Passed the NCLEX on 4th try March 2017
Don't ever give up. Keep working hard towards your goals, believe in yourself, and you will eventually get there. This article describes what I did, and how I felt when I almost wanted to give up, but instead, found it within myself to keep going. This is my personal experience and advice to multiple-time NCLEX takers such as myself. You're not alone, and you CAN do this!
Warning: Lengthy article ahead, but hopefully helpful.
How I slayed the monstrous NCLEX RN exam. Tips, study materials, myths, and experiences. One could define the NCLEX as a monstrous creature that one needs to slay to get to the castle (your profession, your RN License!).
Analogies to the side, I, like others before me have used allnurses as a resource and to ease my mind, and also said that I would write something to help someone out there like previous posts had helped me. Let me provide you all with a little background about myself. I was a second-degree nursing student who attended a second-degree accelerated BSN program. I worked multiple part-time jobs, which equated to a full time job with some overtime hours, while I was attending school to pay for my tuition as my available loan amount had been pretty much depleted from my first degree. It was the only way I could work the maximum amount of hours I could while working around my school and clinical schedule. Anyways, since I was not able to devote all of my free time to studying, and rather was working to pay for my education, I was a very average student. I studied and crammed maybe a day or two before my tests in school (I don’t recommend this if you can help it, however I couldn’t), and because of this, I felt a lot of the information I had learned in school was not retained in my long term, but instead my short term memory. This is what really killed me in my journey of becoming a licensed RN. This is a summary of what I did during all of my attempts.
Study materials: Saunders Comprehensive Review 6th edition & Hurst
I only had 3 weeks to study before my scheduled exam date.
I read through and studied the Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX RN 6th edition. This is a big ol purple book that was probably as thick as my med surg book that we used for two semesters. I read through the entire book and took notes. I re-read through these notes one time before I took the exam and also did the practice exam at the end of the book. I had no idea what to expect from the NCLEX for my first attempt at all and later realized that the questions from the Saunders book were not helpful for me AT ALL. This book is very detailed and lengthy. The practice questions at the end of each chapter were recall-like questions and did not incorporate critical thinking.
My school had also required for us to do the Hurst review for 3 days in a Live seminar, the week after graduation. I re-read through the booklet of core concepts that we had received in this review that had blanks that you have to fill out as you’re following along in lecture. I only re-read and studied the core concepts portion of this book. I didn’t have time for the specialty sections, which included subjects such as maternity and psych, and figured I had read enough about those in the Saunders book. I also completed 1 hurst practice exam and took notes on it as well. The hurst practice exam did have critical thinking questions, but I felt like they were really difficult and I didn’t really understand them because the rationales were very brief and not very helpful.
I went in and took the exam, and it stopped at 245 questions. I got a letter the next week from the board saying that I hadn’t passed yet. I was pretty disappointed, but I also felt like I wasn’t prepared at all with those short three weeks I had to prepare going into it.
2nd try: (2 months later)
Study materials: UWORLD & Hurst
A friend from my class told me she wasn’t able to pass the NCLEX on the first try either but said UWorld helped her on the second try so I bought a subscription. It was a bit overwhelming at first and kind of killed my confidence because I felt like I was getting everything wrong and was probably scoring in the 30% to 40%. I ended up completing only about half of the question bank of about 700-800 questions. I don’t remember my overall score.
I focused a lot of my time on re-watching all of the Hurst videos (core and specialty) and took notes. I pretty much re-did the live course on my own at home. I also did not talk or see anybody, and shut myself off from everything and everyone. I didn’t give myself any days off. It was study study study all the time when I wasn’t working.
For my second testing attempt, I had felt extreme testing anxiety. I chugged a sugar free redbull that morning, went in and took my test. After it kept going after question 75, my heart sank. I had spent a lot of time on the first 75 questions and realized I did not have a lot of time left for the remaining questions. My anxiety was at an all time high and I felt like I had to rush because I didn’t want the computer to stop and only grade my last 60 questions if I had run out of time. I started answering more and more questions and the computer stopped at 265 questions with a few minutes to spare. I was exhausted mentally and physically as I had been at the testing center for 6 hours. I felt so defeated. I cried when I left the testing center and when I got a letter from the board a few days later to find that yet again, I had not passed yet.
3rd try: (2 months later)
Study materials: UWorld, Lacharity, and Hurst
One of my other friends who was already an RN said to me to forget spending time studying content, because I should know that all by now, and to just do as many questions as possible, so I focused a lot of my time on doing as many questions as possible. I’d do anywhere from 180-250, sometimes even 300 questions a day and read the rationales, however, I felt like just trying to get through as many questions as possible did not help me retain the information in the rationales. I ended up completing almost the entire UWorld question bank and did around 1600 questions and took notes. I also read through the entire Hurst book again once and took notes, but did not re-watch any of the videos this time.
