To say the least, the NCLEX experience for me was one wild rollercoaster ride! One hour I would be fine and confident, the next hour my emotions would flip upside-down and I would feel anxious and insecure. I often went to this forum for help and support, to see how others felt, and how other people prepared and dealt with this situation. Now that it's over, and I have conquered the dreaded NCLEX-RN, I will share my experience with the intent to help those that are on their NCLEX journey.
As mentioned above, I took the exam about 2 weeks ago, and passed with 75 questions. It was my first attempt. I took the whole thing very seriously, treating it as my job. After graduating, I took 3 weeks off for vacation to rest. During the following 2 months that I prepared, I studied every single day, and did not go out at all. I got up at 5 am, started studying at 7 am, and finished at 6 pm. Every evening, I took a walk around my neighborhood for 1 hour, and went to bed at 9 pm. It was a rigorous routine, but I knew it was what I had to do to succeed. I did 75-100 questions a day, chewing and digesting all the rationales thoroughly. In total, I did over 3000 questions.
About the anxiety, it is a normal part of this journey. In fact, a little nervousness helps you stay on point, so it is okay. Whenever I got really nervous, I did deep breathing exercises, and called my family for support.
As for the actual preparation, I first made a plan. First, I need a solid foundation of content knowledge upon which I could build on, in regards to applying the knowledge to NCLEX style situations. Second, I need to master NCLEX strategies by doing practice questions. Doing just questions alone won't help you - you need to have a solid content base, and only then will practice questions be of any use to you.
For content, I used Saunders NCLEX Comprehensive Review. In addition, I often looked up things in my textbooks, and researched difficult concepts online for clarification. The Saunders online question bank that comes with the book has simple, content-based questions. These are nothing at all like the questions on the actual NCLEX exam, but they are good for reinforcing your content base, and for boosting your confidence as you get them right. I recommend this book for your content base.
I also purchased the NCSBN Learning Extension course - the 3 week subscription. Although it is the cheapest course ($50), it was a mistake. The content part of the course was verbose and way too in-depth. I did the whole question bank of 1400 questions, and it only messed me up. There were grammatical errors, most of the questions only gave rationales for the right answer, and many of the answers I found later to be incorrect. As a result, I had to throw everything out of my head and basically start over and relearn everything. Don't waste your time and money on this course.
In terms of content, let me just say that learning happens through the entire journey, as you find out information that you may not have been taught in nursing school. Even when I was doing practice tests, I was learning new things. I learned a lot during my NCLEX journey.
After I felt I had a solid handle on content, I went on to do practice questions. I got the LaCharity Prioritization, Delegation, and Assignment book. This was the single best resource, and I know that I would not have passed if it weren't for this book. It is a book of really good questions that are comparable to the actual NCLEX exam. I sure got my behind kicked by this book! But at least I got it kicked then, and not on the actual test! Prioritizing is huge on the NCLEX, and this book prepares you well - presenting scenarios involving delegation and health conditions as they relate to nursing. This book is like NCLEX boot camp, and I am glad I did every page of it.
Next, I had to tackle my fear of Select All That Apply (SATA) questions. I got Lippincott's NCLEX-RN Alternate-Response Questions book. I liked that next to every question they show the level of difficulty of the question. I also did the entire book; their questions were good.
I strongly recommend both of these books for questions, but if I had to choose only one, I would pick the LaCharity book.
In addition, I took advantage of Kaplan's online freebies. They offer a free NCLEX practice test, strategies seminar, and sample class. Those were helpful.
And now, the actual exam! 3 days before my exam, I slowed my pace, and just did practice tests. I did my best to keep up a positive attitude. The day of my exam, I went in with the intent of just going in and getting through with it. Noise-cancelling earphones and a roomy cubicle made a good environment for a massive exam like the NCLEX. The questions in the preceding module of the exam are just there so you know how to use the system - they don't count toward your result, but they do take away time from your 6 hours. Just skip over them and move on to your exam.
The questions got harder as the exam progressed, which is what should happen. I got about 8 - 10 SATAs, which by the way is not an indicator of how you're doing. Rather, it is the difficulty of questions that matters. I know that in the beginning I got some easy questions wrong, but later on I got hard ones right, which is what counts. I know this because my exam shut off at 75 questions, and about a week later I got my license. Throughout the whole exam, I felt like I was guessing. With the noise-cancelling headphones on, I heard my heart thudding as though it was about to burst out of my chest. My heart really started racing as I approached #75, and almost stopped when I hit "next" after 75, and got the blue screen on my monitor. I shuffled out of the test center in dismay, and just broke down in the elevator. I cried and trembled, and I had no idea why. Only after a half an hour did I regain control of myself.
The next few days afterward, I did my best to think of anything other than the NCLEX. I listened to music and watched movies - something I didn't do for the whole summer. This was an unforgettable experience that is comparable to a first love. Honestly, I have no idea how I got through this exam, successfully, but it seems I was properly prepared.
Some points to remember are that there is so much information, that it is impossible to know everything. The different health conditions, the meds ... Just do your best and know at least the general stuff - something that you can hang your hat on. Know infection control, prioritizing, delegation, and labs by heart. Remember, the exam is testing whether or not you are safe to practice nursing. Use your critical thinking skills to apply your content base to given scenario.
If you believe in a Higher Deity, set aside time do that, because it helps. I believe luck is a factor in all this.
Good luck to all those in their pursuit of the RN license. Study hard, and keep your nerves in check! Worrying and biting your nails will only ruin you - it is sticking to the grindstone and working hard (learning content/ answering questions) that will get you through this incredible NCLEX journey.