How to Pass the NCLEX: 5 Powerful Tips

Each blog post is dated and contains accurate information as of that date. Certain information may have changed since the blog post publication date. If you would like to confirm the current accuracy of blog information, please visit our ABSN overview page or contact admissions at (844) 319-2107.

Wondering how to pass the NCLEX? Passing the NCLEX requires extensive preparation, so begin studying for the NCLEX-RN during your first semester of nursing school. It also helps to understand the format and question types of the Next Gen NCLEX, create a study guide and take full-length practice tests.

nurse on laptop with stack of textbooks

Pursuing a healthcare career is a rewarding yet challenging process. Staying on top of your coursework and attending regularly scheduled study sessions is essential to pass exams and be prepared for the licensure exam.

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) is a standardized test that all aspiring nurses must pass to obtain state licensure. The NCLEX is a rigorous exam, and you’ll need to plan on preparing for months in advance to pass it.

However, as a nursing student at Madonna University, you’ll receive plenty of support and resources to give you the best possible chance of passing. Students in our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program not only work through a comprehensive curriculum that prepares them for the NCLEX, but they can also opt to work one-on-one with an Academic Success Coach. It’s all part of our commitment to graduating confident, practice-ready nurses who provide holistic, patient-centered care.

Let’s take a closer look at how to pass the NCLEX here.

1. Know What’s Covered on the NCLEX-RN

The NCLEX determines if you can apply appropriate nursing knowledge in practical settings and make evidence-based clinical decisions. In other words, it tests whether you are ready to protect and promote the health and safety of patients. Because nursing is a field with significant responsibility — patients’ lives are in your hands — the test is comprehensive and in-depth. It will challenge your critical thinking skills across a wide range of topic areas.

Before diving into how to pass the NCLEX, it’s helpful to understand the content areas of the test. The NCLEX-RN is divided into four main categories of patient needs, with a few subcategories.

Madonna nursing student reading textbook

The categories are:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
    • Management of Care
    • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity
    • Basic Care and Comfort
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
    • Reduction of Risk Potential
    • Physiological Adaptation

Each content area comprises a certain percentage range of the exam. Management of Care, Safety and Infection Control, Physiological Adaptation, and Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies are among the most prominent categories. You can expect to answer more questions in these content areas, so spending more study time on them is wise. However, don’t neglect to study content in the other categories, as well.

nurse checking child patient's heartbeat

As you approach your NCLEX test date, it’s time to start thinking about which nursing specialty you’d like to pursue. Learn about 5 top nursing specialties.

2. Understand the Format of the Next Gen NCLEX

To increase your chances of passing the NCLEX, knowing what to expect when you arrive at the testing center can be helpful. The NCLEX is administered via computer and is a computer-adapted test (CAT) that designs a unique test format just for you. The purpose is to ensure you answer questions that match your ability level — not too difficult or too easy.

For example, if you answer the first question correctly, you’ll be presented with a slightly more difficult question, and vice versa. This allows the software to assess your level of competency in nursing.

The computer screen will display all the information you need. The question number will be in the lower right-hand corner, and the digital clock counting down from six hours will be in the upper right-hand corner. You’ll find the digital calculator at the bottom with the “Next” button to click on the next question.

After the first two hours of testing and again after 3.5 hours, you can choose to take a break. If you need a break during any other time, you can take it, but the time you spend away from the computer will be deducted from the total time allowed.

Become Familiar with the New Question Types

Since 2023, all prospective nurses have taken the Next Generation NCLEX-RN, also known as the Next Gen NCLEX or NGN. The exam is updated regularly, but the transition to the Next Gen NCLEX represents a significant overhaul.

The new test focuses more closely on candidates’ clinical judgment and decision-making skills rather than their ability to memorize nursing concepts and theories. In other words, it emphasizes practical application.

nurse outside

The NGN offers some new question types. Becoming familiar with these new styles of questions is essential for passing the NCLEX. They include:

  • Extended multiple response: These questions allow you to choose more than one answer.
  • Extended drag-and-drop: You’ll be asked to move responses into answer spaces.
  • Cloze (drop-down): You must choose the correct option from a drop-down list.
  • Enhanced hot spot (highlighting): You’ll select the correct answer by highlighting words or phrases.
  • Matrix grid: You’ll select multiple answers on a chart.
  • Bow tie: You’ll drag and drop items into a bowtie-shaped figure.
  • Trend items: You’ll review clinical information and choose the appropriate intervention.

In addition, you’ll also see unfolding case studies. Unfolding case studies involve evaluating information from a medical record and answering question sets based on that information.

3. Create a Comprehensive Study Plan

One of the most essential steps in passing the NCLEX is to create and stick to a comprehensive study plan. Start working on your NCLEX prep as early as the first semester of nursing school. The more time you have to prepare, the better.

Consider the following study plan tips:

  • Take a practice exam early on to assess your current knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Use your practice exam results to determine which areas you should work on the most.
  • Look at your schedule and identify one or two times each day when you can study for at least an hour or two.
  • Although you should focus on your weaker areas, don’t neglect to review material in the areas you do well in.
  • Find a study buddy or join a study group to discuss the material together.
  • Use active study techniques, such as writing down questions as you go and considering practical applications of nursing knowledge.

Lastly, take breaks as needed to avoid study fatigue.

Thinking ahead to your nursing career? Check out these 14 alternative careers for nurses.

two nurses in blue scrubs sitting and talking

Take Advantage of NCLEX-RN Practice Questions

Passing the NCLEX requires more than just memorizing concepts and learning how to apply them to practical situations. You’ll also need to gain familiarity with Next Gen NCLEX questions. Many apps, websites, and similar resources provide NCLEX questions to answer, such as NCLEX “question of the day” resources. Commit to answering at least a few questions each day, and be sure to read the explanations of the answers thoroughly.

4. Regularly Assess Your Knowledge Retention

Answering a few questions each day is a good start, but you’ll need to take it a step further to prepare for the NCLEX properly. Plan on taking at least a few full-length practice tests during nursing school and after graduation in the weeks leading up to your test date. Practice tests will help you evaluate your progress and determine which areas still need more work.

Madonna students studying

5. Arrive Well-Rested and Properly Prepared

It might be tempting to do some last-minute cramming on the evening before your test date, but it’s advisable to rest instead. The test is stressful enough, and you’ve already spent months preparing for it. Instead, do something relaxing to relieve stress and get to bed at a decent time.

Arrive at the testing site well-rested with all the items you must bring. These items include:

  • Authorization to Test (ATT)
  • A form of signed identification that includes your picture (e.g., driver’s license or passport)
  • A beverage and snack

Don’t bring any study materials, but do arrive at the testing site 30 minutes early.

nurse sitting at desk talking in interview

After you pass the NCLEX, you’ll be ready to pursue your first nursing job. Learn six tips on preparing for nursing interviews here.

How to Pass the NCLEX? Start at Madonna

When you become an ABSN student at Madonna University, you’re already building up your confidence and competence for the NCLEX-RN and beyond. Madonna nurses graduate practice-ready and fully prepared to tackle a wide range of challenges in nursing thanks to the values-based education that our program provides.

Plus, each of our nursing students receives one-on-one assistance from our Academic Success Coaches, who can offer guidance and encouragement from enrollment until the NCLEX test date.

If you have a previously completed non-nursing degree or at least 60 college credits, you may qualify for our 16-month nursing degree program. Contact an admissions representative today to begin.