the ways they learn, some basic principles apply to everyone. Adopt a study strategy that takes advantage of these principles:

  • Learn the detailed information first.
  • After you master the small details, look at the big picture.
  • Devote at least one to two hours per day to studying the information.
  • Don’t try to pull out all your notes from nursing school. Focus on this book and the suggested resources.
  • Learn from your mistakes. If you miss a question, look at the answer explanation carefully and look up information you don’t understand.
  • Talk out loud if you like. Others might think you’re odd, but hearing the material spoken could help you to concentrate and remember.
  • Study with a friend. If your study group focuses on success, it will help you to concentrate. But if they do not, don’t waste your time with an ineffective group.
  • Attend a live review like that offered by GraduateX Test Prep. Instructors & community career mentors dedicated to helping you succeed is immeasurable in value.
  • When you feel ready to take the test, schedule a time. Don’t put off taking the test too long because you might start to forget what you have learned.

As you can see by looking at the outline of this guide, we organized the material in a logical sequence. Follow the outline and focus on learning the details as well as the big picture. Memorizing is not fun, but it is necessary when dealing with things such as laboratory values, conversion factors, and nutrition.

First look at the details and then master the major concepts. Understanding “why” helps you to remember, so be sure you master the concept before you move on to the next topic.

Research has shown that attempting to assimilate both overall and detailed types of information at the same time can interfere with the overall learning process. For best performance on the exam, separate your study time into learning the details and then the big picture.

Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Exam Prep Tips

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

After learning the materials, you might want to use a number of testing tips:

  • Read the questions carefully.
  • Look for keywords.
  • Watch for specific details.
  • Eliminate options that are clearly wrong or incorrect.
  • Look for similar options.
  • Look for opposite answers.
  • Use common sense.

These strategies provide you with additional skills, but do not consider them a substitute for good study habits or adequate knowledge of the content. Most questions that appear as test items above the pass point require the candidate to pull together information from a variety of sources.

If you have thorough knowledge of the content, use good testing skills, and can apply your knowledge, you will pass the exam. Remember that testing skills, like any other skill, improve with practice.

Before discussing each strategy for successful test-taking, you should be familiar with the following terms:

  • Test item: This is the entire question.
  • Stems: Within a test item, these are the portions that ask a question or propose a problem.
  • Options: These are the potential answers.
  • Alternative item: These are the items that require the candidate to use a diagram, list in order of priority, check all that apply, calculate math or intake and output, or fill in blanks.

The candidate might be asked to read a graph or to put on earphones and listen to heart or breath sounds. He might also be asked to view a video and make an interpretation of the information given. You will want to practice listening to rales, rhonchi, and wheezing to review for the audio portion of the exam.

Study and Exam Preparation Tips

Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Read the Question Carefully

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

Reading ability and careful reading of exam questions often affect exam scores. Before selecting an answer, ask the following questions:

  • What is the question asking?
  • Does the question include keywords?
  • Is there relevant information in the stem?
  • How would I ask this question (in my own words)?
  • How would I answer this question (in my own words)?

After answering these questions, see whether there is an option similar to your answer. Is this option the best or most complete answer to the question?

Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Look for Keywords

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

Keywords in the stem should alert you to use care in choosing an answer. Avoid selecting answers that include keywords such as always, never, all, every, only, must, no, except, and none. Answers that contain these keywords are seldom correct because they limit and qualify potentially correct answers.

Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Watch for Specific Details

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

Careful reading of details in the stem can provide important clues to the correct option. For example, if the item seeks information on a short-term goal, look for something accomplishable within the hospital stay; if the item seeks information on a long-term goal, look for something accomplishable in the home or community.

Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Eliminate Options That are Clearly Wrong or Incorrect

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

By systematically eliminating distracters that are clearly incorrect, you increase the probability of selecting the correct option. With the elimination of each distracter, you increase the probability of selecting the correct option by 25%.

Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Look for Similar Options

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

If a test item contains two or more options that could feasibly be correct or are similar in meaning, look for an umbrella term or phrase that encompasses the other correct options. The following list gives you hints about how to read the question and its options to identify the correct answer accurately:

  • Look at the parts of the options: If an answer contains two or more parts, you can reduce the number of possible correct answers by identifying one part as incorrect.
  • Identify specific determiners: Look for the same or similar words in the stem and in the options. The word in the stem that clues you to a similar word in the option or that limits potential options is a specific determiner. The option with a specific determiner is often the correct answer.
  • Identify words in the option that are closely associated with, but not identical to, words in the stem: The option that contains words closely associated with words appearing in the stem is often the correct answer.
  • Be alert for grammatical inconsistencies: The correct option must be consistent with the form of the question. If the item demands a response in the singular, an option in the plural would be incorrect, so look for an option in the singular.
  • Use relevant information from an earlier question: Test writers often provide information that you can use in subsequent questions. For example, the test might ask several questions on the topic of diabetes mellitus. Write information that you remember about this topic on the paper or slate provided in the testing area. That information can help you later in the test when you encounter a similar question.
  • Look for the answer that differs from the other options: This testing strategy is called odd answer out. An example of this type of question follows:

The nurse is attempting to evaluate the client’s knowledge of diabetes. Which statement made by the client indicates a need for further teaching?

  • The client states that he will check his blood glucose levels before meals.
  • The client selects a 10-ounce steak from his menu.
  • The client demonstrates how he will give himself insulin.
  • The client verbalizes understanding of ways to improve circulation.

Answer B is correct. Answers A, C, and D all indicate knowledge of diabetes. Answer B indicates that the client lacks understanding because the portion size for steak is 3 ounces.


Study and Exam Preparation Tips: Look for Opposite Answers

Focus topic: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

When you see opposites, one of these options is usually correct. Here is an example of this testing strategy:

A client with hemophilia is admitted with bleeding. Which action by the nurse indicates an understanding of hemophilia?

  • The nurse applies heat to the joints.
  • The nurse applies ice to the joints.
  • The nurse offers to perform passive range of motion.
  • The nurse elevates the extremity.

Answer B is correct. Hemophilia is a genetically obtained disorder in which there is an absence of clotting factor. Applying heat vasodilates and causes increased bleeding. This answer is the opposite of the correct choice, which is answer B. Answer C is incorrect because range of motion should not be performed during bleeding episodes; doing so potentiates further bleeding. Perform range of motion after controlling the bleeding. In answer D, elevating the extremity is good, but it will not stop active bleeding.


Finally, follow common sense practice when studying. Study when you are alert, reduce or eliminate distractions, take breaks when you are tired, and focus on the goal. Remember, you want to take the NCLEX exam only one time.




10 thoughts on “NCLEX: Study and Exam Preparation Tips

  1. Cheryl Weekes says:

    I have used your tips, to help others students understand, how to answer, questions they are very useful, please keep sending them, thank you.

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