How to Pass the NCLEX-RN®

The NCLEX-RN® exam is, among other things, an endurance test, like a marathon. If you don’t prepare for the NCLEX-RN properly, or approach it with confidence and rigor, you’ll quickly lose your composure.
The first step to becoming a better NCLEX-RN®  test taker is to assess and identify the following:

  1. The kind of test taker you are
  2. The kind of learner you are


How to Pass the NCLEX-RN®


Successful NCLEX-RN® Exam Test Takers

  • Have a good understanding of nursing content.
  • Have the ability to tackle each test question with a lot of confidence because they assume that they can figure out the right answer.
  • Don’t give up if they are unsure of the answer. They are not afraid to think about the question, and the possible choices, in order to select the correct answer.
  • Possess the know-how to correctly identify the question.
  • Stay focused on the question.

Unsuccessful NCLEX-RN® Exam Test Takers

  • Assume that they either know or don’t know the answer to the question.
  • Memorize facts to answer questions by recall or recognition.
  • Read the question, read the answers, read the question again, and pick an answer.
  • Choose answer choices based on a hunch or a feeling instead of thinking carefully.
  • Answer questions based on personal experience rather than nursing theory.
  • Give up too soon, because they aren’t willing to think hard about questions and answers.
  • Don’t stay focused on the question.

If you are a successful test taker, congratulations! The following tips will reinforce your test-taking skills. If you have many of the characteristics of an unsuccessful test taker, don’t despair! You can change. If you follow these strategies, you will become a successful test taker.

Ready to pass the NCLEX-RN®? Kaplan’s got you covered.

7 strategies that DO NOT work on the NCLEX-RN®

Whether you realize it or not, you developed a set of strategies in nursing school to answer teacher-generated test questions that are written at the knowledge/comprehension level. These strategies include the following:

  1. “Cramming” in hundreds of facts about disease processes and nursing care
  2. Recognizing and recalling facts rather than understanding the pathophysiology and the needs of a client with an illness
  3. Knowing who wrote the question and what is important to that instructor
  4. Predicting answers based on what you remember or who wrote the test question
  5. Selecting the response that is a different length compared to the other choices
  6. Selecting the answer choice that is grammatically correct
  7. When in doubt, choosing answer choice (C)

These strategies will not work on the NCLEX-RN® exam. Remember, the NCLEX-RN® exam is testing your ability to make safe, competent decisions.

An NCLEX-RN® strategy that works: Visualization

It is important for you to identify whether you think predominantly in images or words. Why? This will assist you in developing a study plan that is specific for your learning style. Read the following statement:

A nurse walks into a room and finds the client lying on the floor.

As you read those words, did you hear yourself reading the words? Or did you see a nurse walking into a room, and see the client lying on the floor? If you heard yourself reading the sentence, you think in words. If you formed a mental image (saw a picture), you think in images.
Students who think in images sometimes have a difficult time answering nursing test questions. These students say things like:

“I have to study harder than the other students.” 

“I have to look up the same information over and over again.” 

“Once I see the procedure (or client), I don’t have any difficulty understanding or remembering the content.” 

“I have trouble understanding procedures from reading the book. I have to see the procedure to understand it.” 

“I have trouble answering test questions about clients or procedures I’ve never seen.” 

Why is that? For some people, imagery is necessary to understand ideas and concepts. If this is true for you, you need to visualize information that you are learning. As you prepare for the NCLEX-RN® exam, try to form mental images of terminology, procedures, and diseases. For example, if you’re reviewing information about traction but you have never seen traction, it would be ideal for you to see a client in traction. If that isn’t possible, find a picture of traction and rig up a traction setup with whatever material you have available. As you read about traction, use the photo or model to visualize care of the client. If you can visualize the theory that you are trying to learn, it will make recall and understanding of concepts much easier for you.
It is also important that you visualize test questions. As you read the question and possible answer choices, picture yourself going through each suggested action. This will increase your chances of selecting correct answer choices.
Let’s look at a test question that requires imagery.

Sample NCLEX-RN® Practice Question

An adolescent is seen in the emergency room for a fracture of the left femur sustained in a sledding accident. The fracture is reduced and a cast is applied. The client is taught how to use crutches for ambulating without bearing weight on the left leg. The nurse would expect the client to learn which of the following crutch-walking gaits?

1. Two-point gait

2. Three-point gait

3. Four-point gait

4. Swing-through gait

Don’t panic if you can’t remember crutch-walking gaits. Instead, visualize!

Step 1. “See” a person (or yourself) walking normally. First the right leg and left arm are extended, and then the left leg and right arm are extended.

Step 2. Put crutches in your hands. Now walk. Each foot and each crutch is a point.

Step 3. “See” a person (or yourself) with a full cast on the left leg, with the foot never touching the ground.

Step 4. Visualize the answers

Once you’ve had a chance to think through the questions. Click below to reveal the explanation.

(1) Two-point gait. One leg and one crutch would be touching the ground at the same time. Sounds like normal walking. Eliminate this choice because the client is non-weight-bearing.
(2) Three-point gait. Both crutches and one foot are on the ground. This would be appropriate for a non-weight-bearing client.
(3) Four-point gait. This would require both legs and crutches to touch the ground. However, in this question the client is non-weight-bearing. Eliminate this option.
(4) Swing-through gait. This gait means advancing both crutches, then both legs, and requires weight-bearing. The gait is not as stable as the other gaits. Eliminate this option: the client in this question is non-weight-bearing.
The correct answer is (2). Even if you are unsure of crutch-walking gaits, imagining and thinking through the answer choices will enable you to select the correct answer.