What to Expect When You're NCLEX-ing Part I: Test Basics

Everybody's NCLEX experience is different, and we aren't allowed to discuss specific questions, but I just passed mine and will try to describe what happened generally, starting with the basics.

1. Number of questions & minimum competency

Be prepared to answer 75-265 questions on a computer. The test may shut off at 75 questions if the computer is 99% certain one has met minimum competency, or is so far below passing that there's no way to come back even with 265 questions. The majority of people seem to get 90 or more questions.

2. Content

When it comes to content areas, there are official categories about health promotion, reduction of risk potential, pharmacology, with a breakdown of percentages, but really the test is about safety and priority (which is still ultimately about safety). I got a good variety of content (almost no psych), but can't say the same for question types.

I had to answer what felt like nothing but select-all-that-apply questions (not only do you have to pick the most correct answer, you have to pick all the most correct answers!) Other types, which I hardly saw, include: fill in the black, ordering, exhibit questions, audio (didn't get one), and graphics. The new special research/case study questions at the end (didn't count towards score) were particularly unpleasant.

3. How to Answer NCLEX Questions

Remembering content from nursing school helps. On the ATI comprehensive and the NCLEX they got me on super easy gimme OB questions that I simply didn't remember. Of course you can't know everything, but at least have your normal lab levels and isolation precautions down.

Read the question and answers carefully.

Not all the questions are "fair game" (nor is real life). The scenario might make sense until things take a sharp left turn. This was supposed to happen, then that thing went wrong; what do you do now?

Eliminating the wrong answers usually helps, and if you're lucky enough to only have to select one answer, pick the most correct/least wrong one. Sometimes it really is a matter of "least wrong," because all the options are dumb, though one option is the least dangerous/messed-up.

Ask yourself, what are they asking me? Sometimes one can see right through the question and know what the test writers are "getting at," even if the questions aren't well written or b*****s  just trying to trick (I mean, distract) you.

After two years of ATI and the actual NCLEX, sometimes it just feels like a lot of guessing...I mean, nursing judgment.

Part II will cover the test center experience.

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