Yes, I was one of those unfortunate souls who got every single question on the NCLEX…but guess what? I passed! We all know you can pass OR fail in as low as 75 questions, up to all 265. I already heard from several of my classmates who passed in just 75 questions the week before. That was going to be me too, of course. My mind started spiraling when I hit question #76 and I became sick when I hit the 200s. Everyone I started testing with finished hours before me. Soon I was all alone. It was agonizing not knowing if I was just one question away from seeing a black screen or not. 265 questions and 5 hours later, I sat in the parking lot, called my mom, and cried. I couldn’t stop panicking. I was convinced I failed and left feeling so unsure of myself. I was frantically trying to remember what the last question was and if I got it right or wrong. I don’t recommend trying to think about any of the questions or answers by the way!
When I got home, I tried the Pearson VUE trick and it seemingly worked. However, I couldn’t stop sulking until I got my official results 48 hours later. You have to pay for expedited results, but it was worth every penny to end my misery. I was then crying tears of joy and my parents took me out for dinner and drinks 😊 I was proudly one of Michigan’s newest RNs!
Our school exclusively used Kaplan as a resource and their books/practice Qs were all I used. (Unfortunately, I have no experience with HESI or ATI so I can’t tell you how well those prepare you). We took a mandatory 2-week in-person course after graduation and then studied on our own until we felt ready. I graduated early May and took it on June 24th. I took a mini-vacation after graduation and then spent ~6 weeks solely dedicated to studying. How much time you need to prepare depends entirely on you. While I felt prepared for what would be tested on, I was not prepared for the actual testing experience. You go the testing center, get fingerprinted, have your picture taken, and wait with people who are taking a variety of other exams. Then, you are called into a small computer room with big cameras behind you. There are big, bulky headphones waiting at your station. No talking or looking around. It was very impersonal and unwelcoming. The experience is what you’d imagine it to be. Yet, I didn’t imagine myself sitting there until I actually was. My best advice is to do some imagery and have meditation techniques in mind beforehand!
Understand how the NCLEX-CATworks but don’t agonize over it. Watch this video about what to expect before you start studying any content. Learn the pass/fail scenarios and then move on.
Your nursing school test scores and overall grades don’t always correlate to NCLEX success à you still need to PREPARE more than any exam before. The studying is not the same and your nursing school notes won’t be enough. You now need to think like a nurse, not just to pass a test.
Take a review course. I’m assuming it will be virtual this year but still take one. It keeps you accountable and allows you to ask questions as you have them. The course also taught me how questions will be asked.
Do as many practice questions as possible. I used the Kaplan Content Guidebook (link) that came with the course and answered all the practice Qs in the book and online Qbank. You will get vital feedback about what content areas you need to study the most. They also put your knowledge to the test in different ways.(Do all the remediation too, as annoying as it is)
Practice taking exams like it’s the actual test day. Go to a library cubicle with big headphones, no interruptions, no music, and no notes. Try-out your mindfulness techniques and learn when to take a break (I didn’t take one but should have!)
Don’t assume you’ll pass in 75 questions. Prepare your mind like you’re in it for the long haul. If I had some more endurance with taking up to 265 Qs at a time, I wouldn’t have spiraled so easily.
No one will know or care how many Qs it took you. Your future manager won’t ask, and no one will remember how many times it took you to pass! You will STILL get your nursing license.
Take some breaths. You are more prepared than you think you are. Be confident in yourself, you got this!
**Obviously don’t cram, but here is a good cheat sheet that still seems helpful. I can’t guarantee the accuracy since it was made in 2012, but the general concepts are similar.
***STICK TO A CONSISTENT STUDY SCHEDULE. Print out a monthly calendar and fill in all the days/hours you plan to study, with the topics too. Give yourself some off days. Having a pretty, organized calendar makes it more exciting when you’re getting close to the end!
Some of the best nurses I know didn’t pass the 1st time, so don’t let it get you down if that happens. You WILL pass and be a great nurse! Please feel free to reach out with any questions you have. I’d love to help!
Soo how did I end up getting a job I love so much? Looking back, it all started from several events that I considered failures. Way before graduation, I was already looking up NP schools and pediatric programs. It was my end goal and I eagerly (mostly naively) wanted to start as soon as possible. I applied to an acute care pediatric NP Master’s program in December of my senior year. I attended one other informational session, but did I end up only applying to one school? Yes…Probably wouldn’t recommend it if you want to start right away. However, I was stubborn and slightly cockier than I should have been at the time. I’ll have another post later on for how to stand out as a candidate!
