How to Answer NCLEX Questions

Answering NCLEX Questions: Top Five Tips

1. Understand the Components of the Question

Each question contains a stem, which is the core part of the question that describes the patient and situation. There will also be distractors, which are erroneous facts or answers designed (as the name suggests) to distract you. Read the entire question carefully and identify the stem, looking for key phrases or repeated words that can help you identify the correct answer.

Tip: An absolute answer is rarely the correct one. If two possible answers are exact opposites, chances are one of those is the correct answer.

2. Focus on a Single Scenario

In contrast to actual medical care settings, in which a nurse often juggles multiple complex tasks, NCLEX questions are designed to be looked at as if there is only one patient. It is also assumed that the scenario presented contains all the needed instructions. The option to call the doctor should only be considered when there are concerns of disease complications that the nurse cannot do anything about.

Tip: Keep things simple. Don't read too much into a scenario or make things more complicated than they actually are. Take each question at face value.

3. Prioritize Issues and Tasks Properly

Questions will contain scenarios with quite a bit of information. It's your job to determine what the most important information or response is to the given scenario. When determining the priorities, remember that proper assessment should always be the first step. Start with basic survival and safety issues, such as breathing. Establish your next steps based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Tip: Remember that, while sometimes all answers to an NCLEX question may seem correct, one is usually the priority action.

4. Manage Your Time During the Exam

The NCLEX-PN exam has a five-hour time limit, while the NCLEX-RN exam allows for six hours. However, there can be anywhere from 85-205 questions on the NCLEX-PN and 75-265 questions on the NCLEX-RN. While this seems like a wide range, keep in mind that the length of the questions determines how many questions your exam will have. The tests are designed to give you 1.3 minutes per question - some may take considerably less time and some might take a little longer. Also keep in mind that, while you can take as many breaks as you want, all breaks, sample questions and the tutorial are counted as part of the total testing time.

Tip: Don't overthink or second-guess a test question. Though quick questions can help you accumulate some extra time for more complex questions, try to keep the time you spend on those more difficult ones limited to two minutes to ensure you have time to finish the test.

5. Build Your Confidence and Essential Knowledge

How you prepare for the NCELEX will determine your performance on the exam. The comprehensive NCLEX-PN Study Guide and the NCLEX-RN Study Guide are based on the exams and cover all of the topics you'll need to know to pass. These online resources allow you to study where you want, when you want and easily review and re-review the topics you need the most help with. Each lesson comes with a short quiz so you can gauge when you've got the information mastered.

You can also find some free online practice questions for the NCLEX exams. When using these resources, make sure they follow the most current exam. For a more general test prep option, this Fundamentals of Nursing course lets you refresh your knowledge of nursing basics.

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