I purchased Lacharity because I had heard good things about it and read through all of the questions and rationales. I only read the first half of the book and chapters, I didn’t go into the second half of the book which goes into more complicated case studies.
I also read over that 35 page study guide that is floating around twice.
I took the exam at 8AM this time around which was a huge mistake, because I ended up only getting a few hours of sleep since my work schedule has converted my circadian rhythm to where I cannot sleep earlier than 230AM. I chose this time because it was the only date and time that worked with my schedule at the moment I was scheduling it, and I didn’t want to wait any longer to take it. I paced myself better this time around though during the NCLEX, however I was really exhausted and felt like the lack of sleep caused me to not be able to think completely think straight. The computer shut off at 77 questions and I thought to myself, okay, this could either be really good or really bad… I left the testing center dazed and confused.
So after this 3rd try I got a letter and found that I STILL had not passed. My heart sank. I was completely devastated and depressed. I cried for the entire day. How could this be? I felt like I had done so many questions and worked so hard. It was also winter time, and I don’t deal with winter very well in general (winter blues). It was hard to stay motivated, and I was already really depressed from trying 3 times, and wasting all of that money on my other attempts. I probably spent about a month feeling really down. I was running out of money, I felt like such a disappointment not only to my family but to myself, I was embarrassed to face my friends and have them ask about how my life was doing, because I honestly felt like my life was this black hole that I was stuck in and could not get out of.
I was very depressed, and not being able to overcome this obstacle at the time made me re-evaluate and think negatively. I woke up thinking, If I pass away tomorrow, I would not have lived a fulfilling life because this thing is in my way and keeping me from moving on with my life. I felt trapped and hopeless. Because of this, I stopped being social and leaving my house for that first month or two after the third try. I slowly started seeing some friends that I was closest to after regain my sanity and strength. I eventually picked myself back up and told myself, okay, I need to do this, I CAN do this, some way, some how even if it takes me another year to do so. I thought to myself, even if my next try doesn’t come out the way I want it to, I need to atleast give it my all and try my best. I stayed motivated by talking to my siblings, and also by reading success stories on this forum from others who were going through the same thing as well. It helped to know that I was not the only one that was struggling. I also started watching a motivational video that I came across 2 weeks before my exam date for the 4th try and it helped to lift my spirits up (I will link this below). I waited 4 months this time instead of the minimum amount of time I had to wait to test again. I told myself not to rush this time in completing practice questions and to work through study materials at a slower and steadier pace. Initially I had not studied again for about a month, but when I did get back into it, it became my life.
4th try: (4 months later)
Study materials: NCSBN Extension & UWORLD and a little bit of LaCharity
I used NCSBN this time around. I wanted to try something different. I felt like what I had been using to study before wasn’t helping me so I had to change something. I purchased a 3 week course for NCSBN. I read through and took notes on Lessons 1-8 and completed the question banks up to bank 122. Each of the bank quizzes have 10 questions each. I ran out of time during the 3 week course and decided to purchase it again for another 3 weeks. I felt like NCSBN was great because by this time, I had been 4 to 5 months out of school. It helped me go through and re-learn content in an organized manner and it also helped me to finally understand critically thinking. I’m not sure what it was, but working through those lessons and doing those questions really allowed something to click in my mind where I finally understood how to critically evaluate questions. These questions were very similar to questions that would be asked on the NCLEX, after all, this course is from the people that create the NCLEX exam.
I did UWorld again and re-purchased my subscription. I didn’t renew it, so everything I had completed before had reset, but this was a good thing because I was able to start fresh. I completed the ENTIRE question bank of 1900 questions and finished with an overall 56% correct, which was in the 68th percentile rank.
For some reason, not only did I have one sim exam available, but 2 on UWorld. I didn’t argue about this of course. The sim on UWorld is kind of like a predictability test with 75 questions. I did sim 1 and got 51% correct and a 33 percentile border line passing score. My reaction to this was nervousness. Okay, so UWorld was telling me it could go either way. That was very scary and unsettling to me, especially after all of the preparations I felt like I had put in. I did sim 2 two days later after re-reading over my notes that I had taken from the NCSBN lessons and UWorld question bank and I got 58.7% correct, which equated to a 60th percentile, very high chance of passing.
