Preparing For The Next Generation NCLEX Exam – 10 Pro Tips

Before you begin to panic about the upcoming launch of the Next Generation NCLEX examination, let’s think critically about how to approach this daunting milestone in your nursing education.

The creators of the test, designed to measure your ability to safely practice nursing, launches in April of 2023. Its goal is to ensure that you’ve learned critical thinking skills as a nursing student and make judgments based on what you’ve learned during your training.

The next-generation examination has some crucial differences from the old exam; however, Phil Dickison Ph.D. RN, one of the chief officers of the National Council of State Board of Nursing (NCSBN) and exam insider, indicates that the new examination will not be as radical as you might expect. Whew! That’s one less thing to worry about.

What’s New and What’s Not New with the Next Generation NCLEX

Because many study guides are based on the “old” exam, you need to sort out the difference between the two exams to properly study for the new one.

Major similarities with the Gen NCLEX:

  • Both examinations are computer-adapted.
  • The minimum length of the exam will be the same as the previous NCLEX examination with no set number given to each candidate..
  • The same critical nursing content areas are covered.
  • The two exams are scored the same.

Major differences with the Gen NCLEX:

  • There will be partial credit given for some questions (think about multiple choice with no set number of right answers).
  • You will receive a specific number of case studies on the examination.
  • You may receive clinical judgment, standalone questions, particularly if the test goes on longer for you. These are called “bowtie” questions.
  • Each case study better mimics real-world situations so that each question that follows is based on the previous question in the same scenario.

The bottom line is that most candidates will not see a major change in their exam; however, there is a shift toward critical thinking and reasoning not seen in previous tests.

10 Pro Tips You Need to Better Prepare for Your Upcoming Next Generation NCLEX

teenage female student preparing for exams at home

We can easily divide the clinical judgement skills you need into a few key categories. The tips we’ll cover will help you expand your knowledge base, exam format preparation, and mindset. No one can guarantee a passing score; however, if you follow most of the listed tips, your odds of success will be greater.

Tip 1: Assess your knowledge base

The good news here is that if you have attended class and paid attention, your knowledge base is good. Your courses have given you a foundation to succeed on the Next Generation NCLEX exam.

The bad news is that coursework doesn’t necessarily provide you with insight into scenario-based questions or case studies. If you’ve worked in allied health, you may have an edge because you’ve seen how clinical scenarios often play out, but even this isn’t a guarantee.

Also, if you took a course last semester, you may be stronger in that subject than you will be in areas you learned several semesters ago.

Tip 2: Study your weak spots and ignore (mostly) your strengths

You may be able to see your strengths and weaknesses just by looking at your college grades. If you aced a subject, you might not have to spend as much time on it as you will on a subject you didn’t do well on.

If you’re not sure, you can take a practice test today to see where your strengths are. If you have a limited number of hours to devote to studying, your emphasis should always be on what you know least. Don’t shy away from subjects you don’t like!

Tip 3: Pay attention to your learning style

If you’re a visual learner, listening to an audiotape prep course will be less helpful than reading one. If you learn by listening, this type of experience might save time as you can listen while driving, etc. If you do better with study buddies, make that happen for you, but if you learn best alone in a quiet room, this is how you need to prepare.

Tip 4: Make a study calendar

This part is easy. If you have 4 weeks to prepare, for example, make sure nearly every day on the calendar for those weeks involves some task (however big or small). Cramming for the exam will backfire on you!

Tip 5: Ask yourself if a study guide or exam prep book or course is for you

An old Next Generation NCLEX exam book might be fine (and will be cheaper). If money is tight, use your old texts to study basic material and study guides for the NCLEX that emphasize lots of test questions.

Tip 6: Run through at least a couple of good “practice” examinations

Find some realistic practice exams and take one at the beginning of your preparation and periodically as you proceed to test day. Don’t take a lot of practice exams at one time and make sure at least a few are realistic exams that have scenario-based questions.

Tip 7: Study as many scenario-based questions as you can

Remember that the Next Generation NCLEX measures your ability to reason using questions based on realistic scenarios. These types of questions are not easy to find but will help more than basic knowledge questions.

Tip 8: Prepare for inevitable panic moments during the exam

The test is computer-adapted so you will not receive a set number of questions and each will be harder or easier based on your answering of previous questions. Don’t try to outthink what the exam is “thinking” as you take it.

In other words, if the NCLEX question you receive on NGN test items #30 is easier for you than item #29, it doesn’t mean you messed up on item #29. This could be true, based on the algorithms of the test, but it doesn’t have to be.

When the test “shuts down” earlier than you expected, you might feel unnerved, as you don’t know whether it meant you did very well or very poorly. Don’t worry. What’s done is done; you did your best. Most nurses in this situation actually  find out later that they passed.

Tip 9: Sleep matters at all levels of preparation

Research indicates that being well-rested throughout the exam preparation period enhances retention of the material. Sleep helps you retain what you learned earlier in the day, so don’t skimp on it at any time while preparing.

Tip 10: Don’t mess With your rhythm

Your state of mind matters on exam day. Never take any sleep aids the evening before the test that you don’t take every day as part of your routine. This could be disastrous for you.

As for other substances, if you’re used to coffee in the morning, you will do better to have the same amount before the exam to avoid that distracting “no-caffeine” headache. On the other hand, if you’re not used to a hit of caffeine every morning, drinking coffee or grabbing an energy drink could increase your anxiety more than it already is.

Most importantly, remember to keep your head high and go into the Next Gen NCLEX exam with a positive mindset. The hard work is over. Show them what you know and demonstrate your clinical decision making as a newly minted nurse.