Taking (and passing) the NCLEX

Okay, so I am playing a bit of catch-up today as far as writing goes, but first things first – I am officially a registered RN! Wait, Holly, you went to nursing school? You aren’t going to pursue that as a career. Yes, I know, it is a bit random, but I did, in fact, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

So anyway, this is going to be a post dedicated to my undergraduate degree, which happens to be nursing. Although I am not pursuing a career in nursing (at least for now), I still worked very hard and am proud to say that I recently passed the boards (NCLEX). If you are curious as to how I ended up getting my degree, you should read this piece that I wrote around graduation time when I was getting questioned a lot about my degree choice. You can find the original article at http://toodamnyoung.com/2016/05/09/why-i-will-not-apologize-for-the-past-four-years/.

I guess I’ll just go into how I studied and what I did for that godforsaken month leading up to the exam!

For about a month I dedicated myself to studying just for the NCLEX and studied multiple hours a day. During that period, I scoured the internet looking for study guides, calendars, tips and tricks and what average scores were on different question banks and practice tests for people who had passed. Although there are so many  bits and pieces of advice and information out there, I felt like there were very few “quick guides” or even study schedules to help me (I like organization and planning things out if you couldn’t tell.) Because I couldn’t find one place with all this information I told myself that once I had passed, I would make a blog post solely dedicated to the NCLEX to help people who wanted or needed more guidance like I did.

First of all, I didn’t start seriously studying until a month before my test date, which was four months after I graduated. Some people say that you should take the exam right after graduation, others say that you should study for multiple months. Either way, I chose to do this for various reasons but mostly because I was burnt out and also had summer trips at the beginning of summer that I wanted to relax and have fun.

The first thing I did was content review. I am someone who needs to understand the pathophysiology and what is going on before I can start doing practice questions. The way I went through this was by systems such as cardiovascular, neuro, psych, respiratory, etc. (Note, I did include pharmacology at the end of each section for meds that was relevant to that system. If I was struggling with a concept having to do with meds, I would rewrite it at the end of the review in a section called “Pharmacology” however I felt that doing an entire section dedicated to pharmacology would be a bit much.) I would do one or two systems a day and used a combination of different online, print and podcast reviews. I learned later that some of my initial outlines didn’t include everything that I needed so as I learned new information I added to them. Having basic knowledge that I could add on to was very helpful. For some people, you won’t need to take 100+ pages worth of notes, but I know that writing notes is necessary for me to really absorb the information.  iAdditionally, organizing the notes in a way that makes sense to me was important to help the information stick!

I had also purchased the Kaplan 2016 Nursing Guidebook with two practice tests. I got the kindle version so I could read it on my computer. I read the first half of the book which goes over information on the test and outlines how the NCLEX is organized. It isn’t laid out by systems like the exams I saw in nursing school, but rather was put into different categories like “safety and infection control” and “management of care.” Learning the differences between nursing school exams and the NCLEX  helped me transfer the content review that I had just finished and turn it into something that was useful for the NCLEX. This book went through each category of the NCLEX while explaining different strategies to answer questions using a decision tree. At first, I didn’t pay close attention to the strategies, but later on, when I started doing practice questions, I realized that when I was stuck that  I could use the decision tree to tackle the question in a way I usually wouldn’t try.

Next, after going through the first half of the Kaplan book I started doing practice questions by system on this website: http://nurseslabs.com/nclex-practice-questions/. They have over 3500 NCLEX style questions that are organized based on system or over-arching category. At this point in my studying, it was still nice to have everything broken down into different sections. I would try to do anywhere between 300-500 questions per day, which I know seems excessive but it was really helpful for me. Even though sometimes I didn’t want to, I had to make sure to go through all the rationales for each question – even the ones I got correct!

I didn’t complete all of the 3500+ questions, but after I had been through a few different practice quizzes for each section and was scoring decently (around 60-65% on average), I decided to move onto the Kaplan Q Bank. You can buy a month up to a year subscription of NCLEX style review questions on their website, and I believe that these were significantly harder than any other practice test I had taken. The site is designed to look like the NCLEX exam which is helpful to get you prepared for what you’ll see at the testing center.  I didn’t get through all of these questions either but tried to finish a little over half of them before it was time for me to take the exam.

With about a week left of study time, I created a Quick Facts Study Guide (pdf here: nclex-reminders) that had lab values and other quick information that was necessary to know for the exam. To create it, I used notes from various last minute notes for the NCLEX that I found online so, in essence, it is a combination of what a lot of people thought were critical to know for the exam. Each night I would review this guide and jot down other things that I thought was important to remember based on the practice questions that I had seen that day.

A few days before my exam took the two full-length practice tests that came with the book that I purchased (one online and one in the book). This helped me realize how much stamina I would need if I theoretically were to need all 265 questions.

I know that on the day before and the day of the test people say not to study at all but of course, I did. If you know you don’t do will with this, don’t do it! I read everywhere online not to study the day before or the day of, but I know that is not how I function. Whether or not last minute facts stuck with me they did help ease my mind that I was actively still trying to learn more. The entire exam took me about an hour and thirty minutes and the computer shut off after 75 questions. This was very nice because even though it had only been an hour and a half I really couldn’t image staying there for six hours! So all in all, I passed, and I hope some of my study guides and experiences can help others do the same!

Other notes:

I made and attached a calendar  of how I broke down my studying the month before my exam. I tried to have “light days” on the weekend, but I did not skip a day.

(pdf version of calendar here: nclex-calendar)

nclex-calendar

A note about Q-bank questions: These were the hardest questions by far. I read online that above 65% of these was indicative of passing. On average I was getting between 49-59%, so I felt nervous. A few scores were higher but not typically. Although I only got through a little over half of the Q bank, I tried to do as many as I could each day, anywhere between 150 and 300. Typically I would do the max number each time in addition to selecting “all” for the questions to simulate what a real exam would look like. Sometimes, when I would go over one practice test and identify an area in which I wasn’t doing well,  I would do about 20 questions of just that section.

 

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