How I Passed the NCLEX: A Story or Blood, Sweat, Tears and Terror

An article about the ups and downs of studying, taking the NCLEX, and waiting for the results. From one nurse to another, I was always interested in hearing other's stories on taking the NCLEX. I wanted to know the exact specific details. This article explains how I passed the NCLEX in 75 questions, with a lot of tears, anxiety and smiles (at the end of the story) Nursing Students NCLEX Article


How I Passed the NCLEX: A Story or Blood, Sweat, Tears and Terror

Every nurse dreads the day they have to sit down and take their boards, aka the NCLEX. This exam is built up in the minds of nursing students all over the world. Personally, I imagined this test being a huge green monster with snotty mucus, only one top tooth, and a grimace to scare any small child. In reality, the NCLEX is an exam that can be as short as 75 questions or as long as 265 questions. The kicker? You ready for this? At any time between 75 and 265 questions the computer will shut off, ending your exam. With no sign of whether you passed or failed. THE HORROR!

Well, I am here to tell you all about my NCLEX experience. The studying, the test taking, and the dreaded 48 hours waiting for my results.

First, let me tell you a little bit about my nursing program. I went to nursing school in an accelerated program as a second Bachelor's degree. I chose a small, Catholic school (although the religious affiliation has nothing to with any of this) in the Bronx with a picturesque campus and a nursing school that accepted both myself and my cousin. The beauty stops there. I know most nursing students will claim their program is disorganized, late to tell students any important information, and has the worst teachers EVER. Well come to find out this dreaded trifecta culminated with the nursing program at this school (I am withholding its name for good reason). It started with a professor who nearly failed half of the 32 students in the NURSING FUNDAMENTALS. Then moved on to waiting until the night before clinicals started to learn our placements. With a final resting stop in the financial aid office. Weekly.

But I digress, you are not interested in my terrible nursing school. Instead you want to know how I passed this slobbery, wart-filled green monster known as the NCLEX. Let me continue....

I graduated Nursing school in mid-December and took a couple of weeks off to spend the holidays with friends and family before I began studying. Let me preface this with the fact that I graduated nursing school with a FANTASTIC job offer contingent on me passing this exam. NO PRESSURE!!

Anyway, my nursing program utilized the Kaplan study program throughout our nursing degree. At the time most student dreaded taking these exams as they were usually on the same days as our final exams. I never really cared about Kaplan nor did I take it very seriously. That all changed when the calendar turned to 2016 and I was faced with an unknown test date and one shot at not completely messing this up.

(If you only care about my test taking tips and nothing else, skip to the end. The next few paragraphs are truly only helpful for people getting ready for the test.)

The first few days of studying I was puzzled, staring endlessly at notes I had taken throughout nursing school, study books filed with 1000s of questions, and a Kaplan website that claimed they held the "key to success." Well I decided I'd begin with a content review. I watched endless hours of videos Kaplan provided, bored through the Saunders review book, and hyperventilated my way through reviewing topics covered in Nursing school. As I reviewed content I created a binder filled with all of my notes, tips, tricks, and mnemonics to help me remember random tidbits.

Once my "brain book" was created, I decided practice questions were the next logical step. Now that I was supposed to know all of my content, I needed to put all that information to good use. So enter the many weeks of practice tests, practice tests, guessed it; MORE practice tests. My scores were average, never reaching above an 80 (and boy I was pleased with that!). By week three, the panic had certainly sunk in. If only I knew then what panic and anxiety I would truly experience. HA! I worried that putting all of my marbles in the Kaplan basket (or drinking gallons of the Kaplan Kool-Aid) was going to royally screw me over when I went to take my test.

So onto step number 17 of this miserable experience. I purchased a three week subscription to have access to EVEN MORE PRACTICE QUESTIONS from the writers of the actual test. This helped minimized my panic at the time and I felt the questions were actually pretty helpful.

I studied in total for 6 weeks. 4 on my own and 2 with my cousin. But nothing and I mean NOTHING could prepare me for the horror that this exam brings to the minds of so many young, impressionable, terrified baby nurses.

I took the exam (on a Wednesday) and the computer shut off at 75 questions. I had only 9 "Select All That Apply" questions, no Med-Math, no ordering; NOTHING. And the grand finale....I had 3 questions on the Exact. Same. Topic. (Closed MRIs to be exact). I was sure, let me repeat SURE that I had failed.

