Studying for the NCLEX-RN Examination

Study smart and study well! Remember, this is your future. It represents short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain.

Identify Areas for Intensive Review
Evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. Often, it is a temptation to spend most of your study time reviewing material you already know quite well. This is because what you know best is most often material that you like, find easy, and are interested in (that is why you learned it well in the beginning). It is comfortable material and makes you feel good about taking the examination. Avoid this pitfall. Spend most of the time on what you do not know so well.

Begin identifying what you do not know so well by thinking about what areas you did least well on in nursing school or had the least experience with—write them down. These may be broad areas of practice, for example, pediatrics or mental health/psychiatric nursing or specific topics such as acid—base balance, burns, or problems of the nervous system. If you are not a recent graduate, also identify those things that you did well in nursing school but have not had any recent experience with; these areas will need review but not as much time as those areas you did not know really well in the beginning. Be careful about assuming that since you have a lot of experience in a practice area you do not need to review. Remember NCLEX is a theory/textbook-oriented examination. The questions and answers are based on what “should be” in practice, not on the shortcuts and improvisations that “are.” Whether you are a new or a not-so-new graduate, review the list of topics in the NCLEX-RN test plan found in this book and judge your level of comfort with each, referring of course to the list you made as the first part of this exercise. Mark with two checks those topics you feel you really do not know; make one check by those that you probably do not know really well. This will serve as a guide to make sure you review the areas most important to you.

Develop a Realistic Schedule for Review
Dividing up material into achievable goals is smart. Each time you meet a goal, you feel more positive about yourself and your ability to deal with the material and the examination. This reduces stress and hence supports your ability to be successful. There are different ways to develop a realistic schedule. One way is to determine the number of days until you are scheduled to take the NCLEX-RN®. Also, determine how many hours on how many of these days can you realistically study. Be sure to allow for down time. After all, no one can study without a break and everyone must eat, sleep, bathe, etc. Tally total available study times/hours. Now assign study times/hours to the topics for review. Working from the test plan topics that you have marked according to how well you feel you know them, assign hours first to the topics needing in-depth review. These are the most important topics to review because you have already acknowledged that you do not feel you know them. Next, assign study times to those topics, which you decided you probably do not know well, and then to those needing a less-detailed review. Finally, place the topics in the order you will study them. Alternate hard and easy topics and topics you like with those you do not like—this will help keep you from
shortening your scheduled study time.

To have enough time to study well you may need to make some temporary changes in your lifestyle. You may need to take time off from work, negotiate sharing of household tasks with others in the house, delay some projects or activities, and limit your social life. Only you can determine what is the best approach to ensure the time you need for study but as you consider your options remember— cramming is not one of them. It will not work. There is way too much material.

Select a Study Place That Works for You
Your study place should be quiet and convenient. A place you will be undisturbed but with space for your study materials. It should have good light to facilitate reading without developing eyestrain and/or a headache, a comfortable seat, and an ambient temperature that is not so warm that it makes you sleepy and not so cold that it distracts you from studying. Lying in bed or on a couch to study is not a good idea as it is at best relaxing, and at worst, sleep-inducing. A certain level of awake alertness is necessary for successful studying.

Select a Study Time That Works for You
Different people are most alert at different times of the day. Some people are “morning people” and concentrate best on first getting up; others are night people and concentrate best in the evening. Some people have periods of best function at two different times of the day. Analyze yourself to determine when your most productive intellectual periods are and then plan to study the most challenging material during these
times. Plan to review material that needs less intense study at other times. If you have family responsibilities around which you must organize study time, involve family members in planning how to make your best study times available for working on your NCLEX-RN review.

Make Use of All Available Time for Study
You can learn a great deal, relatively painlessly, by making good use of small amounts of available time throughout the day. You may have done this during nursing school. If so, recall some of your strategies. If not, begin to develop timeeffective study techniques now.
Examples of how you can capitalize on bits of unused time:
• Review a brief set of laboratory values, the principles of a nursing procedure, or assessment parameters for a specific disease in the 5 minutes before you take a shower, then use the time in the shower to repeat them to yourself.
• Write information to be learned on an index card(s) and study when standing in line at the grocery store or when waiting to pick children up at the school bus, etc.

Prepare Yourself for Studying
Collect your notes, books, pens, highlighters, etc. Eliminate potential distractions: Shut off the cell phone; get
out of range of the land phone; shut off the TV, CD player, and radio. Go to the bathroom. Refresh yourself: Wash your face and hands. Brush your teeth. Get something to drink. Do whatever you need to do so that you will not feel uncomfortable or have to interrupt your studying.

Study Effectively
When you study, engage yourself with the content; mechanical reading of notes is useless. Research shows that the more actively you engage with the content, the better you learn. So take notes, underline or highlight, repeat content out loud; walk back and forth while you memorize; try to think what questions could be asked about the subject being reviewed.

Use a sequence of study—rest/reward—review. For example, study for 50 minutes. Take a 10-minute break. Reward yourself. Have a cup of tea or take a shower. Do not get involved in a mentally demanding activity that will cause you to lose your focus on the examination material. Take 10 minutes to review the material you just studied. As you review, mark any areas for which you think, “I don’t really know that” or “I had forgotten about that.” Go back and review the marked areas at the beginning of your next day’s study. To keep up your motivation, you can also do things like putting signs on your wall that say “You can do it.” or “This will be over in__days.” You can plan to go out to eat or buy a new dress if you meet your goal. Again, think about what motivational tricks work for you and use them.

Know When to Stop
When scheduling study, it is also important to recognize when you have studied to your capacity. Your time is valuable and you do not want to waste it by trying to study when you are beyond your ability to concentrate. It is better to take a break or accomplish something else that needs to get done and then return to studying with refreshed concentration. You will learn more in the end. So, again analyze yourself. You did a lot of studying in nursing school. What is the length of time you can usually concentrate? What are the telltale signs of when you are no longer learning effectively? Take these factors into consideration as you schedule study.
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