NCLEX tips in the form of checkmarks

Tips for Answering NCLEX Style Questions

First things first, congratulations! If you are searching for help answering NCLEX questions then you have likely made it into (or survived) nursing school and are now staring at one of the last big hurdles between you and the career you are passionate about.

Before you read anything else, remember this: Nursing school is not for the faint of heart. If you have made your way through (or into) nursing school, then you have the skills, knowledge and capabilities to pass this test. You CAN do this.

Understanding NCLEX Style Questions

So, let’s talk about NCLEX style questions. Because while it is true that they can be intimidating, it is also true that you probably know most of the answers. You just need to learn what to look for, how to determine what is actually being asked, and how to decide which information is or isn’t relevant.

Components of a Multiple Choice Question

All of the NCLEX questions will be multiple-choice. All of these multiple-choice questions and answers will have three parts:

  • Stem: The stem is the part that asks the question
  • Situation: This is the patient’s case (what is the scenario going on?)
  • Distractors: These are choices that are not the best answer or are wrong

NCLEX questions are easier to understand once you have identified the different parts of the question. Read through questions slowly and completely to ensure you are not skipping past important information.

Strategies for Problem Solving

Of course, it is inevitable that you will come across questions that you are unsure about. Those distractors can be tough and the extra information that is often given can be misleading. Luckily, the right strategies may help you determine the right answer, even when you are unsure on your first read-through.

Reword the Question: After you have read through the question completely, reword the stem to make it easier to understand. Identify the keyword or phrase. For example, questions, which include words like “learning has occurred,” indicate that something has gone right. Reword these phrases, instead considering “what action shows that the subject has been taught correctly?”

Answer the Question First: Try answering the question before you look at the answers. If you’ve identified what is being asked and what the answer is, trust yourself when you go to the answers and see your answer there. Choose it and move on.

Eliminate Wrong Answers: Frequently, it is clear that one or two of the distractors are wrong. Go through the answers one by one and ask yourself if it answers the question (the stem). If it does, keep that answer for consideration. If it does not, eliminate it. In this way, you can confidently work yourself towards the correct answer.

Prioritize: The work of nursing is always about prioritization. Don’t forget this while you take your exam. Questions will often use initial, first and best – these are prioritization questions. Multiple choices may be right, but there is one that is right the most or first. Don’t forget your ABC’s, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the Steps of the Nursing Process.

Additional Things to Look For

If your problem solving strategies aren’t working, there are things to look for in the questions and answers that may also help. Working through the above strategies is always recommended first, but these tools may prove helpful as well. Please note that these hints are not always true, but they can be particularly helpful when you are just not sure.

  • “All of the Above” Principle: If you are certain that more than one answer is correct, you must choose the answer that includes all the choices.
  • Odd Words: Occasionally, one answer stands out as different. Sometimes, this oddity indicates the correct answer.
  • Opposite Answers: If two answers are opposites, like elevated blood pressure or low blood pressure, it is likely that one of them is correct.
  • Repeated Words: Some answers will repeat words (or synonyms) from the NCLEX question. Recognizing these may help you identify the correct answer(s).
  • Absolute Answers: Answers that include words like all, every, and always are often incorrect.

You CAN Do This

If you are still in nursing school, use these strategies and tips on your nursing exams. If you're on your last leg, you can always utilize these last minute tips as well. Always review your exams and your wrong answers, determining where you went wrong and what strategies could have led you to the right answer. Studying or reviewing in groups is often helpful, as the rationale of others is often different than your own. And practice, practice, practice, utilizing the many NCLEX practice resources and texts available to students today. Ultimately, the more familiar the exam and its questions feel, the more confident you will be while you take it.


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A timer for the NCLEX exam
A timer for the NCLEX exam