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NCLEX: What’s New and How to Prepare

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  1. What do I need to know to be successful in both nursing school and on the NCLEX?
  2. What is CAT?
  3. How do the test writers develop the questions used on the NCLEX?
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In this article, Wilda Rinehart, RN, BSN, MSM, FNC, and FPNP of Rinehart & Associates, walks you through the changes in the NCLEX test plan and what you need to know before walking into the exam room.

Note that the NCLEX® test plan has changed again for 2013. Please visit our new version of this article, updated for the 2013 changes.

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Congratulations on the decision to join the nursing profession. As the semester begins, you will face many new challenges and responsibilities. At times these may seem overwhelming, but if you develop a sound plan for studying and retaining the information you will achieve your goal of becoming a nurse. The NCLEX® (National Council Licensure Exam) is the final step in attaining this goal. NCLEX® is an exam that measures safe beginning nursing practice. It is intended to measure the candidate’s knowledge, skills and ability to practice nursing.

Success in nursing school, and ultimately on the licensure exam, depends on developing strong study skills and continual reinforcement of what you have learned. By the time you enter nursing school, you are probably aware of whether you are a visual, auditory or a hands-on learner. Nursing school will require you to use each of these modalities in the classroom, skills lab, and clinical setting.

There are three important things to ask yourself:

  1. What do I need to know to be successful in both nursing school and on the NCLEX®?
  2. What is “CAT”?
  3. How do the test writers develop the questions used on the NCLEX®?

What do I need to know to be successful in both nursing school and on the NCLEX®?

Knowledge of the Content Being Tested

In order to be successful in nursing school and on the licensure exam, you must have an in-depth knowledge of many areas, including anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pathophysiology, nutrition, pharmacology, and of course nursing. There is no substitute for knowing the material. You will be expected to read and comprehend large amounts of material and to take notes. If you are an auditory learner, you may have difficulty listening to lectures while taking notes. Check with the faculty to see if audio-taping is permitted. Many instructors allow students to record lectures for individual use, and some lectures and PowerPoint presentations can be downloaded directly from the internet. Listening to the lectures during your commute allows you to reinforce what you have learned in the classroom.

Develop good study habits by having a dedicated time and place for study.

Develop a study group of friends that are dedicated to the same goals and that serve as a support group. Often family members do not realize how difficult nursing school can be and how much time and effort it takes to be successful. If possible, limit work to no more than 20 hours per week. I realize that nursing students are mothers and fathers with family responsibilities, but passing nursing school requires approximately 2-3 hours per day of study time outside the classroom and clinical setting. Begin reviewing material to be tested several days prior to the exam date. Rushed study the night before or morning of the exam doesn’t work well for most students.

Testing Skills

In order to be a successful test taker, the student must learn and practice testing skills. It is not enough to simply know the facts about a particular disease or condition. Nursing students must be able to apply knowledge to a given patient situation. You were probably surprised when you took your first nursing exam and found out that many of the questions required you to analyze information and to apply it to a particular scenario, with questions such as “Which action should receive priority?” or “Which patient should be seen first?” Other questions include alternative items, such as check all that apply, place in sequence, and fill in the blank.

Both the NCLEX® RN Exam Cram and the NCLEX® RN Exam Prep book provide a full discussion of testing tips as well as analysis and application questions. The Exam Cram NCLEX®-RN Practice Question book provides the student with five test banks and CD.

Ability to Critically Think

As stated earlier, the successful test taker must be able to apply knowledge to a patient situation. The student who is a critical thinker is able to analyze information that is given and develop a plan of action. This is especially important on the NCLEX®, since the majority of questions above the passing standard are at the application and analysis level.

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