This article is going to talk about how to pass the NCLEX the first time.

We’re going to give you some tips to help you be more successful in your first go around taking the NCLEX.

*disclosure some of the links on this site are affiliate links.

For over 30 years, the NCLEX has been the definitive examination for licensing practicing nurses in the U.S. and Canada.

Passing this test, which was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing grants an individual a license to practice nursing.

This exam tests people on nursing knowledge, skills, and on-the-job practices, so it covers quite a wide range of topics and material.

Every three years the exam is altered due to new discoveries and changing technology in the healthcare field.

Therefore, getting tips from people who have taken the test years ago may not be the best means of ensuring success.

Below are 11 tips for making the most of study time and skill-building to improve the chances of passing this critical examination.

First Time NCLEX Tips and Tricks

1. Get Comfortable with the NCLEX Format

Having a clear picture of what the test questions will look like can ease a lot of pre-exam anxiety.

Furthermore, it will increase your chances of success because you’ll know what kind of questions to expect.

The majority of the questions on the NCLEX are multiple-choice,

although in recent years the format has adopted more variety in formats to challenge individuals.

The questions on the NCLEX vary. It could be as clear cut as being asked to look at a diagram of the human body and identify different parts.

To critical-thinking questions that aren’t so clear-cut and are more application-based questions.

There’s also some math involved.

For instance, test-takers may have to complete some mathematical equations to come up with proper medication dosage.

Getting comfortable with the various types of questions you could be asked in the NCLEX exam will most likely lead to more success on the test.

2. Identify Your Study Style and Get to It

There’s no doubt that you’ll need to study for this exam, and without a proper study strategy, you won’t get very far.

There is far too much information to remember. Instead, identify how you prefer to study.

Do you go it alone or have a study buddy or group?

Do you prefer to work with a tutor?

Do flashcards do the trick for you, or are you a more auditory learner?

Maybe color-coded notes work best for you, or perhaps you need a set time each day to hit the books.

Once you know your preferred study style, stick to it. If you need to, create a schedule and try habit stacking.

This is when you start a new habit right after you complete a habit you’ve had for a while.

For instance, you always brush your teeth in the morning, and you decide to add flossing to the routine.

You’ll already be in the bathroom, the floss is right there, so you’re more likely to stick with it.

Perhaps it would help you out if there were specific days and times that you dedicated to studying.

Treat these study dates as you would a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. Write it in your calendar and don’t waver.

3. Don’t Rely on Past Exams or Those Who Already Took the Test

The NCLEX changes significantly every three years, so even if you have a friend who took it in the past, his or her experience won’t be as helpful as you might think.

Even if they took it the same day your questions would be different.

Nursing is a field that’s always changing, so it makes sense the test is modified regularly.

There’s no way you can get by without preparing and studying in advance.

While it’s okay to get some insights from past exams or previous test-takers, nothing beats actually sitting down and studying course materials and prep questions.

Speaking of which, prep questions are going to be some of your greatest resources on this journey.

The NCLEX takes its questions from course materials, so it’s best to focus on hitting the books rather than drawing from personal experience.

Hands-on interactions are great learning experiences, but everyone will have different interactions.

Which is why the test focuses more on knowledge and book-based content.

Related: 5 Good Signs You Passed the NCLEX

4. Gather Some Resources

Friends who previously took the exam can be a great help, but they’re not the only resource available to you.

Consider gathering up some practice tests and study guides to feel better prepared for the examination.

There are even classroom review courses on sites such as Kaplan, and several test prep companies provide accurate and useful guides for the NCLEX.

While practice exams aren’t an end-all solution, they’re a wonderful way to get a feel for the test and become comfortable with the types of questions on it.

Practice tests take information and examples from previous exams, following certain themes and subject matter.

As you go through the sample questions, pay attention to those that were incorrect and why.

Most prep books should come with an explanation for the correct response.

Take note of any themes or concepts that are a struggle for you, such as particular nursing methods or anatomy.

Finally, try to take a complete mock exam at least once so that you know what to expect from a full NCLEX test.

