Nursing is a great field to get into these days. There is a growing demand for licensed vocational nurses as the aging Baby Boomer population puts a greater strain on our nation’s health-care system.
To become a vocational or practical nurse, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Vocational and Practical Nurses. This test, also referred to as the NCLEX-PN, will review your knowledge of everything you’ve learned in your classes and estimate your readiness to take on a career in nursing.
As with any big exam, you’ll need to review your materials from class, take practice tests, and pay special attention to information that you may have struggled with previously.
Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to study for NCLEX-PN. This includes tips on where to find good review material and which questions to pay particular attention to, as well as reviewing overall best study habits for an exam of this depth. The test is extensive and requires at least 73 percent correct to pass, but with the right approach to studying, you’ll do your teachers proud.
An Overview of the NCLEX-PN
The NCLEX-PN is what you work toward when you take classes in vocational and practical nursing. To qualify for the exam, you must have graduated recently from an accredited nursing school. The exam will test your skills and ability to practice entry-level nursing safely and effectively.
The exam is computerized and administered on behalf of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Inc. and its 50 state members, as well as members in the four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. This is a criterion-referenced exam, which means that the test taker’s knowledge is compared to a standard that’s been predetermined by the people who design the test, rather than being compared to other people who take the test. This also means the computer will pick questions based on how well or poorly the test taker answered previous questions on the subject.
For instance, if you are asked three questions about a subject area and get them all right, you’ll be served up a different question than someone who gets those questions wrong. The idea is to make sure that nursing candidates have a true understanding of the standards in the field, rather than allowing them to skate by in an area in which they may be shaky.
The test requires critical thinking and the score will reflect how well nursing candidates can analyze and adapt their knowledge to different situations. When looking for study tips for NCLEX for practical nursing, it’s important to remember that there are four main areas that the test covers:
Format of the NCLEX-PN: What Does it Look Like?
The format of the test has changed over the years. While it used to include only multiple-choice questions, there are now questions that allow for more in-depth answers and others that ask the test taker to put the steps of a medical procedure in the correct order or identify parts of the body.
When you are studying a vast number of NCLEX-PN review questions, make sure to include all different skill levels. There are three levels on the test:
- Level 1 is the least advanced and will make up the smallest portion of the exam, under 10 percent. These questions establish a baseline for the test taker’s understanding of basic skills for nursing. Most of the questions are very specific relating to facts, figures, and information learned during nursing classes.
- Level 2 is more advanced and accounts for less than half of the remainder of the exam, though this may vary based on the test taker’s skill level. Level 2 requires more critical thinking than Level 1. These questions will test a nursing candidate’s knowledge of how to take information that has been learned and apply it to answering the question.
- Level 3 is the most advanced and takes up the bulk of the exam, usually more than half. It includes patient care questions that necessitate heavy analysis in order to figure out the best course of treatment. For instance, a situation might be presented in which a patient enters the hospital with A, B and C symptoms, and the test taker must decide what to do next. These questions do not always have a single right answer, unlike those in Level 1. Instead, there could be multiple ways to treat or address the patient.
How to Sign Up for the NCLEX-PN
The NCLEX-PN is administered at Pearson Professional Centers across the country. Before you can take the test, you must first apply for an Authorization to Test (ATT) from your local nursing board. Then, register with Pearson VUE in order to set your test date. These exam dates fill up fast, so be sure to plan months ahead of the date you want to take it. You will rarely secure a seat to take the test days or weeks before it’s administered. Make sure that the date of your test lines up with the eligibility stated on your ATT.
Tests may be scheduled online or via telephone. The cost to take the test in $200, and while you can take the test outside of the United States, you will have to pay an additional international scheduling fee. Also, the test can be administered in a language other than English, but you will have to pay a fee for that change as well. Be aware that the test can take up to five hours to complete. The minimum number of questions on the test is 85, but you could receive up to 205, depending on the computer-adaptive response to your answers.
How to Find NCLEX-PN Review Questions
Now that we’ve covered the nitty-gritty about the test, it’s time to turn to the content of the exam. The NCLEX-PN exam will be based on courses taken for nursing from an accredited school, such as Vista College. The focus of these classes is to learn not only the basic skills that nurses need to do their job, but also to get educated on bedside manner, patient comfort, and workplace safety.
There are hundreds of practice questions for the test, which means you cover quite a lot of material. That may seem overwhelming at first. However, you will find that if you paid proper attention in class and invest in the right study aids, it’s actually very manageable.
