NCLEX – How to Pass the First Time

To earn licensure as a Registered Nurse in order to secure a nursing job, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse). The state in which you take your test determines which nursing board will issue your RN license upon passing.


The NCLEX uses CAT format, meaning that no single exam is identical to another. During the exam, the computer algorithm produces each question based on the performance of a previous questions.

Your test will contain between 75 and 265 questions. A candidate passes the test when the tester has answered enough questions correctly to stay above the pass, which is 95%, anything below that level will be considered a failure.

The test can end at any point, between questions 75 – 265, or at the maximum time allowance (6 hours) at which time you’ll need to be above 95% confidence level.

Prepare to sit for the full time and then you won’t stress in the chance that you need to.


Anxiety from testing affects a lot of people, but you made it through nursing school so just continue to prepare how you have in the past.

The following tips will help keep stress at a minimum:

  • Plan for and take the time to prepare for the exam.
  • Try to keep a normal schedule leading up to the test. If your a gym goer, continue to exercise. Make sure you get your normal amount of sleep. Do not let test preparation throw your body out of its normal routine.
  • When the day arrives to take the NCLEX, do not try to cram all your studying into the day before or the day of the exam.  Focus and relax in order to get into the right mindset for the exam.

Study appropriately. You should feel confident if you prepared correctly.


As a general rule, use mnemonic devices to help with harder to learn concepts. Don’t just re-read, re-write, and copy old notes. Think about what you are learning from a holistic approach and relate it to clinical experiences you have had in school.


Commit to the preparation necessary. Go into studying with a plan as follows:

  • Create a fixed schedule detailing when you will study, when you will take days off, including when you’ll take practice exams.
  • Make a goal to accomplish for each study session.

Studying without a plan won’t help you pass the NCLEX. This is one exam you can’t cram for – the NCLEX is a holistic test model that aims to test knowledge gained over the course of years, not days.


Unfortunately, for those of you who have previous experience working in hospitals as nursing techs or aides, the experience can cloud your ability to answer test questions. Even just from what you observed as student nurses in clinicals, it is usually apparent that many topics or clinical skills are different between textbooks and real-life healthcare.

The NCLEX is based on proven, researched-based, evidence-based practice. Even if your previous facility does something in a different way that is just as safe or just as correct, do not assume that this applies to the NCLEX. It’s important to answer NCLEX questions as if you don’t have any real-life constraints as a nurse.

Assume you have ample time and resources to perform each answer choice.


The NCLEX is just as much about knowing how the test is written as it is what knowledge it tests. Utilize test-taking strategies to eliminate wrong answers, avoid “extremes” like ALL or NONE answers, and remember to always put patient safety first.

With practice, you will notice themes in answers:

  • Always assess the patient first, calling the doctor right away isn’t usually the best first step,
  • Use Airway-Breathing-Circulation approach, etc.
  • Use deductive reasoning even if you have no idea about the concepts behind the topic.
  • If all else fails, rely on that budding feeling that we like to call “nurse intuition.”
  • You will no doubt encounter the dreaded select-all-that-apply questions. Use the same, systematic approach to eliminate incorrect answer choices based on knowledge and wording of answers.


It is definitely worthwhile to invest in practice exam books or enroll in a classroom review course. Some examples are Kaplan and UWorld. Usually, people choose their study material based on reviews, peer references, or personal preference.

All exam resource companies produce exceptional guides to prepare you for the NCLEX exam, so spend some time browsing reviews to see which guidebook style fits you best.


Practice exams are absolutely the best and most important way to prepare – HOWEVER – simply taking the practice exam questions is only half of the process.

It is just as important to:

  • Look up questions that you answered incorrectly. Practice question banks provide explanations as to why each answer choice is correct or incorrect, as well as outlining the particular content topic it falls under.
  • Jot down notes of which concepts you want to revisit, so with your next study session, you can focus on problem areas.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It is especially useful to take at least 1 or 2 full online mock NCLEX exams so you are used to the experience of computer testing. Go through as much of the question bank as you can before exam day and you will be miles ahead.


  • Be sure to sleep well the week before the exam.
  • Bring snacks to the center to keep in your locker in case you choose to take a break during the exam.
  • Arrive early to the testing center, prepared with necessary documents for testing.
  • Put gas in your car the night before.
  • Set a reliable alarm.
  • Bring clothes you can layer in case you tend to get cold. If you try to control your environment as much as possible, it will help you to feel comfortable and prepared for the exam itself.
  • Schedule your exam time with your usual preference for testing. If you are a morning person, schedule a morning test. If you enjoy slow mornings and sleeping in, then schedule an afternoon exam.


Most importantly, believe in yourself. You deserve to pass and you have already proven your potential as a nurse by graduating nursing school. This is only the final step on your exciting and new journey to being a Registered Nurse – so congratulations!