This was definitely a confidence booster and made me feel better. I spent the next two days after that leading up to my exam day re-reading through the notes I had taken on NCSBN and UWorld. It was actually really helpful doing both reviews because it really helps you realize what the important concepts are that you need to remember that both reviews will highlight or repeat. Additionally, I also re-did the the first 5 Lacharity chapters, however, I ran out of time so I didn’t get to read through the rest
I read through the 35 page study guide again once, but found that it actually confused me, so I only focused on the first... maybe 3 pages of this guide.
I discovered and read through the @Heyrona study guide twice.
I did NOT touch my Hurst materials or book at all this time around.
I also watched youtube videos to solidify prioritization (I will link these and other miscellaneous resources I used below).
I did not tell a single soul about taking my test. I had told a few selected people before about my other attempts, but not this time around.
I took the test in the afternoon that day, and was well rested. I ate a good breakfast, and drank my usual cup of morning coffee. Although I had extreme anxiety once again and was very nervous, I reminded myself to breathe and take deep breaths. Whenever I started to become a nervous wreck during the exam, I just took a deep breath. After 35 questions or so, I took a few minutes to pause and just re-energized myself and relaxed for a bit. I kept going, and at 65 questions my screen went blank. I FREAKED OUT. My thoughts were, how could this be??? Am I doing that badly? (people with anxiety think the worst case scenarios) Turns out, 2 hours had already flown by and the computer was asking me if I wanted to take my two hour scheduled break and I said whew, and no. I kept trucking along, and when it got to 75 and kept going, I told myself to stay calm. I did not expect to stop at 75 (DO NOT go into the exam expecting to stop at 75 questions, be prepared for anything!), after question 89 I stopped looking at the question numbers. Then, my computer went blank around 92 questions?
I raised my hand for the proctor and I was slightly shaking. I left the testing center that day in a daze and in zombie mode. The next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about the test. I tried to relax, but it was hard. I had taken it on a Thursday so it was during that strange time that hits the weekend. I received a letter in the mail the following monday and this time it wasn’t a regular 5x7 envelope. It was a 9x12 envelope with my license and a certificate stating that I have been licensed as a Registered Nurse. I was ecstatic, I felt triumph, and freedom from the shackles that were the preparations for the NCLEX that I had done in order to pass the exam.
So I just wanted to share some thoughts with anyone out there that may have felt hopeless like I did. My best advice is to anyone for this exam and just for anything in general is to be consistent and DON’T GIVE UP. As long as you have the will to keep going and you want it bad enough, no one can tell you otherwise that you can’t, because YOU CAN. BELIEVE in yourself and be confident. I don’t care how long it has been since you’ve been out of school, as long as you’re taking remedial courses if needed or required by your state, or you’re taking lessons somewhere somehow in learning how to be a safe nurse, whether it be a live review, online review, or studying from a book at home, you can and will become one. If it's in your heart and and in your mind, you can achieve your goals, whatever they may be.
I wanted to give up after my third attempt and starting wondering to myself if I was meant to be in this profession, although I wanted to be an RN so badly. I worked a part-time job two to three times a week, 20-30 hours a week. I started hating this part-time job. It paid the bills, but was not what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life, which kind of motivated me even more. I studied about 8-10 hours a day like it was my full time job, and on the days I worked, I studied for an hour if I could, or did a minimum of at least 25 questions on the days I worked just to stay consistent to keep my mind in the game. I locked myself in my room and got rid of all distractions and ate, slept, and breathed NCLEX. I said no to my friends 90% of the time besides the times I needed a break when they invited me to do something fun. Don’t give up what you want the most, for what you want now. I got rid of all of my social media. Being in a time where social media is so prominent, it can really be distracting. Not only that, but it put me down because I found that I was comparing myself to other people including my old classmates who had been working for a while already, or friends who were traveling and enjoying their lives. Everyone is different and everyone works at their own pace. Different things also work for different people. What worked for me may not work for everyone else, but I DO hope that some of my experiences and advice helps someone out there. Another thing I did differently the fourth time around was make a study calendar. I put in my calendar how many questions were my goal to complete on a given day up to a few days before the exam. I also incorporated my work days in my calendar and worked my study schedule around that.
