How to Study and Pass the NCLEX Stress Free

How to use stress energy to your advantage



here is an ton of NCLEX tips out there, most concentrate on how to study. But there is little available on how to prepare yourself psychologically for the test. When I mean “stress free”, I’m trying to say that you should not let stress get the best of you.

There is nothing wrong with a little stress but just try to relax while stressing. Stress can be your friend. Follow the advice of Hans Selye a pioneering Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist who conducted important scientific studies on the hypothetical non-specific response of an organism to stressors.

“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one”

You are never ready for the NCLEX; you are just more ready or less ready. Since the NCLEX is a performance test too, it is important that you have a good handle on stress. Stress can make it or break it when it comes to this unique test. If you are not so ready but have a handle on stress you might make it. If you are very well prepared but are overwhelmed by stress you will sink.

You have to be ready when you walk into the exam, but ready in your resolve. Of course you can’t ever be so sure if you’re 100% ready, but there are ways to know if you’re close. The first important concept is to understand what type of exam you are dealing with. That is half the battle, so read on.

The NCLEX is unlike any exam you have ever taken. In traditional school exams, its a straight forward thing. You are being tested on subjects you have study for. The NCLEX is different. You are being tested on subjects you don’t know much about, and are not expected to know! Kind of weird? You bet. But this is precisely what the examiners want to find out – how you perform under stress and answering questions you know little about. The net result of your decisions will produce a percentage and that is your passing or failing grade. So right there you know you must think about the NCLEX differently.

So basically you are being tested on how you use your small knowledge of nursing. The decisions you make, how fast you make these decisions, and how safe they are is what determine your grade. This is important because it lets you know that it is OK to get a bunch questions wrong. In fact the test is designed that way. They expect you’ll get about 50% of them wrong. So don’ be afraid of missing questions. In any test that is a failing grade, but not in the NCLEX. So how can you pass with only 50%. That is my point; this 50% correct must posses a certain quality.

You must already know that there are four areas of knowledge in the NCLEX questions. 1) knowledge questions, 2) comprehension questions, 3) Applications questions, 4) Analysis questions. For a detailed explanations of these questions see this report. Knowledge and comprehension questions will not pass you. Only application and analysis type questions have passing power. So that is telling you that is your judgment they are looking for. For example if you are brilliant at knowing lab values, that will only help you if these skills are helping you solve number 3, 4 questions. Keep that in mind. The other important point is speed.

Yes, the NCLEX is testing you on how quickly you can answer questions 3, 4. This is underestimated factor. You really have 1 min. to answer each question. You should train yourself this way. Do not spend any more time then a minute in each question. I cannot stress that enough. Even if you answer correctly but take more then a minute, the CAT system will bring the same type question again and again until you answer correctly but within the one minute frame. Keep that in mind at all times. The test is like a video game where speed is crucial. You must give yourself about 15 – 30 seconds to read the question and the rest of that minute you make a decision and nail it. If you can’t figure it out, stab at random.

Yes, guessing is OK in the NCLEX. But you must really guess. The problem is that some people at the last moment decide that they must go on a hunch according to “the most likely lead”. That’s when things go wrong. NCLEX test writers create these traps for you to fall in. They create answers that “seem” to be correct but are traps. So, this is the time when you don’t want to be smart and should use the blindfolded monkey aproach, just pick something at random. You can even device some method that is always random, like always pick “C”. Remember. If you pick the entire test at random, you’ll score 25% and that is about 1/2 the score you need!

If you failed the NCLEX more then 2 times and/or English is not your first language read my other article NCLEX tips for repeaters

How to study and how do you know you are ready?

Buy multiple books. For a book reference look at this book list. Don’t go crazy: answer 60 questions a day in 60 minutes. No more no less. You must keep each questions within one minute. One day a week answer 265 questions in 6 hours. You are ready to go if you are answering 65% correct consistently specially if the correct ones are questions group 3, 4. Is important to train yourself answering all 265 questions because there is a possibility you will be tested that way. The problem is that this is a very tiring task. If you don’t have the stamina to go all the way to 265 you’ll start failing by the 4th hour. Don’t think for a minute you’ll finish and pass with 75 questions. If you do great but if you don’t you must be ready to keep going. What I’m saying is: be ready for this scenario because if it happens (and it doesn’t mean you’ll fail) you are ready for it and might very well pass this way. If you can maintain a good ratio of passing questions all the way to the end you’ll pass. Good luck.


  1. The legacy of Hans Selye and the origins of stress research: A retrospective 75 years after his landmark brief “Letter” to the Editor# of Nature
  2. Stressed or stressed out: What is the difference?
  3. Organizations of concepts relevant to emotions and their regulation during test taking
  4. FROM BETA-BLOCKERS TO BOOT CAMP: Preparing Students for the NCLEX-RN
  5. The Lived Experience of NCLEX Failure
  6. Student stress and academic performance: Home hospital program
  7. Best Practices in NCLEX-RN Readiness Preparation for Baccalaureate Student Success


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