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How I conquered the NCLEX-RN?

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Well for anyone who has befriended me or read any of my articles, you know I tend to be very detailed oriented. Yes I'm now a BSN, RN. After passing the NCLEX-RN this weekend. I really wish I could say I have the magic key as to how to pass, but after taking that exam I was like "What just happened?" I just got smacked in the face by NCLEX...that's what happened! Here's the run down on what I did, my habits, the good and the bad and what you need to know to pass the NCLEX-RN

Specializes in Med Surg, Vascular, E.N.T. Has 3 years experience.

What good NCLEX resources are available?

How I conquered the NCLEX-RN?

So I graduated 2 months ago and took a long 2 weeks off...no studying or anything. I'll list all the resources I used to study for NCLEX and my opinion of each and finally state which is most like the real thing.

NCLEX Resources Used

1 ) Delmar Online Review for NCLEX-RN

This is the review recommended by the national student nurses association, so if you go to NSNA.org first and click the link you can get a hefty discount. For this resource the price is unbeatable. It has a full 1 year access so it would be great to get from the last year of nursing school without breaking the budget. I actually got it during my last semester. In total, I did 8 mock exams and one practice subject test for a total of 860 questions. Delmar's bank supposedly has about 3000 questions. Now when I say mock exams, this Delmar uses CAT logic similar to NCLEX and the degree of difficulty in questions goes up and down just like the NCLEX. I only failed 2 of the mock exams; one was an incomplete and the other I was just clicking any answer to test if it would take me all the way to 265 questions and it did. All in all, the level of the priority questions were or par with the NCLEX, but the program had a lot of knowledge-based questions, which in the NCLEX world, is failing level questions. Despite this, I still highly recommend this program for the broke student nurse graduate, because the practice makes you get used to not having to expect the test to end at 75.

2 ) NCSBN's Learning Extension (learningext.com)

Now this program has the name, but it's not the same writers of the actual NCLEX exam; that would create great bias. The content is very extensive but I found their layout to be very clumsy to work with. There is no analysis of the exam at the end of each bank of questions, so you can't identify your weak areas. The only time they do this is in the beginning with the pretest. Once you find your weak area, you're supposed to start reading the content and then do all the questions in the bank. I did most of the content, which also has questions and only about 400 from the bank for a total of about 700 questions. This bank has about 1200-1500 questions. My scores were averaging in the 50% range; their pass mark is 75%. This program also had a lot of knowledge-based questions, but their higher level questions were harder than the actual test. They also had more variety of alternate questions, like hot spot and SATA and place in order.

3 ) Kaplan...

Yes, the dreaded Kaplan. Thankfully, someone I knew passed their exam and loaned their account to me, so I was eager to see what everyone was willing to pay 500 bucks for. Firstly, I was highly impressed by Kaplan's layout. The screen for the questions looks EXACTLY like the real NCLEX. I also loved that I could use the analysis at the end of each practice test so I could identify and work on my weak areas. My opinion of the content videos was not impressive. Every time I would try to watch the content video I would literally fall asleep in my chair, in my bed; I tried everything, but the monotone voice of the Kaplan presenters, well, needs a lot of work. I even tried to watch the review of questions they do, but by question 5, I would be sleeping and would wake up at the last question 60...LOL. Knowing this, I would suggest not buying the whole Kaplan review and just buy the Q Bank at $300 and save yourself from boredom. IF you really want the Kaplan trainers, Google them, they are all over quizlet and other websites. Only trainers 5-7 matters because these are the passing level questions. So, in Q Bank, I did a total of 325 questions. I did all the question trainers totaling 1015 questions, and in the Q Bank there were 4 sample tests. I did a total of 200 questions. Pay attention to sample test 3 and 4; they are passing level questions that are similar to the NCLEX-RN...if you are passing; if not, I'd be worried. So I only did 1540 questions from Kaplan. I only had use of the program for 2 weeks. Q Bank has a total of 1300 questions plus the trainers for a total of about 2500 questions.

My q trainer scores 1 - 61.3%, 2-68%, 3 - 52%, 4-59%, 5-62%, 6-62%, 7-56%.

Again, only trainers, 6 and 7 contained the type of passing level questions I saw on NCLEX, but do the others if you wish to practice content. For Sample tests scores 1 50%, 2- 44%, 3-90%, 4-26%.

4 ) Books - I Just Did Not Have the Time.

