NCLEX® Exam Day Mistakes

7 NCLEX® Exam Day Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making in Nursing School

nclex exam mistakesIt’s the day before the NCLEX® exam, and your stress level is at an all-time high. You’ve spent weeks studying every tiny detail and here you are, approaching exam day, and your mind is already going blank. There’s no way you’ll be able to get a full night of sleep — you’re nauseated, dehydrated, unfocused, unconfident, all of the above! Chances are, you’re about to make a major NCLEX® exam prep mistake that you could easily avoid. Students tend to make mistakes in their preparation or study regimes in the weeks or days leading up to a high-stakes exam, which could hinder their performance, costing crucial points. Nursing students aren’t an exception to these common errors; in fact, they’re often the example. Picmonic helps you learn the information and retain it better. Combining it with the habits listed below are the best way to set yourself up for success.


The NCLEX® exam is the culmination of nursing school and every single point counts on the big day. So what bad practices should you cut out of your routine to ensure your best performance on the big day?

7 Bad practices to cut out of your routine before the NCLEX® exam 

Mistake #1: Not sleeping enough, and/or not on a regular sleep schedule (napping, sleeping in on exam day)

7 Bad practices to cut out of your routine before the NCLEX® exam This first mistake is so easy to avoid, you can literally do it in your sleep (bad pun). You should aim for seven full hours of sleep each night during the week before your NCLEX® exam, so that you’re fully charged on the big day. Sometimes it seems like the solution to gaining more study time is sleeping less at night, or taking more naps during the day. But research shows, this is far from the truth.

Sleep is important throughout your entire study schedule because your circadian rhythms (which influence your sleep-wake cycles, hormone releases, and other bodily functions) can take a few days to set into a rhythm. Don’t wait until the day before the exam to make the switch to a healthy sleep schedule. If your exam begins at 7 am, but you normally wake up at 10 am, start setting your alarm an hour earlier every day and going to bed an hour earlier every night. This will ease you into the practice of waking up at 6 am to be alert and focused by 7 am. So the day before the NCLEX® exam day, you’re not in total sleep shock.

Mistake #2: Cramming the days leading up to the exam

Mistake #2: Cramming the days leading up to the examAsk any marathon trainer if you should run a marathon the day before your event, and they’re going to give you the same answer: you’re crazy. Training is all about being ready, not being done. So don’t cram the day before the test! Cramming increases your anxiety levels, and it’s more important that the time you spend studying is effective. Research shows that studying the day before the exam hurts you, because it crowds your short-term memory with last minute info that can interfere with long-term memory retrial or bias your decision-making skills. For example, if you study pharm the day before the NCLEX® exam, your mind is naturally going to lean towards pharm related answers. Moral of this story: take a full day off to give your brain a break and don’t cram. That answers the common question of, “Should I study the day before the exam?”


Mistake #3: Locking yourself indoors

Mistake #3: Locking yourself indoorsJust because your career depends on this exam doesn’t mean you should lock yourself in the library for weeks straight. Get out! Start partaking in some light exercise in the morning. You don’t want to rigorously exercise at risk of building up lactic acid, but increasing your heart rate with aerobic exercise is advantageous. This will release endorphins, giving you a better perspective and more confidence. Plus, it’ll help you sleep better at night. Try walking, light jogging, cycling, or hiking. Try to spend a little more time outside during your study routine as well. You’ve probably been staring at your book or computer or tablet for weeks now, so give your eyes a breather! Find an open space where you can enjoy the view and allow your mind to relax for a bit.

Mistake #4: Avoiding all television

Mistake #4: Avoiding all televisionAs a demonstration of your determination and willpower, you may have already given up television throughout the duration of your studying. Good for you—almost. It’s great to practice focus, but sometimes you need to take a little “me” time. If you enjoy watching television typically, don’t deprive yourself of a reward from time to time. Some students even find that watching a movie before test day is a nice mental break. However, you don’t want to watch a movie that will be too intense or cause a lot of reflection afterwards. TV shows or movies with crashing cars, dying soldiers, or confusing love triangles may linger in your mind the day after you watch it, so leave those selections out. If you’re going to watch TV, pick something mindless. Easy enough!

Mistake #5: Over-caffeinating

Mistake #5: Over-caffeinatingA lot of students make the mistake of loading up on coffee and Red Bull right before heading into the exam to stay as alert as humanly possible. Big mistake! Some students might think that caffeine on exam day might hinder their performance, so they avoid it on the big day. Another mistake! The truth is, you should take it easy on the caffeine altogether. Try to taper off your caffeine intake—or at least maintain your average—in the days leading up to the exam to avoid any symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal. And whatever you do, don’t increase your intake on the day of. You shouldn’t be making any drastic changes to your diet before the exam. Another caffeine tip: avoid it after 4 pm so that it doesn’t interfere with your sleep regimen. Reread tip #1 about sleep!

Mistake #6: Avoiding thinking about the test day

Mistake #6: Avoiding thinking about the test dayIn a fit of denial, you might be tempted to avoid thinking about the “day of” altogether. But don’t forget about your test day preparation! Preparing for the test day is a great way to boost your confidence and mental readiness. Plan out the day:

  • Where will you park?
  • Where will you put your bags?
  • How long does it take to get there?
  • What is the temperature of the room?

Ponder anything you can think of that will put your mind at ease. Don’t forget to plan your exam break time as well. Be sure to pack food. We recommend a complex carb to start your day and provide longer lasting energy; bananas and oranges offer lots of electrolytes and are convenient to carry, and a snack bar is always an easy option with a nice sugar boost to help you cross the finish line. Lastly, know where the bathrooms are. You don’t want to be distracted with a potty break in the middle of the exam.

Mistake #7: Focusing on the short-term and avoiding life post-exam

Mistake #7: Focusing on the short-term and avoiding life post-examAn easy way to keep yourself motivated: plan something fun to do after the NCLEX® exam. You’ll need a reward, and this can be a nice refresher from the monotony of studying. Start planning something fun with a group of friends to keep the finish line in focus.

  • Plan a vacation with friends.
  • Make reservations at a nice restaurant.
  • Throw a party for you and your classmates.

As soon as that exam is done, you’ll be glad you planned this far ahead! NCLEX® exam day is hard enough. You already have too many things to worry about. So don’t be your own worst enemy. Try to recognize and correct as many little mistakes like these as possible, so you’ll calm and confident come exam day. Keep your head held high and your mind clear, and you’re going to do just fine! Picmonic helps you remember everything you’re learning to make your exam day even easier! Check out our free trial!


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Marlee Liberman

Marlee Liberman, RN, Master Nursing Scholar

As a registered nurse, Marlee understands the struggles that nursing school throws at you – not to mention the overwhelming pressure preparing for the NCLEX®! Marlee brings a unique skill set and perspective to Picmonic with her previous degree in broadcast journalism, her creativity in video production, and her wandering nomad lifestyle. Her blend of talents provides her with the knack for simplifying complicated concepts and demystifying the world of nursing.

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