I graduated my nursing program at the end of May and took the NCLEX-RN on June 25th. Unlike many of my classmates, I did not have the money for the Kaplan or Hurst reviews. I used the ATI resources I was required to purchase for my school, my drug book, a (huge) stack of homemade flashcards, and a massive book of questions and practice tests that I barely touched. My test shut off at 75 questions (oh, how your stomach drops when it goes to that blue screen) and consisted 80% of teaching, prioritizing, and delegating. I passed the first time I took it and spent only $30 on study materials beyond the required ATI. It can be done on a conservative budget!
Here are some of my personal tips (your mileage may vary):
- Don't dwell on the number of questions. In fact, I didn't even look at it but twice to see how efficient I was being with time. The test will end where it ends and you can pass/fail at both extremes. Don't read too much into the number of questions, or you'll psych yourself out.
- Relax your mind the night before. Going into the testing center frazzled and stressed out will not help you. Make sure you get some good rest, a good meal, and are dressed comfortably for when you sit for the test. Don't make yourself more miserable than you need to be!
- Don't cram. The impulse will be high, but try to resist the urge to cram. The content that the NCLEX covers is incredibly broad, so cramming will not help you. DO NOT cram drugs. Know general classes/major drugs/associated therapeutic ranges, but do not plug away on a bunch of specific drugs. It is not uncommon to be tested on drugs you've never heard of. It's okay. You don't need to be a walking drug book.
On that end, you should study in the method that you are most comfortable in doing so. You may have classmates that study 8 hours a day for 6 months. I studied 4 hours a day for 2 months. While I don't necessarily recommend my short prep schedule, I mention this because you should never let a colleague's study plan make you feel inferior. Everyone will prepare differently. Do what works for you.
- Develop a strategy for approaching alternate format questions. I got 10-15 SATA, 2 image questions, 2 exhibits, and 1 hot spot. Just do a lot of practice questions with these formats and become accustomed to dealing with them. In the case of SATA (which everyone hates), resist the urge to check off on the things you're really unsure about. Take them item by item and treat them like true/false questions.
- Get familiar with your testing center. NCSBN has an online video depicting what a testing center is like. Do some test runs by your center to make sure you know where it is located and leave early enough so you won't have to worry about travel issues. Erase that uncertainty from your mind.
- Don't "score" the NCLEX while you're taking the NCLEX. My issue with CAT is that part of it is very psychological. Unlike what you're used to, this isn't "70% is passing," this test is determining a trend in your answers and whether it meets the standard they set. Don't dwell on previous questions if you fear that you got them wrong. Put them away; you're done with them. Don't bog yourself down over thoughts of "where your line is right now," focus on what's ahead.
In all, know that the NCLEX can be passed. It is possible. And if you don't pass it, it's not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, assess your efforts, and try again. Eventually, you will succeed!