NCLEX® Exam Day Mistakes

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

student making NCLEX study mistakes

It’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)

man rubbing his face with anxiety

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

empty chair next to desk with books

Ask 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 indoors

Just 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 television

As 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-caffeinating

A 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

woman holding up hands

In 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

student hoping not to make any studying mistakes

An 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!

NCLEX Exam Day Mistakes FAQ

What should I do 1 week before the NCLEX?

Stick to your study plan, but take frequent breaks. If you’ve been studying for hours at a time, you’re bound to feel fatigued and burnt out. Instead of studying all day, make a list of what topics you’re not as confident in. Make flashcards and make use of mnemonic learning tools to study and truly understand the subject matter. After you feel more confident, take a practice exam and read the exam questions slowly. A big mistake most nursing students make is believing they need to rush through the questions. By taking your time with each question, you can use your critical thinking skills to get it right!

What should I do 2 days before the NCLEX?

Step back from all the studying to review the NCLEX candidate rules and then take a walk. When you get back, sit down and write your accomplishments on a sheet of paper. What are you proud of yourself for learning? What are challenges you faced and overcame on the journey? You may be prone to thinking the worst, but reflect on your studying process and how much hard work you’ve put in to get to this point. It’s a big accomplishment within itself.

What should I do the day before the NCLEX exam?

The day before the NCLEX exam, or any big test for that matter, one should be mentally and physically preparing themselves. This means making sure to have a good night’s rest and waking up early in the morning to eat a healthy and balanced breakfast before the exam. You also want to avoid alcohol and caffeine. Gather all of the materials you need for your test and set them out before going to bed.

What should I do the night before the NCLEX?

Twas the night before the NCLEX, and you’re getting exam day jitters! This is the perfect time to take a deep breathe, relax, meditate, and tell yourself some positive affirmatives.  Also, sleep, sleep, sleep! You may be tempted to review your practice questions for a last minute NCLEX cram session, but you need to know when to stop studying for the NCLEX. Trust yourself–you’ve done enough prep and studying.

How should I prepare for the NCLEX?

To prepare for the NCLEX, it is suggested to understand the exams format as well as creating a study plan with a study style you are comfortable with. It is also recommended to work on methods to manage your test stress. Investing in test prep resources is also advised and planning a consistent study schedule that can be around 4-8 weeks long. Schedule at least 2 mock tests to get a feel for the format and flow of the tests. It is important to keep practicing after you finish school but you also want to schedule in some down time.

What should I do on the day of the NCLEX exam?

On the day of the NCLEX exam make sure to dress comfortably. Additionally, always plan to arrive early for your test, we recommend 30 minutes. Once at the testing room, you will need to supply your biometrics as well as collect materials and will be asked to leave hats, scarves, gloves and coats outside the room.

Is the NCLEX hard to pass?

The NCLEX has a passing rate of 87% for first-attempt U.S. educated nursing students but prepping for the exam properly can drastically reduce stress and highly increase the likelihood of passing the exam your first time.

What is covered in the NCLEX exam?

Students must use knowledge they have learned through school as the NCLEX exam tests their application and analysis of this knowledge as well as their use of critical thinking skills.

The NCLEX exam is created to test the testers’ application and analysis of what they have learned in school and test their critical thinking skills. The exam is made up of 4 areas of focus – providing a safe and effective care environment, the promotion and maintenance of health, psychological and physiological integrity. The following is a breakdown of the percentage breakdown of each topic:

  • Physiological adaptation: 14%
  • Management of care: 20%
  • Reduction of Risk Potential: 12%
  • Safety and Infection Control: 12%
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies: 15%
  • Basic Care and Comfort: 9%
  • Psychosocial Integrity: 9%
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance: 9%

How many questions can you miss on the NCLEX to pass?

NCLEX isn’t graded like your traditional exams in nursing school. Instead, the NCLEX uses a measurement called a logit to grade your exam. A logit determines the differences between your ability to answer the question and the question’s difficulty. Currently, the passing standard for the NCLEX-RN is 0.00 logits. This will remain as the standard until March 31, 2023. 

You must answer a minimum 75 questions, but you can’t determine exactly how many questions you can miss on the exam. For most taking the exam, the NCLEX stops once the computer has 95% confidence that you have passed or failed. There are two additional pass or fail decision rules, though.

What are the 3 NCLEX pass or fail decision rules?

Rule 1: 95% Confidence Interval Rule

The exam will stop once the computer has 95% confidence you passed or failed.

Rule 2: Maximum-length Exam Rule

If your ability is close to the passing standard, the computer will give you items until the max number of questions is reached. Your final ability estimate will determine if you pass or fail. If your ability is above standard, you’ll pass, but if it is below, you’ll fail.

Rule 3: Run-out-of-time Rule

If you run out of time before answering all questions, and the computer has not determined with 95% certainty if you pass or fail, then the exam is scored using a final ability estimate.

How common is it to fail the NCLEX?

According to the NCSBN, the national pass rate for the NCLEX in 2021 was 68.85%. That’s not too shabby! But wait, hold on to your horses because I know what you’re going to ask next, “Is it common to fail the NCLEX the first time?” In the past two quarters of 2022, only 36.87% of NCLEX-takers were repeat candidates. These numbers aren’t bad, so don’t psyche yourself out! If you’re extremely concerned about failing, read these tips on how to pass the NCLEX the first time. Still, be kind to yourself. Failure isn’t an end-all-be-all, and you can always get up and try again.

How much time do I have on the NCLEX?

You have up to five hours to take the NCLEX. You can take an optional break during hour two and again into three-and-a-half hours of testing. Breaks count against your test-taking time, but this doesn’t mean you should rush during your exam. Remember, you don’t have to answer all 150 questions to pass. Read each question carefully and take your time so you can be confident in your test-taking abilities! 

How many times can you take the NCLEX?

You can retake exam up to eight times a year, but it has to be at least 45 days after your previous attempt. Some states have a different rules and limitations so make sure you double-check. Either way, you may feel discouraged if you fail the first time and feel inclined to take your time before re-taking the NCLEX. But, you really shouldn’t. It’s best to keep studying and schedule your test right away to make sure all the necessary information is fresh in your mind. Don’t be tempted to wait an additional month or two.


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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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