I wanted to give myself two to three days before the exam to have the questions completed by so that I could just spend those last few days before the exam to just review and not worry about completing questions. By the time I started studying again for my 4th attempt, I felt like a lot of my concepts had left me. NCSBN’s review helped immensely to organize these topics into systems where I could better understand, however the chapters do have quite a considerable amount of added fluff as it can be wordy. Doing UWorld for a solid month and a half this time around helped. I did anywhere from 100 to no more than 175 questions a day. Anything past that, I felt like I could not retain. I read rationales for ALL of the questions, whether I got it correct or incorrect. The UWorld rationales were great because they were so detailed.The fourth time around, I also did the Uworld questions BY SYSTEMS rather than doing it randomly like I did on all of my other attempts. This helped A LOT. It helped to organize the information and helped me to retain it better by focusing my studies by systems. The day before my exam, I know a lot of people say don’t study, but I have really bad testing anxiety AND just anxiety in general, SO I did in fact study, because it eased my anxiety a bit. I read through some notes for probably no more than 3 to 4 hours though instead of my usual 8-10 hours. By this point, you know what you know, and you know what you don’t know. Studying for an entire day the day before the exam may or may not change a whole lot of your knowledge base, it might stress you out and confuse you more than anything because of the panic mode that you will naturally be in the day before the exam.
The day of the exam, I did not look at ANYTHING except for my lab values and transmission based precautions notes. Be consistent, do questions everyday, and maybe give yourself one rest day out of the week to do something relaxing or fun to keep your sanity. It’s all about balance. Repeating concepts on a consistent basis will really help you retain the information and sharpen your critical thinking skills. Also, choose a testing time where you know you will be able to perform at your greatest capability. If a certain day you are looking at to schedule only has 8AM and you know you’re not a morning person or are a late night owl, WAIT. Even if the next appointment after that is a week or two later, or a few days later at another facility that is a bit of a drive away, it is best to schedule for a time where you will feel like you can perform your best. I know this is common sense, but sometimes when you’re in a frantic mode you might make the mistake of scheduling an 8AM exam like I did because I wanted to take it sooner than later because I thought I’d forget everything I’d already studied if I had to wait any longer…
My opinions on the NCLEX Myths:
PVT trick, I did not try the PVT trick for the 4th time when I had passed, but I did try it for the other times when I hadn’t passed yet, and the screen took me to the payment screen. From what I have heard from other sources, the PVT trick still works.
Does the procter know if you passed or not? I looked this up on allnurses.com because the proctor said to me when I was leaving on my 4th attempt, something along the lines of, “Best wishes to you, nurse! Have a good day.” I was dazed and confused when my computer had shut off and kind of had a robotic reaction after she had fingerprinted me and said that. “You too!” I said and left in a hurry. It did not really register what she had said until after I left, and it played games with my head. I thought to myself, wait, why did she say that? Does she know something I don’t know yet that I would love to know now? Or was she just trying to be nice and encouraging…? Now finding out that I passed, I want to say that she MAY have knew something, or maybe even just had an idea from testing patterns and the fact that my test stopped at 92 questions… but who really knows? I still don’t… this one will remain a mystery.
Your last question determines everything. I know I got my last question correct on the 4th try and I remembered getting the last question wrong on my 3rd attempt. so I’m not sure about this one either, but I feel like it would make sense because of how the exam is set up.
All in all, try your best to keep positive, and if you can't do that, try to at least be neutral and not negative and keep working hard. You can do this!
*note this article wasn’t endorsed by anything or anyone, I just wanted to share my experience to help others.
Links to the Resources I used:
NCSBN Learning Extension
Home - NCSBN Learning Extension
NCLEX-RN Exam - Online Practice Questions & Review
@Heyrona study guide: Dropbox - NCLEXCHARTS.pdf
35 page study guide (use with caution, the wording is a bit confusing, I would use it to reinforce what you already know and as a quick reference, not a holy grail for studying)
DO NOT Delegate What You Can EAT!
Prioritization by Nursity
NCLEX Question Breakdown - Client Prioritization - YouTube
Prioritization by Nursity part 2
NCLEX Question Breakdown - Patient Prioritization Strategy #2 - YouTube
Why ABC’s only apply to certain situations by Nursity
NCLEX Client Prioritization Strategy - Why ABC Prioritization Is Sophomoric! - YouTube
Priority questions by TootRN
Answering Priority NCLEX style questions - YouTube
And last but not least, “Dream” a motivational video
“Hang in there, be strong, keep moving forward, do it over and over and over and over again.. YOU and only YOU can LIVE YOUR DREAM and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”
Dream - Motivational Video on Vimeo
Best Wishes to all of those hoping to make a positive impact in the nursing profession! <3
Mar 17You're welcome! I hope it helps you and others out there! A lot of people say "after your first time, your chances of passing are reduced" and that is such a discouraging and scary statement. However, I didn't think that was true for me. I got closer with each attempt. If I can do it, you can do it too! Keep up the hard work!