6 Common NCLEX Mistakes to Avoid

Staff Writer
May 3, 2022

For many nursing students, taking the NCLEX exam is the most difficult and stressful moment in their nursing education. Your resolve will be tested, your critical thinking skills will be tested, and even your commitment to your chosen profession in nursing may be tested.

It’s for good reason that the NCLEX might be the hardest test you’ll ever take. Nurses save the lives of patients every day. They’re so good at saving lives that nursing has been considered the most trusted profession in the United States for decades. You didn’t spend years of your life studying for a cake walk, so get ready.

The good news is that 1.3 million people have taken the NCLEX and become nurses, and so can you. Study hard, avoid these six common mistakes, and follow our helpful tips and resources to ensure that you successfully pass the exam. With an NCLEX pass rate consistently higher than the national average, you can count on Joyce University to help you put your best foot forward come exam day. Good luck!

Mistake #1: Assuming the NCLEX is like the tests you took in nursing school

Did you perform well on your tests in nursing school? Great! Now get ready for a different measure of success, because the NCLEX truly is a whole different ballgame.

Just because you did well on tests in nursing school doesn’t mean you’ll ace this one. Unlike nursing school exams, which test for knowledge, the NCLEX tests your ability to apply and analyze situations using the nursing knowledge you gained in school. Logic and critical thinking, rather than rote memorization, are emphasized in this test—making it much more difficult and comprehensive.

Tip: Want to get a sense of what taking the exam is like? Check out our list of 8 practice questions to see how NCLEX exam questions differ from your average nursing school test and how you can best prepare.

Mistake #2: Reading quickly like you already know the answer

If you’ve ever been told to “slow down,” you should keep up that mantra when taking the NCLEX. Some of us are methodical and cautious; but when it comes to taking the most important test of our lives against the clock, we all have a tendency to fly through the questions that look familiar. For those who instinctively move quickly, the NCLEX is a killer and will challenge you if you move too fast.

That’s because it doesn’t just test for knowledge and competency; the NCLEX tests critical thinking, judgement, reasoning, and thoughtful reflection. There are no shortcuts for these skills.

Read through the questions twice. Assume you do not know the answer.

Tip: Want more strategies for success? Try our free e-book, “49 Proven NCLEX Strategies” to see our top tips for ensuring you pass the exam with flying colors.

Mistake #3: Cramming right before the test

The NCLEX is hard. You might have gotten through nursing school with marathon all-nighters, but last-minute cramming is not going to be enough to pass the NCLEX.

In fact, cramming before a test often has the opposite effect, leading to:

  • Mixing up the facts you’ve already learned
  • Preventing the connection of old and new information, which is necessary to input ideas into memory
  • Reading fatigue during study time, causing low energy during testing
  • Anxiety and frustration

Set aside at least a month, and plan to study several hours every day for that month. No cramming needed!

Tip: Instead of cramming for the exam, how about planning for it? Learn how best to structure your NCLEX exam prep with our helpful suggestions: Passing the Licensure Exam: An NCLEX Study Plan.

Mistake #4: Avoiding thoughts about test day

Go ahead, think about it.

Sometimes we avoid thoughts about things that worry us in order to put it off or escape anxiety. But big events like taking the NCLEX require some consideration, and you’ll probably feel more prepared if you think about it more. So go ahead, think about things like:

  • Where will I park?
  • Can I bring snacks and a water bottle?
  • What will parking be like?
  • What time should I set my alarm? (And should I set a back-up alarm?)
  • Think about each point that’s on your mind, write it down, and then stop worrying about the things you can plan for now!

Mistake #5: Believing failure means you’ll fail again

Many great nurses take the NCLEX more than once. If you’ve failed before, you know what to expect. You know what to focus on, how much time you’ll need, and what areas are particularly hard for you.

The 2016 national NCLEX pass rate was 85.5 percent. Many test-takers did not pass on the first try. Those now-nurses might have been having a bad day. They might have gotten nervous and flubbed answers, or they might not have studied enough. None of these reasons prevents 14.6 percent of nurses from taking the NCLEX again.

It’s okay to be scared of failing. Take a deep breath, study hard, and try again.

Tip: To improve your chances on your first, second, or even third try, read through our favorite NCLEX resources: 60 Best Resources for NCLEX Questions, Prep, and Review Practice. You’ll find great tips for studying and preparing to ensuring that you successfully pass.

Mistake #6: Thinking your notes are good enough

Your notes are not good enough. A study app is not good enough. Even your notes plus a study app are probably not good enough.

Pass the NCLEX with notes. That’s because the NCLEX doesn’t test you on the same questions that you saw in nursing school. Instead, you’ll be tested on your critical thinking skills, so look for new material that will help you conquer the NCLEX’s many challenges.

To pass the NCLEX, you’ll need quality study materials to get through the mother of all tests! Even if you have a study guide you already love, it can be helpful to study more than one source.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. Kaplan’s NCLEX-RN Premier 2017: Kaplan materials are generally very helpful. This edition includes two practice tests, plus online, book, and video tutorials. It focuses on expert critical thinking strategies and targeted practice.
  2. NCLEX RN Mastery app: It’s the 21st century, so of course you need a study app. This free companion includes 1,800 practice questions, quizzes, mnemonics, and strategies.
  3. Prioritization, Delegation, and Assignment: Practice Exercises for the NCLEX Examination by Bartz, Kumagai, and LaCharity: This popular book focuses on foundational knowledge in care management skills, similar to the NCLEX.

Tip: Looking for even more NCLEX prep resources to ensure you’ll pass the exam? Check out our helpful recommendations here: The Best Books for Passing the NCLEX.

While we can’t tell you what specific questions you’ll see on your NCLEX exam, we can tell you this: Always choose the answer that keeps the patient safe and alive.

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