At first, I tried textbooks and realized I just did not have the time. Sometimes during practice, I used ATI pdf books I had from nursing school to search for topics, but my major NCLEX book was Illustrated Review for NCLEX RN. What??? Who??? Yes, I did NOT use Saunders at all. Honestly, the layout of Saunders bores me to death and it's still sitting on the shelf 1 year later gathering dust. I don't know how anyone could read it. The illustrated review is an ebook, best to get the pageburst version because it's searchable and the book can read to you if you like. The pictures are eye-catching but what I like more is the information is straight forward and to the point. I got the Lacharity ebook but due to time constraints, I only did the first chapter. Note the evolve resources for Lacharity is the same questions as the book if you prefer to do the questions online.

5 ) Youtube - See How They Work

How could you answer a question about a bubbling sealed vacuum container from a chest tube drain if you never even saw what it looked like? Youtube it. Get to know the equipment. Youtube gait, crutches, the different type of tractions. SEE how they work and you will have no problem answering these types of questions which involve the use of hospital equipment.

6 ) Audio - Listen and Learn While Driving to Work

I listened to those sometimes on my way to work. If you can record yourself and use the program Audacity to create mp3 and listen to them while driving


I studied for about a month then with all the stress at home I took another long break...this time 3 weeks. Then after that, I got my ATT, got serious and just SET a DATE and a deadline. I worked 3 days of the week, so on days off, I studied by doing mostly review in late nights and questions in the morning with a long 4-hour break in between.

Nothing particularly special, but as I did questions, if I did not get it right, I reviewed that topic right away.

Which review course was best?

I think all had their strengths and weaknesses, and in the end, I did what works for me. From the level of difficulty of questions, I'd say NCSBN was hardest, then Kaplan, then Delmar. Both NCSBN and Kaplan were similar to what was in the real exam, if not slightly harder. Kaplan rationales were a bit lame. NCSBN rationales were way better than Kaplan's. Delmar was just at the level of NCLEX and a bit easier, but remember, the use of Delmar was to help build confidence, increase motivation and increase my content level. Delmar rationales were also good, and most included a link to go directly to that content area.

How many questions did I have on NCLEX-RN?

My test ended at 75 questions. I averaged 2 minutes per question so it took me about 2 hours.

What particular strategies did I use during the exam?

Well, I did not use the decision tree from Kaplan. But I did learn a lot from their methods of looking out for assessment answers and deciding if they made sense. I also learned how to use Maslow's properly by knowing physical answers are a priority. For anyone who does not understand Bloom's taxonomy, please review it; it will help you understand what are passing level questions.

What topics are on the NCLEX-RN?

In a word EVERYTHING! But if you want to be smart, do yourself a favor, and start your studying by first reading the NCLEX candidate test plan. It specifically includes what topics will be tested. Also read the instructor version of the test plan, because it explains how they create the type of questions you see and this will give you insight on how to answer them.

What is the key to passing?

Well the NCLEX starts you with a passing level question, usually a priority type question, and the key to passing and completing at 75 is to remain at the passing level or higher. You never want to go past 75, because there's no telling how long it will take for the computer to decide you passed. I think doing questions are most important, and even though I used different sources, I think each helped me in their own way. I'm not saying go out and buy 3 courses, because to some people, it causes a loss of focus. It's the level of questions you are doing that is what's important. Do lots of passing level questions.

So just what are passing level questions?

Passing level questions require critical thinking, and most include prioritization, delegation and select all that apply. These are the type of question you what.

A knowledge-based none passing level question is something like this:

Which lab values are abnormal?

a. O2 89%
b. Na 136
c. BUN 10
d. K 4.0

The answer is A...so knowledge-based questions are very straight forward, you know it or you don't.

You do not want a lot of knowledge-based questions. Because they require the recall of information learned, many of them are actually harder to get right.

A priority, passing level question using labs would go something like this:

The nurse receives report on 4 patients, which patient would the nurse see FIRST:

a. the patient with chronic COPD and an O2 of 88% receiving 2 liters oxygen via nasal cannula
b. the patient with chronic renal failure and a BUN of 28
c. the patient with acute asthma attack and O2 of 88%
d. the patient with chronic heart failure and K at 3.0

So in the above, all the labs are abnormal, and some decision making is required because all the patients need to be seen. Even if you had a brain-farct and had no idea if the labs were normal or not, I would go with C, simply because its an acute condition. In addition, using ABC's airways is first (but not always).

By the way, I just made these questions up off the top of my head...they ARE NOT real NCLEX questions nor are they from any review course.

