When I called my friends after taking the NCLEX and told them I was served 265 questions, they were shocked. After all, many of them passed by question 75. Then, when they found out that it took me five and a half hours to answer all 265 questions, the sympathy texts came-a-messaging. Yet, I still felt confident that the NCLEX Algorithm Gods would deem me worthy of my RN title because I followed some self-imposed rules. The NCLEX and I had some good times and some bad times, but mainly just spent a lot of time together. So I got to know her really well. Here are my "8 Rules" if you want to pass the NCLEX—no matter how many questions it takes.
Rule #1: Stay relaxed: You've just spent the last several years in college studying your gluteus to the maximus, so it is understandable that you'll be stressed. Stress is ok, as long as it's utilized to make you more focused and motivated. But there's a "stress threshold" that should not be crossed, and that is when you begin to not think clearly and make poor choices. Here's a little inside scoop: Multiple choice exams by definition are about making good choices. Many of the following rules actually come back to "staying relaxed." The few of my friends who failed the exam had one thing in common: When they hit the 75th question and it didn't shut off, they had a mini panic attack. They lost their composure, their performance dropped, and within the next 20 questions their exam shut off.
Rule #2: Have good posture: At about the fourth hour of my marathon test, I noticed that my body had hunched itself over my desk like Quasimoto. My chin was literally resting on the desk in front of me with the mouse up by my right ear. I was only a few feet away from finding myself in a comfortable napping position on the floor. Needless to say, my posture was poor. There's something to be said about having a back as straight as Forrest Gump's; it makes you more alert and more focused because there's nothing more pathetically ironic than answering an NCLEX question on kyphosis while you begin to create your own personal bell curve.
Rule #3: Stretch: I'm not saying you need to attend a yoga class in the middle of the room, because chances are the Downward Facing Dog pose would draw some suspect looks. But stretching your back and neck is a good way to stay loose and relaxed while maintaining good blood flow through your body. From what I hear, blood is good for the brain, according to “science” and “textbooks.”
Rule #4: Take frequent, short breaks: If you are fortunate enough to pass the exam in 75 questions, this may not apply to you. But for the marathon runner like me, these were key. If you're in a good flow, go with it. However, the nurse's equivalent of Writer's Block can hit hard during the NCLEX. Whether it's a trip to the water fountain or even just a pause to stare off into space, those little breaks will keep you refreshed, relaxed, and ready to tackle the next set of tough questions.
Rule #5: Don't over-think: This is just a general test tip and one that I fail to follow all too often. I occasionally manage to talk myself out of answers and don’t go with my gut. Those usually end up being the questions I get wrong. If you're talking yourself out of one answer and into another, it means that you aren't confident with that question. Sometimes, these questions are much simpler than you think.
Rule #6: Caffeinate: This is training for when you end up on the night shift as a new nurse. If you're yawning during the entire test then you know your mind is not at its sharpest. And when you have to go through 265 questions, energy becomes an important facet. Artificial energy in a cup is an easy way to make it through the test without taking a cat nap. It also helps with headaches, which are often caused by answering 200+ questions.
Rule #7: Don't try and "figure out" the test: Many of you already know how the test works. Answer enough questions right until the algorithm has certainty that you will be a capable nurse and it shuts off (as early as 75 questions and as late as 265). If you're getting questions right, theoretically they should get more difficult (and vice versa). When I took my test, I was trying to visualize the degree of difficulty of each question. If the following question was harder than the previous one, I'd work under the assumption that I got the previous question right. Sound stressful? It was! I had obviously forgotten Rule #1. You've got enough going on in your brain, don't add an extra layer of thinking.
Rule #8: The last 10 questions are the most important; utilize Rules 1-7: So you find yourself in a rare position, one of the few to make it all the way to 255 questions (yay! yay…?). You have 10 questions left to prove to the computer that you don't need to take this damn test again. End above this theoretical line and you'll pass; end below it and you'll fail. These are now the most important questions you will take. Utilize the previous rules to ensure that you perform your best on these last 10 questions. Take a short break just before you begin them, relax, clear your mind, and rely on your instincts. By this time, you are very likely exhausted, so pay attention to your body and mind before beginning those last few questions.
In the end, think of this test like a mini boot camp for nursing. Being a nurse is about juggling multiple patients and disease processes at once, managing time, prioritizing, and staying calm in stressful situations. If every nurse began to freak out when their shift wasn't going perfectly, no shift would ever be completed. Setting yourself up to handle adversity well is what determines the quality of nurse you will be. In the end, these are just questions. But the lessons you learn from being a good test taker will allow you to make the best possible choices for your patients and your career—and will be the deciding factor between whether you feel like Grumpy Cat or the baby when you come out of the NCLEX.