"When you get those rare moments of clarity, those flashes when the universe makes sense, you try desperately to hold on to them. They are the life boats for the darker times, when the vastness of it all, the incomprehensible nature of life is completely illusive. So the question becomes, or should have been all a long... What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live. What life boat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfill? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write?"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to Study for the NCLEX

Okay. So, like I said, somehow on this wonderful great Earth, I passed the NCLEX. Without taking any prep class. And I'm no smartie pants, trust me. So for all you future nursing students, or seniors, or post-graduates still waiting to take the test, let me give you a few tips. Because If I could pass it, anyone can.

Disclaimer: It is highly very much so highly incredibly highly against the law to give out ANY information about ANY test questions or test material. So, I will take you from graduation day up until you sit down (literally) to take the test. From there on, well....you're on your own.

So here it is...how to do well on the NCLEX:
Step One: Post-Graduation:

The most important thing to do in step/phase one is to GO HAVE FUN! This is so important and I cannot stress it enough. You just graduated from a nursing program! You did it! You deserve to go do anything fun! Not just one day of fun. Go have a month long spree of fun, let your brain on overload have a BREAK, and just go do new things, meet new people, see new sights. TRAVEL! And most importantly during this month, don't open an NCLEX book. Chances are during this month post-graduation your ATT test number isn't ready anyway and therefore you don't even have a date set in stone anyway, so just have fun and relax. If you jump into nclex right after graduation, your brain is still on too much stress/overload. It just needs a breather. Also, right after graduation, your mind is probably so focused on what your last semester was information-wise. Take some time to let your brain adjust and re-gather everything you learned over the last four years, you're gonna need it.

In this phase, I went to Europe. At first I was incredibly nervous about this because this delayed any studying by a month after graduation. Meanwhile my fellow classmates were already in NCLEX prep classes not even a week after graduation! I was nervous. I thought, oh man- they are so much already on their game....I'm not even taking any class. How can I possibly pass? But it turns out taking that month off was the best thing I ever could have done.

Step Two: Buy An NCLEX study program/ Book

This is a very very flexible phase. I will tell you what I did, but that is by no means the absolute best way. There are a LOT of great nclex-prep programs and study books out there, but I will tell you what to try and look for.

After I got my test date set in stone, I knew I had exactly 6 weeks. So I bought the NCSBN's Nclex Prep Course for only $50 (VERY worth it!). This was a month long and requires 27 hours per week (on average) to finish it. I certainly did not put that time in, but it was still very worth the money. This program takes you through from the fundamentals of nursing, theory and anatomy up to the very end of nursing. It takes you through a very detailed but concise review of the most important facts you need to know, and then reviews with you with a post-test after each review. It even has a pre-diagnostic test so you can see where your weaknesses are from the very beginning. When you are done with the review sesssions (if you can make it through all of them), there is a couple full practice exams at the very end that you can just do on your own time.

The BEST part is, is that the NCSBN (National Council of the State Boards of Nursing).....(I think)...they DESIGN THE TEST. Um, hello, $50 for a course designed by the people that design the real exam, compared to a $600 nclex prep course by (insert common nclex prep program here) that doesn't design the exam? Its kind of a no-brainer....right?

This is not to say a real course is not for you. Some people need a $600 prep course where you sit in traffic a week after graduation in the hot summer and commute every day to sit in a review course and go over countless questions and then come back and do it again the next day. That is for some people. Some people don't have the attention span to do it over the computer. For less money.

So, eventually that program expires. However, I also had in my back wing a $50 NCLEX prep BOOK ( this one ) to use after the first program expires. Now, I thought this book was great. It was just questions. But it first separates not only by body system but then separates again into particular diseases/syndromes/conditions so that you can review specific things you need help on.  At the end of the book, is about 6 full (180 Q) practice exams that are jumbled in terms of question content. Just like the real nclex.

Now, This is very important. In my opinion, you can't just have questions. Your brain can't fully learn that way. Your brain can't apply what it learns from getting one question wrong to a real question on the nclex. Thats a surefire way to spiral down quickly. If you don't take a review course, you need to find some way to review before/ during your questions. Now there are some books out there that review and then ask questions, but this is what I did... Our school used the ATI nursing exam-prep computer program throughout our entire 4 years at school. Now, thats all good and well because it got us used to nclex style testing very quickly, but the point is this: we got to keep our ATI review books, one book per nursing class. I could find no better way to review.

So I let fate take its course and decide what I needed to review. I used a random number generator and let that decide what page to turn to on my question book, and if it brought me to "Hydatiform Mole" in the maternity section, I would go get my maternity book, review everything about hydatiform mole, and THEN take the 20 questions on it. Your brain needs to review on a topic and then get asked questions on it.....get it? So whether or not you choose to review with the NCSBN course, or ATI, or another random book, or your school notes-textbooks, whatever. Also, remember during review that nclex isn't about remembering every detail about every disease. Know the HUGE points. The obvious obvious points about a lot of things that can happen in nursing. From then on, its all about using that basic knowledge combined with knowing "How to answer a question even if you have no idea what they are talking about".