The first step is trying to find the right sort of NCLEX-PN review questions. Many students find that investing in an app that serves up questions is the best way to go about it. There is a handful available and while they do cost money, you will also find they pay for themselves in terms of convenience. These apps allow you to study anywhere, at any moment. For instance, you could be waiting for your daughter’s swim meet to begin and using your app to study at the same time.
These apps also often allow you to track your progress as you go along. That means you can see a statistical breakdown of the questions you’re getting right and wrong and use that as a guide to determine where you should be focusing your studies. For example, if you excel on questions about pediatrics but struggle with geriatrics, it would be wise to review your geriatric notes.
Another good place to find NCLEX-PN review questions is in textbooks or review books geared toward the exam. There are a number of good resources in this area. Make sure you find a book that has enough questions; there are a wide number of topics to be tested on. It’s smart to spread out your practice sessions, too. Don’t attempt to answer all the questions in one sitting. That is way too hard.
Instead, come up with an optimal number that works for you. Between 85 and 205 at a time is good for long study sessions, since that mimics the actual test length, but you will not have time to do this during every study session. Even if you only have time for a few practice questions, bring the book with you everywhere you go. It’s bulkier than an app, but it’s easier to look up the information that you need to answer a question correctly when you have the book to study.
How to Study for NCLEX-PN
It’s best to give yourself a good chunk of time to study for the NCLEX-PN. Much like a lawyer waits a few months between ending law school and taking the bar exam, you will need some time to digest everything you have learned and go over it in-depth before you should sit for the exam.
One of the best study tips for NCLEX for practical nursing is to break your studies down into four different categories:
Each one of these areas is an integral part of nursing and you will need to master these concepts in order to pass the test. While clinical problem-solving and communication and documentation are fairly objective and straightforward, covering more Level 1-type material, the answers to caring, teaching and learning questions are not as obvious. The most important thing you can do in readying yourself for the test is to use practice questions that immerse you in a wide variety of hypothetical situations.
The test is more about learning to use your brain properly than cramming all sorts of material into it. Once you know and understand the basic concepts of nursing, the test becomes about application. How do you react to a certain situation and why?
Approach your studies in an organized manner. You may want to get a book with an accompanying CD-ROM of practice questions so that you can get used to answering questions on a computer and not just writing down the answers in a book or using an app.
Put aside time every day to study. This knowledge should become comfortable and almost seem like second nature. It won’t work to study for the exam the night before after ignoring your books for two months. Instead, treat it like a marathon. You have to build a base of running smaller distances before you can imagine going the full 26.2 miles when you run a marathon. In the same way, you have to study every day to help build yourself up to the point where you take the NCLEX-PN.
Study Tips for NCLEX for Practical Nursing
Many people wonder how to study for NCLEX-PN while also balancing the rest of their lives. After all, you still have to care for your children, go to your day job, or attend classes, depending on what your situation is. Here are some hints to help you stay on track and do your best on the test, plus a few ways to save money while you study:
- Don’t Write in Your Study Books. If you buy them new, use paper to write your answers on. That way you can sell the book when you are done and recoup some of your money.
- Share Books With Classmates. If each one of you buys a different study guide, you can swap around and get the benefit of multiple books for a fraction of the price.
- Cram When You Can. Studying doesn’t have to be an all-day affair. Yes, you should carve out a few long blocks each week to go over your books, but if you have an app on your phone, even the grocery line at the store can turn into a study opportunity.
- Talk to Some Veterans. Approach a licensed vocational nurse and ask how he or she studied for the test. You will get terrific tips as well as insights into what you should and should not focus on while you study.
- Get Your Family Involved. Whether you have children or live with your parents, get them involved in your studying. An elementary-aged child can help quiz you on practice questions. A parent can help with other tasks around the house to allow you extra study time. People of any ages can accompany you to a local coffee house to indulge in a treat while you read over your study materials.
- Mimic the Exam Conditions. A week or so before the exam, do a test run. Sit down and answer 150 questions across a range of topics, and don’t give yourself any breaks. No referencing your study materials, either.
- Study With a Friend. Get together with your classmates to help each other study for the test. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and chances are you can help a friend with something she’s been struggling with, while she can give you a boost where you’ve had trouble.
Time to Take That Test
Eventually you will be ready to take the test. Get a good night’s rest and eat a good breakfast to give you the energy and stamina to make it through the test. All your hard work will pay off when you feel good about your test effort and take the next step to becoming a licensed nurse.
Does becoming a nurse appeal to you? Vista College offers a vocational/practical nurse diploma that can prepare you for a rewarding career in the health-care industry, taking care of people who are sick, injured, or disabled. Click here to learn more about our program.