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Should you study for your NCLEX exam?

February 01, 20245 min read

            I have been an NCLEX coach for a little over a year. There are some common stereotypes that are anecdotal but seem to hold true for practically every student I have coached. Students typically come to me and one of the first questions I like to ask is, “Did your nursing school encourage you to take your NCLEX exam as soon as possible?” Many of my students chuckle or gasp and respond with, “Yes!”

            Please keep in my mind that what I am about to share with you is not evidence-based practice yet. I would like to change that, though. As a lover of research, I cannot be satisfied until I understand and find the answers I am looking for. What I have found from my students and from my inquiries on a private educator group that I’m part of is this: studying for your NCLEX exam is highly discouraged. That’s right; you read that sentence correctly. When I challenged educators in a private group to tell me if they encouraged students to study for NCLEX, the answer over and over was a resounding no. Please understand this article is not to incite any resentments to educators, as I consider myself to be one as well. Rather, let this article help us as educators and nursing students, to keep an open mind & see that this is not so black & white; it has areas of gray.

            I was surprised that so many educators were not more in favor of students studying for the NCLEX exam. As an MSN myself, my view is different; however, this may be because I find that the world of nursing academia is a completely differently animal than NCLEX coaching. Some of the other educators shared with me that they did not feel students should study because their schools had high pass rates. Other educators felt that the education given to the students should suffice. The one statement I heard echoed quite a few times was in relation to statistics; educators said that students should take their NCLEX right away. I asked for these statistics. As an MSN, I try my best to rely heavily on EBP (evidence-based practice). The EBP practice presented to me was published within the past 5 years, but the data within the publication was outdated and went back as far as 2013 and the percentage of fail rates when waiting 2 months to test for NCLEX was exceedingly low.

            I did not find this to be sufficient EBP. I was met with some resistance when I gave this answer. In short, what I found from this gathering of data from educators and my students, was that no data found that studying for your NCLEX exam was harmful. There are a few studies that show and suggest that NCLEX coaching in nursing school may prove helpful with the NCLEX examination.My question is as an educator and NCLEX coach is: Why aren’t we encouraging students to study for the NCLEX exam?

Let’s approach this from a logical framework. I will use myself as an example. Twenty-one years ago, I graduated with a BSN in nursing. The school I graduated from still retains a 98% pass rate for the NCLEX exam. I had to take the HESI exit exam to finish nursing school. I was never an A student; I was a solid B student at best. The first time I took the HESI exit exam, I scored 68%. My nursing school advisors encouraged me to purchase Lippincott and do questions daily on my areas of weakness. I did this for many weeks all the while hoping and praying, I would pass so I could graduate. I did indeed pass. 88% was the pass rate and I scored 89%.

            This taught me a hard lesson. I had struggled and I needed to ensure I would pass my NCLEX exam. So, ask me if I studied for my NCLEX exam. Absolutely! Why? I had 2 years of knowledge crammed in my brain, I wasn’t the best test taker, and I was very motivated to pass my exam. I studied for 2 months, and I passed my exam. I would suggest to those who do not encourage students to study for the NCLEX exam to challenge themselves with this question: if you’re an educator and you had to sit for your NCLEX exam today, would you pass it?

            I will be completely honest; I would have failed the NCLEX exam before I became an NCLEX coach. It does not matter that I have been a nurse for 21 years. It does not make me more of an expert because I possess an MSN in nursing education. The difference is knowing how to break down NCLEX style questions, find the keywords, and narrow the answers down to two possible correct answers. Passing the NCLEX takes content knowledge as well as an understanding of NGN content and the four basic areas on NCSBN: safe & effective care environment, physiological integrity, psychosocial integrity, and health promotion & maintenance.

            If that’s not enough to convince you, why do we have study resources such as Kaplan, Saunders, UWorld, Hurst, or Archer? Did you know, for example, that Kaplan prefers to hire content writers for NCLEX who possess an MSN & have sufficient teaching & clinical experience in nursings. Which begs the question again, why is studying for your NCLEX exam unnecessary if these publications have content writers for NCLEX? From my personal experience many years ago & from my experience as an NCLEX coach, there is no reason that I can fathom that you should not study. You studied for your exams in nursing school; I highly encourage students to do the same for the NCLEX examination.


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Suzanna Valdez, MSN, RN

Suzanna Valdez, MSN, RN, has been a nurse for 21 years in pediatric world of nursing, med surg, & school nursing. Suzanna loves her work as an NCLEX coach/tutor with nursing students & has helped many students pass their NGN NCLEX exam. Her favorite pastimes are hiking in nature, reading suspense novels, & traveling to state & national parks with her daughter.

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