Before you can become certified as a nurse and start working in the hospital setting, you will need to pass at least one standardized exam post-graduation. As if school wasn’t hard enough, right? While most people do pass this test, it’s generally agreed that the preparation is brutal.
To make matters worse, nurses wishing to specialize will need to take additional tests, and possibly even enroll in specialized training.
None of it is easy, but it’s all doable— particularly for someone smart and capable enough to graduate from nursing school.
In this article, we walk you through what to expect, and how to prepare for standardized tests in healthcare education.
The NCLEX is the primary standardized test that nursing school graduates will need to take before they can become certified and start working within their community. You are eligible to take the NCLEX (usually) beginning forty-five days after your graduation ceremony.
However, every state is a little different. One thing that remains true almost everywhere is that there is no rush. You are given between 3-5 years to take the test before the eligibility period lapses. Most people don’t wait nearly that long, but this timeline gives you more than enough room to prepare for as long as you need to.
If you do not pass the test on your first try (about 15% of people will fail) you can take it again after 45 days. Official guidelines allow you to take it up to eight times a year, though most candidates get it done on their first or second try.
Even after several years of nursing school, and many hours of clinical experience, the NCLEX is a difficult test that requires significant preparation. Below, we take a look at steps you can take to get ready for it.
Study Materials and Resources
Fortunately, you aren’t the first person to take the NCLEX. Because it’s a hurdle every future nurse needs to overcome to begin their career there are significant materials dedicated to getting ready for it.
If you take a look at the NCLEX website, you will find entire pages dedicated to test prep. You may also come across test booklets, flashcards, and other pre-arranged materials that are specifically organized around this test.
Focus on core topics such as pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and nursing fundamentals. Use your study materials to reinforce your knowledge and ensure you have a solid understanding of these subjects.
Your educators and friends may be able to point you in the direction of particularly useful resources. The test does change from time to time, so speaking to someone who has taken it recently is a good jumping-off point.
Manage Your Time Effectively
Hearing that you have forty-five days to get ready for a test may feel like a great opportunity, but for some people that amount of time can do more time than good. For one thing, it makes it very easy to procrastinate.
For another thing, it also gives you a lot of time to worry and psych yourself up.
You don’t want to fall into either pitfall. Instead, put together a study schedule that you can use to make the most of your time. Having the schedule premade helps to ensure that you are getting as much done as possible.
It can also be good from a psychological perspective. When you stick to your schedule it’s easier to click off during your downtime. Trust the process, and just relax!
One of the best ways to get ready is to take practice tests. This is a step that many nursing candidates like to take as they get closer to their test date. While practice tests don’t perfectly replicate the content of the actual exam, they can go a long way toward getting you ready mentally, and emotionally.
Naturally, practice tests are also a good way to gauge how ready you are for the test. Practice tests are available online. You may also be able to access them by contacting your college.
Get in Test-Taking Mode
Ideally, you will be able to taper off your studying a day or two before the exam. At this point, you should have done the bulk of your preparation. Now, it’s time to get your head right. Focus on getting good sleep, eating nutritious food, and just relaxing.
Studies show that cramming for tests usually does more harm than good. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, if you take a practice test a week before the actual exam, and it shows that you have quite a bit of work left to go, you may benefit from a few extra nights of putting in hard work.
Most of the time, however, it’s best to focus on getting in the right frame of mind. You graduated college, did your clinical, passed all of your other classes. You know your stuff. Now, it’s time for one last push. You’ve got this!
Are There Other Standardized Tests?
Yes. Most of the other exams are either regionally specific or associated with a distinct nursing subdiscipline. For example:
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
- Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
- Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN)
- Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN)
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Exam:
While these tests are different than the NCLEX, the prep work that goes into them will typically be the same. You work hard, use the materials that are available to you, and hope for the best. If you have to take an additional standardized test, start by looking into what study materials are available for it.
From there, it will be much easier to craft a study schedule that makes sense for you.
Note that if you are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, the number of possible tests expands considerably. Healthcare relies on professionals continuing their education, so be prepared not just for tests, but also a lifetime of learning.