In January, I started my senior clinical in the PICU. While it was almost entirely luck that I got this placement, it was the first crucial step of my journey. At the end of January, I was notified about a grad school admission interview to be held in early February. I thought it went well. I vividly remember my dad taking me and going to Angelo’s afterwards to celebrate. I was also doing everything possible to get my first nursing job and went to the hospital career fair in March. At the end of March, I was notified that I was wait listed once again. All I could do was work on getting hired and wait some more. After clinical was over in April, I emailed the PICU nursing supervisor, who I came to know, about a potential job opportunity following graduation. She requested my resume and the process started from there. I spent most of April applying to new grad positions and the finally found out I was admitted to my dream grad program. Then came graduation and I eventually took the NCLEX on June 24. This was a lot later than many of my peers and I unfortunately got all 265 questions. It was awful and I cried the whole day…will have a post later on about how to pass.
On my birthday (July 17), I got my official offer email for a PICU new grad position to begin in early August. Again, this was later than many of my peers. but I was willing to wait as long as possible to get a job I truly wanted. It is hard to get a new grad job in pediatrics unless you have connections such as being a tech on a peds floor. I started orientation, was making new friends, and then reality hit. I started class in early September and together with ICU orientation, I started to crumble. Emotionally and physically, I was spent. I had never been a nurse before, let alone an ICU nurse taking care of critically ill children. I was a nursing aid (patient care assistant to be exact) during my senior year, but it was in adult oncology and hardly prepared me. I started to fail at both work and school. I cried every day. I began to think I was so dumb because I wasn’t doing well in orientation and barely passed my first few exams.
I had several meetings at work about my slow progress and along with some family issues, made the decision to drop out of my dream program in early October. Not only was I devasted and embarrassed, but I then began struggling more at work. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt alone and ashamed. I worked too hard to not be in grad school and to be getting fired from my first job. Failure? Yeah, I thought so. All around I was a failure. I couldn’t stop crying when the manager told me I wasn’t going to continue with orientation. I thought I would never work in pediatrics again…Fortunately, since she thought I was a “good enough” nurse (coupled with her kindness), she helped me to get another job at the children’s hospital and told me to reapply in two years. I ended up starting my dream job on a pediatric general care floor in November, where I still am, and where I have met some amazing people. It was a 40-hour night position that allowed me to gain a strong foundation as a nurse. I restarted the grad program (and at this point switched to the DNP option) the following fall. My current nursing manager is also incredible and allowed me to decrease my hours to 28 once I started school.
That leads me to the moral of the story that the “sun will rise in the morning” Despite what I thought was a double failure, it ended up being what was best for me. If you don’t pass the NCLEX on the first try, don’t get into a grad program right away, get rejected from job interviews, or get fired from your first job like me, don’t give up. Everything that happens to you makes you who you are. As cliché as it is, everything happens for a reason. Just remember, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” -Nelson Mandela
I entered college knowing I wanted to work in healthcare. I enjoyed science and wanted to help people in the most personal way. However, nursing never really crossed my mind. I thought I was going to go to medical school to become a pediatrician. I took a lot of pre-med courses but hated them all. I dreaded them. Class and lab weren’t enjoyable, and they made me question my abilities. I knew college wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that to reach your dreams you were going to have to work hard, push yourself, and put yourself through courses that are unbearable. However, I strongly believe that you have to like the journey you’re on just a little. I saw my friends in nursing school going to clinical in their uniforms, interacting with real patients, and taking courses that seemed much more interesting to me. I was jealous. I played around with the idea of nursing but knew transferring to the school as a sophomore meant staying for another whole year. I wouldn’t graduate with my friends if I stayed for five years. I hated thinking about it as I would miss out on so much. Yet, I went to a transfer informational session and applied anyway.
My mom is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, which undoubtedly made it easier to choose nursing school. She always talked about her job but for some reason I never gave it much thought until I finally gave nursing the respect it deserved. However, I want to emphasize that you do not have to have family in the medical field to be interested or excel in it. Your parents or siblings may begin to pave your path for you, but I think it’s much more authentic if you choose it yourself.
I had the choice of graduating with my friends and then applying to a nursing second-degree program instead. However, the programs were generally over twelve months so it would take longer overall to get my BSN. Both options had their flaws but transferring sooner than later made more sense. I applied and was wait listed. At this point, I was already on a student advisory board, joined a rec sport, conducting undergrad research, and was a weekly hospital volunteer. There was a few nursing pre-reqs I needed to complete and once I sent my grades, I was finally admitted. The next three years were everything I hoped and expected college to be. The courses were difficult and challenging. However, I enjoyed studying for them (especially thanks to my now successful lawyer best friend who studied with me every night). I loved learning about L&D, pediatrics, psych, etc. It also helped that our professors were out of this world and had clinical at such an amazing hospital. This is not to say that I didn’t struggle through pharmacology or cry at clinical at least once…You don’t have to love every step of the journey you’re on, but you do have to want to stay on it.
Despite the hassle of another application, another year of studying for tests, and not getting to graduate or celebrate with my friends, I made the right choice. I would choose it all over again too. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach your goals as long as you get there. Don’t ever let your age or the timeline you set in your head stop you. It will be worth it every single time.