How to Prepare for the NCLEX Exam

by Meris Shuwarger June 07, 2021

Meris Shuwarger recently graduated from Chamberlain University with her BSN and used Level Up RN's resources to help her prepare for the NCLEX. Meris shares how she used our flashcards and videos to prepare for her exam. Spoiler alert... she killed that exam in 75 questions. Meris's top tips are listed below. Watch the video to hear more great details on how to study for the NCLEX!

  • Create a written study plan
  • Plan for which resources you will use, like specific flashcards, specific test banks, or other resources recommended by your program.
  • Build your test-taking stamina.
  • Keep your brain engaged by using multiple senses. Take a walk while using flashcards, or cook dinner while listening to videos.
  • Reinforce your knowledge by reading the rationale for questions you got right.
  • But beyond that, stop studying the things you already know.
  • Identify your weak areas and use targeted, efficient reviews in those areas.

Full transcript

[CATHY]:

I want to introduce you to a key member of our Level Up RN nursing team.

Her name is Meris and, in addition to being super smart, she worked as a supplemental instructor at Chamberlain University in Ohio.

She also has a wealth of experience in different areas, so she worked as an EMT, she worked in the OB-GYN clinic, and as an IV specialist in the emergency room.

So she brings lots of knowledge and experience with her.

So she graduated from Chamberlain recently with her Bachelor's degree in Nursing, and as she was studying for the NCLEX using our Level Up RN resources she made a video on how to use our products to prepare for the NCLEX.

So I'm happy to report that she very easily passed her NCLEX in 75 questions and I'm going to share with you her video on how she used our resources to really prepare and to go in there and kill that exam. So good luck with studying.

[MERIS]:

Hi. My name is Meris with Level Up RN and I am so excited to be talking to you today about how I'm using Level Up to prepare for the NCLEX.

So I'm actually a recent graduate of a BSN program. I just graduated and I'm getting ready for my NCLEX so I am preparing actively right now for my NCLEX and I want to talk to you about how exactly I think the best way to prepare is, and how to integrate your amazing Level Up RN resources into your study plan.

So first and foremost I want to mention that, yes, you should have a study plan. A study plan is not something that lives in your brain but rather something that you actually have put thought into, and have written down for your dates, what am I going to do on this day, how am I going to prepare for NCLEX?

And, obviously, there is a little bit of personalization that goes into this. Not everybody is going to be taking their NCLEX at the same time, so you may have more or less time to prepare than your cohort or your classmates, or anybody else you might be studying with.

So first and foremost is going to be figuring out how much time do you have? How much time do you have between you and the NCLEX to actually sit down and devote to studying? And it doesn't even mean how many days you have but how much time in those days do you have?

For instance, if you have two weeks to prepare for NCLEX you're going to probably want to pack those days pretty full, but if you have a month or six weeks or even longer, then you don't need to be spending big chunks of time studying for NCLEX.

So let's start with that; Let's talk about a study plan. So what I want for you to do is to find something that works for you. Be it a physical planner, if you want to print off a calendar, like a monthly calendar, or anything else that makes sense to you. Maybe using your calendar app on your phone or something similar. Whatever you're going to use is the most important thing.

Doesn't matter what I use, it matters what you are going to use. So I want you to actually write down in that whatever resource you're going to use, I want you to write down what you plan to do.

So for me, I think it's important for me to focus a lot on practice questions, right? The NCLEX is all about applying what you've learned from nursing school to the test environment.

Can you take those facts, that knowledge, and that information and think critically about it to answer a contextual question, right? So it's great that you know the different oxygen delivery devices but can you tell which a theoretical patient might need?

So, one of the best ways to do that is to take practice questions. And I'm sure if you are preparing for NCLEX or you're in nursing school then you know all about practice questions. But let me remind you that there are test banks out there.

So there are whole resources devoted solely to preparing you for NCLEX and allowing you to take NCLEX-style test questions.

Okay. So I've devoted myself to taking test questions, doing practice tests. So I've found a test bank that I like that fits in my budget. That's awesome. Well, now what? Right? That's the big question.

So a lot of people think that you need to be sitting down, spending eight hours at a time studying. And I'm here to say, "Absolutely not."

That is not how your brain works. And that's not how your brain wants to learn and apply and retain information, right? So we don't want to do that to our brains because we want our time to be used efficiently and effectively.