So I did that random number generator type practice review, jumping around from topic to topic all day, and then did one comprehensive test at night.It is also really important during this stage to TAKE BREAKS. Trust me, I thought there was no way I would pass because I took too many breaks. I have done SO MANY fun things this summer and by no means did I sit at a table doing nclex every day (other than the week of the test). I would do one day of review for about 2 hours, and then wouldn't look at it again for another 3 days and then do another couple-hour review. You have to go at a comfortable pace and do what you feel right for you.

A rule of thumb: the very minute you find yourself re-reading questions for the second, third or fourth time before you actually READ it, stop. Stop studying completely. If its night time, just go to bed or relax. If its in the middle of the day, go do something that doesnt require much brain power. This is your brain telling you, you need a break! Don't be afraid or guilty to take one!

Step Three:

The week of the test, 7 days left to go:

I prepped for what was going to happen the week of the test before the week came. I told friends and family that I would not be able to hang out very much that week, besides the must-do things like work. The week of, (in my opinion) it IS time to buckle down. You DO NEED BREAKS, but this is not a good time to schedule a vacation or take a three day trip to see your best friend. However, study like you've never studied before all day, (10-4) ish, and then relax by night. Watch a movie. Eat healthy. Just relax.

Step Four: Day before the test

Everyone has a different opinion on what to do the day before. I am a nervous worry freak person, and I did not feel ready yet so I kept reviewing, but I set limits. I told myself I would stop no matter what by 5 pm. And I stopped at 5:43 pm (lol), but it was still a nice stopping time. After that, I put it all away. I made a really good dinner, watched a favorite tv show, went out for Rita's with my family, wrote a blog, and took a bubble bath and thought about nothing. Other activities I suggest doing, depending on what you like to do: Listen to music that you LOVE, read a book, watch a movie, go for a run, go swimming, do anything that you love to do that has nothing to do with NURSING! Get away from all things nursing. Give your brain this one last chance to just relax, because you're gonna need all your brain power the next day!

I want to tell you to go to bed early and get lots of sleep, but I know just as well as you that this is unlikely. I went to bed later than I should have and slept maybe all of about 30 minutes because I was nervous. So, not sure how to help you with that other than to say TRY to go to bed early, and get lots of sleep, but...you know. Its hard. I get it.

Step Five: Day of the Test

I had my exam scheduled at 8 AM which I think was WONDERFUL. I woke up at 530, ate a lovely breakfast I made for myself, left house by 615, got there by 7 and was in the registration process by 730.

Taking it so early, I didn't really have time to be nervous. I kind of felt cool and calm, because there is no point in making yourself a nervous bunch of nerves, because there is nothing more you can do at this point to prepare. The best you can do at this point is CALM DOWN, take a deep breath, and use all your brain power to take the exam. That is all.

And that IS all!

If you are taking it soon, know that I know exactly how you feel. I did NOT think I would pass, I had very little confidence. I was nervous that I never took that class, and only studied on my own. I didn't think I was smart enough to take it and pass. But I did. I stopped at 83 questions and that was that.

Tip: when I hit 76, I did the universal freak-out moment. I did. I said I wouldn't freak out but I did. Because its nerve wracking. At 76 you know the computer is unsure about you and you could stop in 3 questions or in 150 questions, and you just have to keep answering. So after 76, I said a little prayer and just really, really, concentrated on each question and did the best I could possibly do- and what do you know- it shut off 8 questions later and I was done. I could have jumped for joy!

So, for all my fellow nursing students out there, it will be OKAY. I promise. It truly is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Just REVIEW, PRACTICE A LOT OF QUESTIONS (this gets you used to knowing which answers are B.S.) and keep calm, and carry on!


A Writer in a Nurses Body


PJ said...

Thanks for the study plan, Julie! Even though I am not taking the NCLEX, I have followed a similar format for my LSAT studies, and will take your wisdom to heart for the remaining six weeks or so until my test date!

Gem said...

Well buying a book is a great suggestion. I would also like to recommend to people who are reviewing for NCLEX like me that there are good resources online. For instance, mobile apps and smashword ebook, here:

Discount Code: VX68F
Code expires: November 15th

You can use these to aid you in the review as I find it very helpful.

Health Careers said...

I like your blog a lot. Its informative and full of information. Thank you for sharing.

Gregor Renk said...

Wow! it has been beautiful written. How come you ended up as a nurse, you must actually be a writer. Well, I also love writing a lot and I am sure this thing will help me a lot during my LSAT Courses. Most of the students find essay writing a lot very difficult but I guess it will be very easy for people like us.

Ravinder Singh said...

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