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How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety When Preparing for the NCLEX

Staff Writer
Reviewed by Dr. Clancey Sollis
Mar 19, 2024

As one of the most pivotal academic challenges any aspiring nurse will face, the National Council Licensure Examination- Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN aka NCLEX) is the final test that every nursing student must pass before becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). At Joyce University, we understand that the weight of this exam can bring a significant amount of stress and anxiety to nursing students. This overview of the NCLEX is meant to provide NCLEX information and tools needed to manage stress and anxiety throughout exam preparation and test-day to successfully navigate this milestone in your nursing career.

1. Understand the NCLEX Exam

The NCLEX is a standardized assessment overseen by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Passing this exam is imperative, as it serves as the gateway for all nurses acquiring their nursing license and enabling them to practice as RNs.

NCLEX Format and Structure

Understanding the anticipated question count on the NCLEX can be a reassuring strategy for managing anxiety. The variable format of the NCLEX features a range of questions, spanning from 75 to 265, instead of one set number that each RN candidate must answer. The point of this format is for great test takers to not have to answer so many questions and for people who struggle with testing to have ample time to demonstrate their knowledge. Test-takers are administered questions until enough information is gathered to determine a pass or fail, all within five hours, including breaks.

Content Categories and Weightage

The NCLEX is structured in four major client needs categories: safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. Understanding question types, the variable question count, and the weightage of the four client needs categories is vital for effective preparation.

2. Prepare a Study Plan

An effective NCLEX study plan will include timelines and goals for tackling different content areas of the test. Having the right resources is instrumental in preparing for and passing the exam for RN candidates.

3. Identify NCLEX-Specific Stressors

Navigating the NCLEX comes with its unique set of stressors, which can significantly impact aspiring nurses. Common sources of stress and anxiety often stem from the high stakes of the exam, as passing is crucial for obtaining an RN license. Addressing performance pressure is essential, ensuring that you approach the NCLEX with confidence and a well-prepared mindset. Some ways to manage this pressure are to visit a mental health professional, learn more about the NCLEX-RN requirements, and to remind yourself you can take the NCLEX-RN more than once if need be.

4. Get to Know NCLEX Test-Taking Strategies

Taking the NCLEX requires not only a comprehensive understanding of nursing knowledge but also a mastery of effective test-taking strategies. As this examination encompasses a variety of questions and  can present a challenging time constraint, having a well-structured approach is essential.

Time Management Techniques

Effective time management is a critical aspect of success when facing the NCLEX. This includes setting time limits for each question, avoiding getting stuck on challenging items, and ensuring that there’s ample time for review. Time management techniques help test-takers maintain a steady pace, ensuring they have the opportunity to address all questions and reduce the risk of rushing through the later sections of the exam.

Dealing with Uncertainty and Guessing

Dealing with uncertainty and guessing can be inevitable on the NCLEX, where not all questions may be answerable with absolute certainty. It’s crucial to avoid getting bogged down on a single question and to make educated guesses when necessary, using hints or clues within the question to make the best-informed choice.

5. Adjust Your Approach Different Types of Questions

Navigating the NCLEX’s diverse question types demands a multifaceted approach to ensure success. Understanding the unique requirements of each question format is key. By tailoring your approach to each question type, you can maximize your performance on the NCLEX and demonstrate your readiness to excel as an RN.

  • Multiple-choice: Carefully read the stem and all answer choices before selecting the best response.
  • Select All That Apply (SATA): Identify all correct options by considering each choice independently and assessing whether it appropriately answers what the question is asking.
  • Prioritization: This requires a keen understanding of client care and the ability to rank interventions effectively.
  • Math Calculation: Necessitate precision in solving mathematical problems, keeping in mind rounding instructions and standard conversion rates when applicable.
  • Chart/Exhibit-Based: Require the interpretation of a larger amount of data for a thorough response.
  • Audio: Involve attentive listening to provide accurate answers.
  • Fill-in-the-blank: Follow specific rounding guidelines if provided while entering the correct answer.

6. Prepare Mentally for the NCLEX Exam

Mental preparation for the NCLEX is a crucial aspect of success. Embracing mindfulness and meditation techniques can help calm nerves and improve focus during the test. Visualizations and positive affirmations are powerful tools to boost confidence and alleviate anxiety, enabling candidates to approach the exam with a positive mindset. Incorporating breathing exercises for relaxation can further aid in maintaining composure throughout the testing process. These mental preparation strategies equip aspiring nurses with the inner strength and resilience needed to tackle the NCLEX with confidence and achieve their professional goals.

