Five Tips for NCLEX Prep for Nursing Schools

October 28, 2015 Kristen Hicks

No matter how good a job you’ve done prepping your students for life as nurses, much of their success boils down to one thing: whether they pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Seventy-three percent of students passed the exam in 2015, which leaves about a third that came to the test unprepared.

The stakes are obviously high for students who need to pass the NCLEX to get work in nursing, but they’re also high for your school. How your students perform on the NCLEX plays a big role in how incoming students view your program, and low pass rates can affect your accreditation status.

You want to prepare your students to be good nurses, but you must prepare them to be good NCLEX test takers as well.

  1. Make sure your curriculum covers the key subject and competency areas students will be tested on.
    The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) provides details on what subjects will be covered and how much of the test will be devoted to each area. You can use its subject list to guide your curriculum and make sure everything that will be on the test gets a healthy dose of class time.
  2. Include NCLEX-style questions on tests throughout the semester.
    In addition to ensuring the subjects get covered during class time, make sure the exams administered throughout the semester cover NCLEX topics as well, and use questions in the same formats that students will encounter on the licensure exam. You want to write test questions that are as similar as possible to the ones your students will see on the test. The idea is to gain an early snapshot of how well students will perform and help them become more familiar with the question types well in advance of the big day.
  3. Use exam data to track what areas students have achieved competency in, and which they still need to work on.
    If you tag all your exam questions with the categories covered on the NCLEX, you can gain insights after every test into how well each student is performing in each subject area tested. If you use a tool like ExamSoft to administer exams, you can receive and provide an automated exam report after every test that outlines the particular needs of each student. You can then use that data to help students craft a more successful study plan—students will know which are their weakest knowledge areas and whether they struggle with a particular question format.
  4. Give students a chance to become familiar with computer-based testing.
    Your students will have plenty of anxiety and stress on the day they take the NCLEX; anything you can do in advance to take some pressure off can make a difference in their experience. If your students have no familiarity with computer-based testing, that’s one more thing they have to worry about while taking the test. Students who have ample access to computer-based testing in advance will be much more comfortable with at least one portion of the experience.
  5. Provide practice tests to get them used to the environment.
    In the same vein as #4, go beyond getting students comfortable with the technology and give them a taste of the whole testing environment. A realistic practice test helps students know what to expect, and they can assess aspects of taking a licensure exam that aren’t about what you know, but rather are more practical concerns: what to eat that morning, whether lots of coffee is helpful or harmful, and how to withstand long hours under pressure.

If you combine the right plan with the right technology, you can produce graduates better prepared for the NCLEX. Texas State Technical College – West Texas almost lost its accreditation due to weak NCLEX scores and now has a 100% pass rate; it worked out a strategy to improve its curriculum and provide more detailed feedback using exam data. If your program could use a boost in NCLEX pass rates, we may be able to help. Let’s talk.

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