It's not a good use of your time if your brain doesn't like it. Right? You've just wasted your time that you could be doing other things.

So for me, I like to mix it up and use my resources in ways that are going to be appealing to my brain. Practice questions, I really like because I'm applying the information. I'm thinking about a context, a scenario, and thinking about everything I've ever learned and how am I going to apply it. It's great.

But sometimes I get burned out, right? Sometimes I just can't look at another practice question. And in that instance, stop. Do not look at any more practice questions, right?

If you feel you have it in you to keep studying, but you say, "I don't want to do any more questions," then switch it up. Your brain likes to synthesize information in multi-modal ways, meaning, I want to not just read words on the page, right? If I'm reading black words on a white page, my brain tunes out almost immediately. And I bet yours does too. So the best way to do that is to use your senses and combine your senses when you study. So I'm going to tell you about how you can do that.

Combining your senses when you study is going to be a really great way to keep your brain engaged in what is happening so that you're actually using your time effectively and not tuning out and burning out when it is most important.

So that's going to look different from everybody's perspective, what kind of appeals to you at that moment.

So, for me, when I burn out on doing practice questions, then I'm going to switch it up and do something like watch a Level Up RN video. Maybe I'm going to fold some laundry so I have that kinesthetic aspect of it while listening to the audio of a Level Up video.

If I'm really feeling adventurous, maybe I'm going to go for a walk and use Cathy's suggestion of taking a few flashcards with you on a walk and looking at them while you're walking around outside. You're tying a lot of senses to this studying, to this memory.

So you end up having things like, "What did the weather feel like? What was the smell outside?" Moving your body and looking at the words combined in your brain to make a really good memory. So that's going to be very helpful too.

So find what works for you. Find ways to keep your brain engaged. And go for it.

So how am I actively studying for NCLEX? Well, I will tell you. I do 50 NCLEX-style questions every day or every other day.

And it's not enough to just do the questions, right? If only it were. And this is going to be, again, unique to you. Maybe 50 is too many or too few for you. The reason I do 50 is because it's a nice round number. And it gets me used to the stamina that's required to sit for NCLEX.

With NCLEX, you're guaranteed to have at least 75 questions, if not hundreds of questions. And yes, you have plenty of time to do that. And yes, you can take breaks.

But I want to get in the mode of okay, I'm going to sit down and take big chunks of questions at a time. And that way it doesn't feel so overwhelming and scary to do it for NCLEX.

So I pick 50 questions. But pick what makes sense to you.

And then if you're not feeling it that day, that's okay. I just would say daily or every other day is about what I like to do, just so I'm actively keeping my brain engaged.

Okay. So you've committed to doing the test questions. You're ready to go. Now what? Do you just sit down and do a bunch of test questions and move on? Absolutely not. So I'm sure you know this, and I'm going to say it again.

You need to read the full rationales for every question. I don't care if you got it right or wrong. You need to read the rationales to understand, "Did I get it right for the right reasons? Why were the other options wrong? Or did I get it wrong and why?" Explain to me. Make sure you really understand the explanation about why the correct answer is correct.

But I want you to take it a step further. I want you to have a document of some sort. It can be a notepad, something you physically write on. Or a Word document or a Google document. But I want you to have something where you can keep a list and continually write down the topics you're missing.

If you missed a question because you didn't read the question fully or you misunderstood what it was asking, but you knew the correct answer once you read the rationale, that's not really what I'm concerned about.

What I'm concerned about are the things that you're missing over and over again because this is an opportunity to remediate and to become stronger.

So what does that look like?

So for me, for instance, the thing that I struggle with is brachytherapy. I don't know why other than there are just so many points to know for the nursing care of these patients, and I struggle with remembering every single one, right?

So when I find that I'm missing something that has to do with brachytherapy, I'm going to write it down.

Not only am I going to write down brachytherapy because I know that that's a big area for me, but I'm going to write down specifically what am I missing. I didn't remember the distance a visitor had to be from the patient or I couldn't remember how much time I should spend in that patient's room. Something like that, I'm going to be very specific and write it down.

And now I have this list forming that helps me to have this opportunity to remediate and to improve all my topics of weakness, right?

Everybody likes to study the things that they already know because it makes them feel good. But you already know it, so don't waste your time. Instead, what I want you to do is on the days that you don't feel like doing practice questions anymore, look at that list. And I'm going to tell you how I use my list and integrate that with Level Up RN.