Another type of passing level question is the dreaded Select all that Apply aka SATA questions. I honestly don't really see SATA as passing level, but NCLEX does because they really mess with your head, and more than half my questions were SATA. I've always been good at SATA, even during nursing school, even when I failed the tests, the questions I got right were the SATA. Why do I get them right? I just think about the overall situation and patho and if I am not 100% sure I don't choose the answer, If the answer seems possible I pick it. Kaplan says to treat them as true/false answers but I don't like that method. It requires some thought and critical thinking.

So if you are in the middle of NCLEX-RN and you getting lots of priority and SATA questions it does not mean you are failing and they are re-testing you; it means you are doing good, so keep begging for more hard ones like them so you can be done with it and pass.

One more tip...What do you do when you have no idea what the question is asking, like I had some pharmacology questions from Mars. I mean I had no clue what the meds were, I never saw them during school(not that I could remember) and they no longer show the brand names of the meds, so be aware of that. My strategy for that was choosing what sounded like it would harm the patient the most. The NCLEX is a safety test after all is said and done.

Good luck to you all...I'll be glad to answer any other questions on here or just message me.

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16 Comment(s)

congragulations on your acheivment,if you dont mind can you please tell how did you improve your criting thinking skills and what statergies did u use to answer the questions.thanks.

ArrowRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med Surg, Vascular, E.N.T. Has 3 years experience.

To improve critical thinking skills was my greatest challenged all throughout nursing school. I failed my first nursing test because I lacked critical thinking and prefered things to be more straight forward. The only method I know is to get as much exposure to the topic and do those higher level questions. If you college does not give you these difficult questions then find a resource that does. I know everyone hates SATA but if you avoid it, then when it's time to take the test you will freeze up. Also while you are reading on a topic, don't just sit and read. Use the nursing process as you read to figure out what parts of the nursing process they belong too. Learn how to use Maslows and Blooms taxonomy. This picture attached helped me with Blooms.

So with Blooms most of the test you used to prior to nursing school are knowledge based, to pass NCLEX you need to get to Analysis and Application and Synthesis levels of thinking. But you need to KNOW your content to get to those levels.

I also hate the triangle explanation of Maslow from nursing school because it always made me think Self actualization is priority because it's at the top, so I just re-wrote on my white board putting physical needs at the top and psychosocial next. I think getting the topic into a way you like and understand will also help with gaining critical thinking.

Thank you for your post very helpful I'm testing in about a month in a half I could use the info you provided.

TheBlackDogWaits

Has 2 years experience.

Hate to sound like a troller, but this is actually the first NCLEX-related article that I didn't roll my eyes at. It's tough to be detailed and succinct in one fell swoop, and you've done it. Not just that, but I can actually apply this information. Your time and effort is appreciated. I graduate in December, and my eyes are totally glossed over right about now. Congrats to you!!!

Thank you for this information! 🙂 I will take my NCLEX on Monday and thank God for your post. I still have time to study smart. Thank you for all this information. Godbless! hope to pass my exam too. CONGRATS RN!!! 🙂

ArrowRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med Surg, Vascular, E.N.T. Has 3 years experience.

TheBlackDogWaits said:
Hate to sound like a troller, but this is actually the first NCLEX-related article that I didn't roll my eyes at. It's tough to be detailed and succinct in one fell swoop, and you've done it. Not just that, but I can actually apply this information. Your time and effort is appreciated. I graduate in December, and my eyes are totally glossed over right about now. CONGRATS to you!

Thanks, only took me a couple hours to write 🙂 and thanks to the administrator for the edited final version. I like helping students avoid some of my pitfalls. I like helping people in general. Hence the new name...maybe I should have gone with "RobinHoodRN" using a bow and needles LOL

Congrats. Passed my NCLEX-RN just a month ago too. I literally felt the same way you did, and its just amazing how something you've only dreamt of achieving once, has now become a reality :) all the handwork have paid off.

Thank youuuu for this information. It really helps! Congrats!!!

Wow this is pretty much informative! I'm currently reviewing for my nclex but I feel really lost :( Idk how to start, I use Saunders as reference book. Btw, thanks for all the infos! :)

Congrats on your success, may God bless you and thank you for your help.

ArrowRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med Surg, Vascular, E.N.T. Has 3 years experience.

Moonstar94 said:
WOW! this is pretty much informative! I'm currently reviewing for my NCLEX but I feel really lost :( IDK how to start, I use Saunders as reference book. Btw, thanks for all the infos! 🙂

I felt the same way starting becuase I always try to over prepare and just end up wasting time. In order to help you I can say the best way to start is by doing a comprehensive evaluation pretest. I dont care where from but it must tell you what areas you are weak in. Your study should start with doing questions and reviewing content on those areas first. Look at the candidate test plan for break down of those areas and specific topics. Hopes this helps.