Top NCLEX Test Taking Strategies

You’ve signed up for the Next Gen NCLEX (NGN) and have a study plan ready to go. Now, you want to know the best way to approach the exam. To help build your confidence and set you up for success on exam day, we’re going to dive into the best NCLEX test taking strategies. 

We’ll discuss things like what to do if you’re stuck on a question, whether you can skip items on the exam, and if you should stick with your gut when you second-guess yourself. And we’ll go over some ways of handling the new question formats on the NCLEX. While they may seem a bit intimidating, you’ll see the new item formats make it easier for you to demonstrate a lot of what you learned in nursing school. 

We’ll start by spending a bit of time reviewing basic information about the format of the exam. That’ll set us up for a good discussion about the best NCLEX test taking strategies. 

Let’s begin. 


What is the Next Generation NCLEX?

We’ll go over more about the exam itself in our blog, “What is the Next Generation NCLEX?” but since understanding the exam is important for knowing the best NCLEX test taking strategies, here’s a quick rundown!

Exam Format

There will be at least 85 questions and at most 150 questions during the allotted five-hour period. You can take breaks during the allotted time.

Of the minimum 85 questions, 18 questions will tie into three clinical judgment case studies. 

The NextGen NCLEX is a computer adaptive test. What does that mean? Essentially, the number of questions you receive and the duration of the exam will be based on your responses. And the questions you get are based on your responses to previous questions. 

This differs from traditional testing, where everyone (of all abilities) gets the same exact exam. The exam will give you hard questions to assess your clinical judgment and skill, and questions to cover the general content areas that should be within your ability. This ensures you aren’t only given easy questions.

Partial Credit Scoring

A cool feature of the NextGen NCLEX is partial credit scoring. This scoring format is only applicable to certain item types, but it’s still a great addition to the exam! You’ll see partial credit given as:

+/- scoring

You receive a point if a response is correct and lose a point if a response is incorrect. If the total score is negative, then you receive a “0” on that item.

 0/1 scoring

You receive a point if a response is correct and receive no points for an incorrect response. 

Rationale Scoring

You only receive credit when all responses are correct. So, you have to show understanding of the concept by answering “X” happens, then “Y” happens. It would look like:

– The nurse must do “X” to do “Y.” 

– The client is at risk for “X” as evidenced by “Y” and “Z.”


Top NCLEX Test Taking Strategies

Now let’s dive into some great strategies for taking the NextGen NCLEX. Here’s six that’ll help you crush it on exam day: 

1. What should I do if I’m stuck on a question during the NCLEX?

So, you’re sitting at the computer and you find yourself stuck on a question. What do you do? 

First, breathe. Every single nurse has been stuck on a question, it’s okay. This means you want to keep your client safe! 

Next, reread the question. Look for any clues that’ll help you answer it. These words may be “priority,” “immediate,” or “most.” 

Then, review the choices and immediately eliminate any answers, if possible. (Alternatively, I would sometimes try to answer the question before reading the choices to see if that would shake my perspective up a little bit.) 

Then, answer the question to the best of your ability. If you still feel stuck, it’s okay. In real life, we would ask a peer a question. The test is simply going to adapt to your response. 

2. Should I work through it and spend extra time on it, or can I skip it and come back at the end if I have time?

Unfortunately, you can’t skip any questions on the exam. Only one question appears on the screen at a time and it must be answered to move on to the next question. 

As far as how much time to spend on each question, that answer is a little nuanced. Plan to spend about one or two minutes on each question, but there’s some flexibility there. 

Nursing school has no shortage of exams, so you have a feel for your test-taking speed. You may answer some questions faster than others, so it’s okay to occasionally spend more time on a difficult question. 

Just remember to be mindful of your exam time! 

3. If I second-guess myself during the NCLEX, should I stick to my gut or change my answer?

I once had a nursing school instructor that would take erasers away from students who second-guessed too much. For real! They always said to trust your gut during exams. 

But—if you’re really second-guessing yourself—take a breath and do a quick restart of the question. Read it thoroughly. Look for your clues. Is it a priority question? Which word is in bold? 

Then, try to answer the question in your head before looking at the answers. Look at the choices and see what your gut tells you.

If you have a stronger feeling, pick that choice. If you’re still on the fence, stick with your original answer and keep going! 

One thing I would remind myself of during the exam was that it was okay to just not know the answer. It’s not a bad thing to simply not know the answer. Answer to the best of your ability, take a breath, and take on the next question!

4. Any tips for approaching different types of NCLEX questions?

The exam will showcase a number of new item formats to assess your ability as an entry-level nurse. Here are a couple of ways to become familiar with those new item formats before taking the exam!

Check out the NCSBN website for information on the different item types and scoring.

Use question banks to practice answering the new item formats. At their core, these items are the same as traditional questions. They’re meant to assess your ability to practice as a nurse. Take a moment to recognize the item format and proceed through the question when you’re comfortable doing so. 

Double-check your answers on items that require you to select more than one choice. This would be relevant in select-all-that-apply questions, dropdown items, hot spot items, and matrix items, for example. Of course, it’s always great to double-check your work, but definitely read through these multiple-response items. 

Take a look at our NCLEX live study group and other resources on the Blueprint Nursing website. We have new item formats and case studies in our content and are introducing more regularly!

5. What are some tips for managing anxiety during the NCLEX? 

Of course, we always want to acknowledge that the NCLEX is a big deal. It’s our last step before becoming a real-deal nurse. So it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous!

But what can you do if you’re feeling anxious during the exam? Take a break! 

It sounds so simple, I know. But, a purposeful interruption of anxious energy during the exam can prevent the anxiety from building.

There are two breaks provided during the NCLEX with additional breaks offered upon request. During the break, move your body and breathe. Acknowledge your anxiety and let the thought pass. 

When you’re about ready to return to the exam, repeat a phrase or mantra that will get you back in the zone.

For anxiety management before the exam, check out our Facebook group for peer support!

6. Any other NCLEX test taking strategies? 

One last thing! Be sure to look at our other blog “NCLEX FAQs: Scheduling, What to Bring, & More!” about how to get ready for exam day. This blog gives you an idea of what to wear, when to arrive, and what to expect when you take the NCLEX.

This is a way to familiarize yourself with what the day will look like when you arrive at the testing center. It’ll help you feel at ease right before the exam.


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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