Pro Tip:
Besides the resources and practice questions available through Kaplan, another great option is to hire a tutor who is familiar with the NCLEX format.

If nothing else a tutor can be a great way to stay motivated and remain organized as you prepare for the NCLEX.

Your school might have options available if not would be another great resource.

Wyzant is an online platform where you can hire tutors for any subject including nursing.

You can check the price, bio, and credentials of one of their tutors before deciding to hire them.

Start looking for an NCLEX tutor today.

5. Remember That It’s About Application, Not Just Knowledge

Something that ends up tripping a lot of people up is that they think that the NCLEX exam is going to mimic their nursing classes.

However, the exam is more about your ability to apply what you’ve learned rather than just memorizing responses.

It makes sense when you consider that nurses who are on the job have to think quickly and use their store of knowledge to make an actionable decision.

It’s no different with the test.

Rather than answering yes or no questions, it’s more about analyzing a circumstance and making a judgment call.

6. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Maybe your friend only had to answer 75 questions to finish the exam, but you answered 200.

That’s because the NCLEX format measures progress and the pass/fail rate a bit differently.

The exam will end at varying times for individuals because it only stops when they have demonstrated the minimum level of competency.

This can be done with a minimum of 75 answered questions or a maximum of 265.

The test will also end if you surpass six hours of exam time.

Therefore, everyone’s going to finish at different times.

7. Spice up Your Studying

Did you know there are two types of studying?

One is passive, where you use copying and rote memorization, and the other is active, where you recreate questions and answers in your own words.

Opt for more active means of studying to feel more prepared for exam day.

Some other ways to practice active studying include trying out a few different study methods.

If you usually copy notes, try doing an interactive study activity or using visual flash cards.

Moreover, instead of copying out of your textbooks word for word, try to rewrite the content in your own words for deeper understanding.

You might even attempt to explain some nursing concepts to friends or family members who know nothing about medicine.

If you can accurately describe it in a way they can comprehend, it means you have a good handle on that particular theme or subject.

Another useful study device is the mnemonic system.

This is when you use an acronym, keyword, or phrase to remember a particular concept.

This can really come in handy for nurses, as there are plenty of processes and symptoms to remember.

Keep the A.B.C. of nursing in the back of your mind. This stands for Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, and describes the order in which you should select your test answers.

While it’s not a surefire guarantee for acing every question, it’s definitely a helpful hint.

8. Keep the Content Fresh

If possible, try to take the exam while your study materials are still fresh in your head.

This way, you’re already in NCLEX study mode, so taking the test will feel like a natural progression forward.

Taking the time to study and then having a month-long break until exam day may cause you to lose a lot of that knowledge, or at least it may not be as prominent in your mind.

At the same time, you don’t want to experience study burnout.

Cramming every night for three hours isn’t the best means of preparation.

It will hurt your sleep schedule and make you so irritable that you’ll probably forget most of what you studied.

Instead, find your sweet spot for studying, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or early evening.

Set aside an hour or two each day, so things don’t become overwhelming.

Remember the slow and steady mantra, and don’t feel bad about taking a day or two off each week to recharge.

9. Have Confidence

Even if you think you’re a poor test-taker, consider over 87% of individuals who take the NCLEX pass the first time around.

Those are pretty good odds. Even if you don’t do as well the first time, there is always the opportunity to try again.

You’ve already done the bulk of the work in earning a nursing license; the last thing to do is simply take a computerized test.

Know that you have the knowledge already, and all you need to do is give that final push.

Moreover, it’s better not to focus on how many questions you’re getting tripped up on as you take the test.

It turns out that the NCLEX is not graded like a regular exam.

Rather than worrying about figuring out this algorithm, focus instead on being as prepared as possible.

10. Prepare Leading up to Test Day

Up to a week before it’s time to take the exam, start indulging in some self-care and final preparation.

Try to do some relaxing activities, and intermingle them with your study sessions.

Have a friend quiz you on the content, and look at some flashcards whenever you have a few idle moments.

Don’t make preparing for the exam your entire life, but make sure you feel confident about it.