7. Create a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is pivotal in ensuring a successful NCLEX journey. Building a robust support system can provide the motivation and encouragement needed to persevere through the challenging preparation period. Open and honest communication with family and friends helps establish a nurturing atmosphere, as they can better understand the demands and offer essential emotional backing. Handling social media and peer comparisons is equally vital. It’s important to avoid getting entangled in the stress-inducing cycle of comparing one’s progress to others. Fostering a supportive environment that prioritizes emotional well-being can significantly enhance one’s ability to stay focused and composed throughout the NCLEX preparation process.

8. Manage Test-Day Anxiety

Managing test-day anxiety is a critical component of NCLEX success. Preparing the night before can significantly reduce stress by ensuring that all necessary materials, identification, and any essential documents are organized and ready. Proper nutrition and staying hydrated on the day of the exam are fundamental to maintaining optimal mental and physical condition, allowing for clear thinking and sustained energy.

Additionally, practicing positive visualization before the exam can help instill a sense of confidence and composure. These strategies collectively contribute to a calm and collected test-day experience, empowering candidates to approach the NCLEX with the utmost readiness and focus. Try to schedule the examination so that you have appropriate time for self-care both before and after the exam. Self-care can go a long way to alleviating stress.

During the NCLEX Exam

Managing your mindset and approach during the NCLEX is necessary for a successful outcome. To avoid panic during the test, it’s essential to stay composed and not let challenging questions disrupt your overall rhythm. Using breaks effectively is crucial for recharging and regaining focus. Taking short, purposeful breaks can help maintain mental sharpness. One ten minute break every 50 minutes has been shown to recharge ones mental acuity and focus. Staying focused and confident throughout the exam is essential. Believe in your preparation and ability to tackle each question, maintaining a positive and resilient mindset.

Post-Exam Coping Strategies

After completing the NCLEX, it’s crucial to employ effective post-exam coping strategies. Debriefing and reflecting on the exam can help you identify areas of improvement and better prepare for future attempts if necessary. However, it’s equally important to avoid post-exam rumination, as excessive dwelling on the test can lead to unnecessary stress. Instead, reward yourself for your efforts and dedication. Celebrate the journey you’ve undertaken, regardless of the exam’s outcome, and acknowledge your hard work.

Coping with NCLEX Results

To cope with NCLEX results, begin by understanding the NCLEX scoring system to grasp your performance and identify areas for improvement. Managing expectations and emotions is essential, as your results may not always align with your expectations. Stay resilient and adaptable in the face of varying outcomes. If a retake is necessary, create a well-structured plan to address weaknesses and enhance your chances of success in subsequent attempts. These coping strategies help candidates navigate the challenging terrain of NCLEX results, ensuring they remain focused on their ultimate goal of becoming a registered nurse.

9. Maintain Overall Well-being during NCLEX Preparation

Ensuring overall well-being while preparing for the NCLEX is a paramount concern. Balancing study and self-care is crucial, as it prevents burnout and maintains mental and emotional stability. Physical exercise plays a significant role in stress management, as it releases endorphins and enhances overall resilience. Moreover, the impact of nutrition on managing anxiety should not be underestimated, as a well-balanced diet can provide the necessary energy and focus for effective study sessions. By addressing these aspects, aspiring nurses can optimize their well-being throughout their NCLEX preparation journey, setting the stage for success.

10. Seek Professional Support

Seeking professional support during your NCLEX preparation is a wise step to ensure that you’re equipped to navigate the challenges effectively. Recognizing when you need help is an important first step. Accessing various mental health resources can provide valuable guidance and emotional support during the stressful preparation period. Joining supportive study groups and communities can foster a sense of camaraderie and shared learning experiences, reducing feelings of isolation. These avenues for professional support can significantly enhance your overall readiness and well-being, helping you confidently approach the NCLEX with a robust support network in place.

The journey to becoming a registered nurse, culminating in the NCLEX, is undeniably challenging. It’s not just a test of knowledge but also a test of mental and emotional resilience. To succeed, we’ve explored a range of strategies, from understanding the exam’s format and unique question types to maintaining overall well-being and seeking professional support when needed.

Yet, as you stand on the cusp of this significant milestone, it’s essential to remember that managing stress and anxiety is an integral part of the process. Embrace mindfulness, visualization, and positive affirmations, as well as practicing effective breathing exercises. This can reduce anxiety and bolster your confidence on test day.

As you enter the NCLEX exam room, take a deep breath, trust in your abilities, and recall the reasons that led you to this moment. With mindfulness, visualization, and a positive mindset, you can navigate this challenge with confidence.


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