To compare, my cousin (who took the test on the same day) also had 75 questions, but instead had 20+ select all that apply questions, a few ordering AND med-math. The questions I had were NOTHING like either of the practice questions provided by the two companies I had invested in. I walked out of the testing center feeling like a horrible, embarrassing idiot who not only failed this exam but also lost the job opportunity that I had moved 1000s of miles for. PLUS I failed in the most EPIC way possible, with the minimum amount of questions. That meant that I screwed up so badly that the test decided I was nowhere near a competent nurse.

Have I told you I was SURE I had failed. Boy I was in a FOUL MOOD. When we got back to our apartment I searched and searched online for people in the same boat as me. BIG MISTAKE. I cried, on and off, for 3 days. While I waited for my results. 2 days later (a Friday) we were refreshing our computers every hour waiting for our results. We had people from our new job calling to check and see if we'd passed or not. And we knew our family was waiting with baited breath as they were almost as nervous as we were. FINALLY, both of our results became available. And every time we had to click something on the results website, we would count to 3 and do it at the same time. The agonizing seconds after we clicked "submit" felt like hours. We both looked at each other with shocked faces. And finally 2, maybe 3 seconds had passed and we asked each other what had happened.

When we both screamed "I PASSED" There were tears, laughter, screaming, dancing, and jumping!! I have never been more ecstatic (and surprised). The best feeling in the world was right before we called our families. We were the only ones who knew we had passed. It has been a little over a day since I found out that I was officially Nurse Paige and it still feels surreal that on Monday our new job starts and we will be caring for little humans (in the pediatrics department)

My Advice To All You Test Preppers

Go with your GUT

I cannot stress this enough. Yes, I had three questions on the same topic, asking the exact same thing. And each time I chose the same answer. I was sure I was correct (and who knows if I actually was) but I went with my gut choice on each question.

Study with a buddy

Your parents and friends may offer to help but the best help will come from someone who is equally as terrified and afraid of this exam.

Invest in Kaplan

The best part wasn't actually the content review. It was the review to questions where this awesome lady named Barbara walked you through hundreds of practice questions to show you how to get the correct answer without knowing much. I don't know if Kaplan made the difference between me passing or failing, but I do think they explain things well (although the do miss some big topics)

Do what you want the day before the test

Everywhere I looked told me to take the day off before my exam. However, this was not me; and this was not how I had studied or prepared for any of nursing school. So, I studied up until hours before the exam (and was completely OK with it).

You are going to freak out after the exam

You may think you passed or you may think you have failed. Accept the fact that you have to wait 48 hours before receiving your results. It's terrible. There is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better about yourself. You may cry, you may laugh, but in the end we all wait those dreaded 48 hours. It's ok. Do whatever feels right. See a movie, clean the house, make homemade cookies (or like me, do all three of these things in between your mental breakdowns and anxiety attacks).

Finally, you've got this. You have studied for this. And if all else fails when prioritizing who to take care of first after a fictional tornado, don't choose the person who hasn't been breathing for 10 minutes (He's already dead). I know this from personal, practice question experience.

RN/Pediatric nurse. I began writing a blog when I was accepted to nursing school and moved to NYC. Now, as a pediatric nurse I hope to bring smiles, some tears, and lots of joy to nurses everywhere.

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Specializes in SCRN.

Congratulations, Paige!

It feels great to have THAT hurdle over with! In retrospect for me, NCLEX is nothing compared to real nursing stress. The doubt, the failure, the counsel seeking, the looking things up after work, that's where the real test is at. You've hit the milestone, get ready for the toughest year of your career. Later, it you will remember your NCLEX with a little nostalgia.

Wow!!!! Congratulations!! I can't imagine the anxiety and horror !!! Lol, you're my motivation right now :)

Truthfully the NCLEX was the easiest test I took in nursing school. Probably because they prepped us so much for it, but there was so much hype and so much build up that when I finally finished it my thoughts were "THAT was it????" I took it with two friends and we were all finished within 45 minutes. We used Hurst and Kaplan and I felt the combo of the two programs was very successful.

Specializes in Hospice, Palliative Care.

Good day, Paige:

"EVEN MORE PRACTICE QUESTIONS from the writers of the actual test."

From whom? Website? Company?

Thank you.