Remember cramming the night before a test is not a good idea.

The day before the exam, make sure any errands that need to be taken care of are all squared away.

Make sure you have reliable transportation to the testing location, you’re hydrated, rested, and you have some snacks on hand.

Try to schedule the test for a time that feels most natural to you.

It will be much harder to take the test in the morning if you’re a night owl.

This isn’t always possible, but there’s no harm in checking. It’s also wise to bring some layers to the testing center in case it gets chilly.

Sometimes when we can control our surroundings, we feel more comfortable and at ease.

11. Know How to Approach the Test

Practice tests can still be a great resource, especially since you’ll notice certain themes throughout the questions.

While the test questions may vary from year to year, certain themes remain.

For instance, putting the patient first before resorting to any other action.

Another tip is if a multiple-choice question gives answer options such as “Always” and “Never,” they’re probably not the right answers.

These types of questions rarely rely on extreme responses like that and instead require the test-taker to use more critical thinking skills.

Think back to the days of taking college prep exams.

The teachers would always give out tricks such as using deductive reasoning and going with your gut.

The same concepts can apply here.

You’ve been studying nursing concepts for so long.

So use that intuition about what you would do if you were in the situation that an exam question brings up.

Most of the time, there’s at least one answer that you can rule out right away.

Continue using the process of elimination to get to a more confident answer.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What’s the difference between the NCLEX-PN vs. the NCLEX-RN?

The NCLEX-PN is the licensure examination for licensed practical nurses (LPN).

While the NCLEX-RN is the licensure examination for registered nurses (RNs).

Both tests are fundamentally similar in how they’re graded and how they function.

One notable difference is the NCLEX-PN test questions are minimum of 85 with a max of 205 and NCLEX-RN it’s minimum 75 with a max of 265.

2. How many times can I retake the NCLEX?

According to the NCSBN, you’re allowed to retake the exam 8 times a year as long as there are at least 45 days between each testing.

3. What percent do you need to get on the NCLEX to pass??

There’s not a specific score. For that matter, there’s also not a specific number of questions you need to answer.

The test will end when one of the three scenarios happen…

  1. The computer algorithm determines you’ve answered enough questions to be able to determine you’ve met or did not meet the sufficient level of competency to pass.
  2. You run out of time.
  3. You answer the maximum number of questions.

Related: Can You Fail the NCLEX in 75 Questions?

4. What are some helpful resources for studying for the NCLEX exam?

One of the most popular NCLEX prep is Kaplan.

Another popular option is to hire a tutor. You really want to make sure you hire a tutor that knows what they’re talking about when it has to to do with the NCLEX.

You can hire an NCLEX tutor from a service like Wyzant.

Wyzant allows you to check the bio and credentials of a tutor before hiring them. Start looking for an NCLEX tutor.

Another resource and one that I’ve used for my test prep is NCLEX Mastery. They have an NCLEX-PN
option and an NCLEX-RN option.

5. What happens if I fail the NCLEX?

Ideally, you won’t fail but unfortunately, life does happen. Just realize that not passing one test does NOT define you.

For more information check out our article on “What Happens if You Fail the NCLEX?


picture of a computer and pen and paper

Hopefully, these tips will help you pass the NCLEX the first time.

To recap if you’re trying to pass the NCLEX the first time you need to think about the following.

  1. Get comfortable with the NCLEX format.
  2. Identify your study style.
  3. Don’t focus too much on past exams.
  4. Gather helpful resources.
  5. The test is about application, not just memorization.
  6. Pace yourself.
  7. Don’t let your studying go stale, change it up every now and then.
  8. Don’t wait too long to take the test.
  9. Have confidence in your ability to succeed.
  10. Have a game plan leading into the test.
  11. Know how to approach the test questions.

I should also add even if you don’t pass the first time, it’s not the end of the world.

I’ve met plenty of nurses who didn’t pass their first time taking the NCLEX and went on to have successful nursing careers.

If you do fail your first NCLEX exam, don’t let it define you.

Related Articles on Passing the NCLEX the First Time

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