12 Ways to Tackle Your NCLEX Test Anxiety

We totally get it: the very thought of the NCLEX can send waves of anxiety rippling through even the most confident among us. It’s completely natural to feel a bit jittery about exam day, but it’s important not to let those butterflies in your stomach distract you from the goal ahead!

Test anxiety is a sneaky hurdle that can affect your exam performance, no matter how much you studied. But we can leap over this hurdle together! So take a deep breath, and let’s tackle this head-on, shall we?

Here’s what we recommend to defeat those NCLEX test jitters.

Pssst! Prefer to listen to our NCLEX anxiety tips? Check out this episode of the Real Deal Nurse Practitioner Club podcast!

12 Ways to Conquer Your NCLEX Test Anxiety

1. Develop a solid study plan.

Break down your study sessions into manageable, focused periods—after all, successful preparation is the best antidote to anxiety!

Covering a little bit of material every day will not only boost your memory retention but also help reduce last-minute cramming. By creating a well-structured study plan tailored to your learning style and preferences, you can ensure a more comprehensive and efficient review.

Someone who knows a thing or two about test anxiety and how to beat it is Sarah Michelle of SMNP Reviews. In her post about defeating test day anxiety, she notes that a good study plan can go a long way in reducing test day anxiety because setting up a schedule allows you to check off what you’ve learned on a daily basis, and see for yourself what you’ve done.

You’ll want to set up a study schedule that has time blocked off to do questions and includes practice NCLEX exams. Taking a practice exam will give you something concrete you can use to assess where you’re at with exam prep!

2. Make lifestyle changes that’ll allow you to focus on studying for the NCLEX.

Sarah Michelle notes that you want to organize your life in a way that allows you to make studying your first priority. If that means cutting down on your workload and other aspects of life, so be it. 

This is of course hard to do if you have a full-time job or a family, but the more you can focus on the exam, the better you’ll feel about your preparation, and the more confidence you’ll have on test day! 

3. Know the format of the NCLEX. 

Understanding the structure of the exam can significantly reduce anxiety. Since the 2023 update, the Next-Generation NCLEX includes more select-all-that-apply questions and emphasizes critical thinking. 

Practice with question formats similar to the NCLEX to familiarize yourself with the types of questions you’ll encounter. By exposing yourself to various question styles and practicing with relevant resources, you’ll build confidence and feel more prepared on exam day.

You can find some question walkthroughs on our YouTube channel!

4. Adopt healthy habits. 

Maintaining a balanced routine is crucial. Regular physical exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep are essential for keeping stress at bay. Cramming can result in fatigue and burnout, which damages your ability to think clearly and focus. 

Incorporate self-care practices into your study routine to ensure optimal mental and physical well-being throughout the preparation process!

5. Practice relaxation techniques. 

Embrace relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to clear your mind and lower stress levels. Experiment with different techniques and identify what works best for you to promote a calm and focused mindset during the exam!

6. Set realistic goals when you’re preparing for the NCLEX. 

It’s important to aim high, but setting unrealistic goals for yourself will only increase anxiety. Break your objectives into smaller, achievable milestones to build momentum and confidence as you go. 

By setting realistic goals, you’ll be able to track your progress effectively and celebrate each accomplishment, boosting your motivation and reducing anxiety.

7. Focus on what you can control. 

There are aspects of the NCLEX that are outside your control, like the specific questions you’ll encounter. Concentrate on aspects you can influence, such as preparation, mindset, and self-care. 

By directing your energy towards what you can control, you’ll feel more empowered and confident, which in turn helps alleviate anxiety!

8. Seek support.

Remember that you’re not alone in your journey. You’re part of a community of nursing students, many of whom are likely experiencing similar emotions. Share your concerns and seek advice and reassurance from mentors, peers, or online support groups (including our Facebook support group!). Social support can be a powerful tool for stress reduction, providing encouragement and guidance when you need it most.

As Sarah Michelle notes, you may also consider finding a study buddy as you prepare for your exam! A study buddy can help you feel like you have someone in your corner that you can bounce ideas off of. You can even plan to take the NCLEX at the same time and place, so you’re not going through any of it alone.

9. Visualize your success on the NCLEX.

Spend time envisioning yourself completing the NCLEX with ease. Positive visualization can help you build confidence and reduce anxiety. Imagine yourself calmly answering questions, recalling information effortlessly, and achieving a successful outcome. 

By visualizing success, you’ll cultivate a positive mindset and reinforce your belief in your abilities.

10. Do what works for you!

If you have hobbies or things you like to do that seem to reduce your stress, by all means, do them! If you need to go to the gym every day, awesome! If you need to get more sleep, make it a priority. If you have to meditate, great! Whatever works for you is what you should do.

11. Plan to take the NCLEX at a time that works for you. 

If you’re a morning person, you probably don’t want to take the exam at 4 p.m.—you won’t be at your best, and that won’t help you stay relaxed during the exam. Just knowing you’re going into the exam at a time that works for you will give you a sense of control and help you stay relaxed on exam day. 

12. Know when to get help. 

Everyone has a bit of the jitters when they’re getting ready to take a big exam. But when does that anxiety turn into something else, which may require professional help? 

This is a decision you would have to make yourself, but as Sarah Michelle notes, having trouble breathing, panicking, or thinking constantly about the exam are potentially signs of something you need help with. 

If you’re experiencing any of those things (or anything that interferes with your everyday life), it may be time to speak with an advanced practitioner. They can help you get back on track and ready for exam day!

A Healthy Mind is a Strong Mind

Remember, while your performance on the NCLEX is important, it does not define your self-worth or your ability to be an extraordinary nurse. Everybody experiences some nerves before significant moments!

By following these 12 tips, you can minimize the impact of NCLEX test anxiety and maximize your chances of success. Believe in yourself and your capabilities, as you have come a long way on your journey to becoming a licensed nurse.

Trust in your preparation, stay focused, and remain confident. And reach out if you think you need help—we’re here for you!

Looking for more (free!) content to help you pass the NCLEX-RN on the first try? Check out these other posts on the Blueprint Nursing blog:

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