First and foremost, failing is okay. How can failing be okay when this is the biggest test of your life? As a recent graduate, let me tell you my story.
I am a practicing Registered Nurse. I graduated in 2015, when the NCLEX was first implemented in Canada. And YES, I failed the NCLEX. I wrote every single question, 265 to be exact, and sat in front of that computer for five long hours. But here I am, three years later, and practicing as a Registered Nurse. Failing is not the end of your journey.
Let me start off by saying that starting during year one of your nursing program, you hear about the NCLEX for what seems like every single day of classes; how scary it is, how impossible it seems, how important it is, and what a daunting idea that after the four intense years of studying and practicum, it still isn’t over. I had those exact same thoughts that you are having, every day, for four years. The NCLEX is high stakes, and it seems every student goes into it terrified, which is normal. It is normal to feel scared, to feel like this exam is impossible, to not want the last four years to feel like wasted time if you cannot conquer and pass this one exam. Let me tell you that this exam is NOT life or death. Individuals fail this exam every single day. They also pass this exam every single day. My experience was in fact, on both sides of that spectrum. This is how I conquered my fears, learned to study, and passed this exam.
LEARN HOW TO STUDY
This is huge. Learning how to study properly will assist you in passing the NCLEX. There is a difference between passive studying and active studying.
When studying, make sure you are engaged in the content. Do not just read through a text book and hope/think you are absorbing the information. Learn the content and then quiz yourself on it, whether it be asking yourself questions about specific areas, covering up answers and saying them out loud, or re-writing information on a piece of paper without looking at the textbook. Do little things that quiz yourself to know that you have memorized the information. Once you have learned how to study and feel like you know the information from front to back, you will need to practice answering questions in a way that the NCLEX asks them.
What did I do wrong?
The first time I attempted the NCLEX I studied passively, for two months. I read through the text books, and assumed I was absorbing the knowledge. I did a few practice questions here and there, getting some right and some wrong, but never learning from my mistakes and how to strategically answer the questions. I never quizzed myself on the content while studying, I just did practice questions. When I studied for the second time, on every single page I quizzed myself on the information to know that I was retaining it. I would cover the text book and talk out loud to myself. And when I was positive I knew the information, I moved onto computer adaptive practice questions.
Computer Adaptive Testing:
Just doing practice questions is not enough for the NCLEX. Computer adaptive testing (CAT) is a certain method the NCLEX uses to test your knowledge and your true ability level. CAT is somewhat different than the way many tests work: you start at a base line difficulty level of 0, and the test asks you a question. When you answer it, the computer estimates your ability based on your performance and the difficulty of that question. It generates the next question for you that you should have a 50% chance of answering right – no question should be too easy or too hard. There is a passing ‘threshold’ on each exam, and the goal is to get so many questions right that your ‘score’ is above that threshold for a long enough period that the computer recognizes with certainty that your ability is clearly above the passing standard. By the same standard, if you answer questions consistently below that passing standard, and the computer recognizes with confidence that your ability is below the standard, you will fail. The test will shut off either way – at that point you won’t know whether you passed or failed. The test is generated as you go, based on your performance in each question. This is a new method of testing for many of us – that is why it is important to use a study program that is also computer adaptive.
What I did wrong?
The first time I studied for the NCLEX I did not use a CAT study program. I used Hurst, learned the material and then just did practice questions. I failed the exam. The second time, I used Lippincott PassPoint, ensured I knew all the material, and then did over 5,000 practice questions and practice exams, using computer adaptive testing. PassPoint is an online program that has different levels of knowledge, per each subject area. So ,for example, you start with cardiovascular, at Level 1, and do 50 practice questions (they are made up as you go so it mimics computer adaptive testing and focuses on what you are getting wrong). When you pass Level 1, you move up to Level 2. This keeps going until you are at a mastery level and then you can move onto a different subject area. It is truly the best way to study. I passed the NCLEX on my second attempt with the minimum amount of questions, and I would say it was all thanks to Lippincott PassPoint.
Go into the exam with confidence – if you’ve practiced with tools that are more like the NCLEX functions you’ll feel more prepared. Of course it’s ideal to pass on your first try, but if you fail, you can re-write it. The first time I wrote the test, I had no confidence going in and when I found out I failed, I wondered how I would go into the next exam with any confidence. I felt defeated. Using the study tips above, I had the confidence I needed to go into the exam knowing I could pass it. Seeing my practice scores and mastery levels for each different subject area allowed me to have this confidence and re-assurance that I in fact could do this, and would pass this test.
Written by Shelby LeBel