NCLEX & Nursing Exams – How to answer the test questions

I had to learn the hard way and as a result, I worked harder than I needed to for my first year of nursing school. NCLEX questions are critical thinking questions that are used to test nursing skills and knowledge. Most, if not all, nursing programs use this style of question to test nursing students. If you can get this, you have mastered half the battle! Before starting nursing school, I recommend the following books to help. These books are the ones I use regularly and have helped prepare me for my exams and get A’s. I have also included how to take exams, how to use the questions to study, and important NCLEX rules to know.

Saunder’s Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination – This book is amazing. I use it to supplement my learning because it’s full of charts, pictures, and text boxes to focus only on the key points you need to know. After I read the text from class, I use this to simplify anything I may not understand. It’s full of questions to assess your knowledge and comes with a CD including even more information.

Test SuccessThese books challenge me and identify strengths and weaknesses. Each chapter deals with a specific disease / disorder / concept. Within the chapter, the questions are broken up by Theory and each step of the nursing process. It helps me to see which specific questions I am having trouble with so I can focus on that area. Test Success is great for pre-nursing and new nursing students. There are also specific Test Success books for specific courses; Fundamentals SuccessMed-Surg Success, Pharmacology Success,  Maternal and Newborn Success, Pediatric Success, Psychiatric Mental Health Success . The only one I have not used is Pharmacology Success, but only because I did not know it existed! These are necessities for me and saved me in my Psych course.


Steps to Take an Exam:

1. Use your scantron, or scrap paper to cover up the answers.
2. Read the entire question and circle / highlight key words
3. With the answers still covered, write what you think the answer is.
4. Uncover the answers.

  • 5a. If your written answer matches or comes close, choose that answer, then move on to elimination.
    5b. If your written answer does not come close move on to elimination.

6. Eliminate the incorrect answers and write why they are wrong next to them or cross out words that make them wrong.

  • 7a. If by eliminating, you arrive at the correct answer, choose it and move on.
    7b. If you are left with two answers that could both be right, go back to the question. Write down the key words and what the question is asking next to the question and choose the answer that repeats the key words or is related to them.

Move through the test question by question. If you are stumped in any way, move to the next question and mark it with a star. (This builds confidence & other questions may jog your memory)

I know it seems like a lot, but this ensures that you are not tricked by other answers and gives you more confidence that you know that is the correct answer. It eliminates careless mistakes.


How to Study NCLEX questions:

Do not attempt to do NCLEX questions until you have a solid understanding and knowledge base of the section you are working on. This just adds unnecessary time to studying and is counter productive. You want to work smarter, not harder. This means you should have read the section and attended lecture first (you can read how to prepare here). Studying the NCLEX questions is to reinforce, not learn.

1. Set a timer only allowing yourself 1 minute per question (if you are doing 15 questions, allow 15 minutes).

2. Follow the instructions above as though you are taking an actual exam.

3. Grade it and write the actual score on the top (include the score, percent, and letter grade)

4. Read the rationales and tie the information back to what you read in your course’s textbook. Some questions and rationales may not match your course and you do not want to learn the “wrong information”.


NCLEX Rules:

1. Absolutes – Any, all, never, everyone, only Eliminate answers that use these words. They imply there are no exceptions. (ex. All alcoholics are aggressive.)

2. “Why?” – Never start questions with “Why”. It is condescending and not therapeutic. (“Why won’t you take your medication?”)

3. Passing the buck – Do not choose an answer that removes you from helping the patient. (ex. “I will call and ask your doctor to change your medication”)

4. If it makes the patient sound silly, do not choose it.

5. Odd man out – if one answer is completely different, it is probably the right answer.

6. False Reassurance – Do not give false reassurance (ex. “I’m sure everything will be okay”)

7. Use the nursing process – If two answers are correct, choose the one that is done first in the nursing process (ADPIE)

8. Maslow is your best friend and Safety is always first.

9. Umbrella – If all answers are right but one incorporates all of them, choose that answer.


Do you use this method? What is your favorite NCLEX study book?

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