So here are some of my Level Up RN cards. I have two boxes.

First of all, can we just appreciate how beautiful this is? I love this. It's just gorgeous.

So I have everything separated right here so that it maintains its find-ability for me, right. If you said, "Meris, find me respiratory in Med-Surg," I can do that right here. Look, there it is, respiratory. So I like using the Learning System tabs to keep things nice and organized for me.

But what I'm going to do is on a day that I don't feel like doing practice questions, I'm going to go back through my list of topics to review. And I'm going to find the corresponding cards.

So for instance, let's say I'm struggling with something that's related to cardiovascular. So here's my cardiovascular cards. Let's say I'm struggling with valvular heart disease, okay? So I'm going to pull this card out and just have it specifically pull up to the side.

Again, I can always put it back where it goes because it has its number right here.

But I'm going to actually put these in a pile. I'm going to have a pile of topics I need to review. And these are the things I'm going to say, "Okay, when my brain is not feeling the practice questions anymore, here's my opportunity to combine my senses and mix things up a little." And I'm going to use my Level Up cards.

So my favorite thing that Cathy has ever taught me is to take these on a walk. I mentioned it before; I'm going to mention it again. It is good because it gets you away from your desk. It gets you out of your house, gives you some fresh air, some sunshine, vitamin D. But it also adds in that kinesthetic aspect of your senses to help make that neural pathway a little bit stronger. So I'm going to have my cards with me.

I bought a portable, slim flashcard holder. So I'm going to put them in there. That way I can keep track of which ones I want to review and study. I'm going to go for a walk.

And on the front here, it says, "Valvular heart disease, diagnostics, treatment, and patient teaching." So what I'm going to do is, before I flip it over or anything, I'm going to think about this:

Okay, valvular heart disease. Alright. So I'm thinking, alright, diagnostics...This could be... maybe a-- it's going to need an auscultation. I might hear a murmur or maybe some regurgitation. I'm thinking that this is probably going to be diagnosed with an echocardiogram treatment.

Okay, so we could do surgery.

Maybe there is no treatment if it's a small defect that doesn't need anything. I'm kind of thinking of all of these things in my head.

And then once I've kind of gotten every thought out of my head and said, "Yeah, I think this is about the extent of my knowledge," then I'm going to flip it over.

Okay, diagnosis: chest X-ray, EKG, echocardiogram.

"Oh, okay. So I didn't remember chest X-ray or EKG. Maybe I'll highlight that or make a note to myself on my document."

Okay, treatments...Surgery, yep, I got that part. Percutaneous balloon valvuloplasty, valve repair, prosthetic valve. Okay, I didn't get that specific. Maybe that's a good thing for me to remember for next time.

And then medications. Oh, I didn't mention anything about those medications. So this is how I'm going to approach it. And I'm going to look at these things and kind of try and recall and then refresh by looking at the back.

The other thing is maybe it's not a great day to go outside, or maybe I've already done that, and I want to review again. Now is a great time to actually go to YouTube and find Cathy's videos.

And now I'm going to either watch the videos, or like I said, I love to do this kind of "passive studying," where I'm doing something outside, taking a shower or folding laundry, or cooking dinner. But I'm listening to something, right? I'm usually listening to a Cathy Parkes video telling me what I need to know about this topic.

So maybe I'm saying, "Okay, I've been at this desk for so long. I can't study anymore. I'm going to go downstairs and make dinner, and I'm going to pull up Cathy's videos and listen to them while I go." This is an excellent opportunity to hear more information since the videos are more in-depth than the cards.

And then, again, to just be hearing it or looking at it if I'm in a position to do so.

So that is how I approach NCLEX studying with Level Up RN:

Make sure you have a study plan, and I mean a written study plan for you to follow.

Make sure that you have a plan in place about what resources you want to use or are recommended by your institution.

And then make sure that you're doing something to keep your brain engaged. Your brain doesn't want to read. It doesn't want to sit for eight hours and try and read a textbook, right? So find different ways to apply your knowledge and to reinforce it.

But most importantly, stop studying the things you already know. Identify your areas, your opportunities for improvement. And then use your Level Up RN cards and videos to help you strengthen in those weak areas with most high-yield content available to you right here.

I hope that helps. Best of luck, and happy studying!


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