Tips for Studying for the NCLEX: A Question & Answer Session with a Recent Grad and NICU Nurse

Q&A: Tips for Studying for the NCLEXⓇ from a NICU Nurse

NICU nurse Joshua Castilleja recently joined us for a Secrets to Success webinar to share his go-to tips for effective and efficient time management in nursing school. After he opened up the webinar for questions about nursing school and shared his tips for studying for the NCLEXⓇ, and so much more.

Watch his question and answer session. Or, if you’re the reading type, scroll down for the transcript.

From a NICU Nurse and Recent Nursing Graduate: Tips for Studying for the NCLEX

Q: What’s the best way to incorporate studying for the NCLEX in your final semester of nursing school?

From a time-management perspective, what’s the best way to incorporate studying for the NCLEX into the final semester? How far out from the planned test dates should we start and how much time dedicated each day should we be should be spent towards?

The earlier you can start the better. Start now if you can. But, if you’re close to graduating, the schedule in the Picmonic 4 Weeks to NCLEX Workbook & Study Planner, I think is really efficient. It really breaks things down and builds upon itself throughout the four weeks. My strategy was to be able to take the NCLEX as soon as possible after graduation. As soon as I got my authorization to test, I wanted to schedule it and just knock it out.

I don’t know if there are actually any studies, but my instructors told me the longer you wait to take the exam, the higher the chance you have of failing. So, start studying now. Do quiz questions every day and then slowly increase the number you’re doing. And, then the closer you get, you can start decreasing the questions. I think I still did up to 100 questions a day right before I took the NCLEX.

Ultimately, how you’ll study in your last semester really depends on how well you’re retaining information and how much ground you feel like you have to make up. So. It’s really kind of where you are now and where you want to be by the time you take the NCLEX.

Q: How did you implement your Picmonic quiz study along with ATI workload? Also, did you feel Picmonic helped you in order to level for your proctored exams? 

I did the Picmonic quiz questions every single day. And then for ATI, I would do the practice exams, as they were required in my program. I would use the ATI practice exams to identify the areas and topics I needed to work on. Then, I would look in the book for their explanation and find the Picmonic videos that covered that particular topic as well, just because, again, I’m an auditory-visual person. 

One of the other things that I didn’t mention earlier when I discussed Picmonic playlists was, if you download the App for your phone, as I did, you can play the Playlist in the car while driving (no watching though!). Videos that I’d already watched, became refreshers that I would listen to. And I would just try to visualize them while I was driving and listening to the video. I felt like this practice helped me retain the information.

Picmonic definitely helped me level on my ATI, on every single one. On the first attempt. The only two I didn’t use Picmonic for were fundamentals and pharmacology. And that was because I found Picmonic after I took those, as I took those very early on in my program.

Q: What sources did you use to get your daily NCLEX-style questions?

The daily quizzes and 4 Weeks to NCLEX Workbook & Study Guide from Picmonic were the only study resources I used.

I didn’t use any other study guide. I didn’t use the first reviews. I didn’t use Sondra’s book. I didn’t use any of that. I only used Picmonic early on in school. I also used, but I didn’t really use the questions, just videos in there. But when it came to questions, I really only used Picmonic. We had to do ATI, so I guess you can say I used them, but it was a requirement.

Q: Do you have tips for new grads studying using Picmonic in preparation for the NCLEX?

And again, the time is going to be very individualized. You know, I don’t know if you’ll ever feel ready to take it. Even when I finished my NCLEX, I was like, “I don’t know if I passed.” It was 50/50. It kind of depends on you and where you are or where you feel you are in your studying.

I think it was really helpful in that perspective. If your program uses ATI, that’s awesome, because it gives you exposure to questions similar to those on the NCLEX. And I feel like ATI questions also help to identify weak areas where you should focus studying. If you’re that far along in the program where you’re wrapping everything up, when you take the end simulation or, you know, that final exam, the comprehensive exam will identify where your weaknesses are and where you should focus your studying.

In topics on which you’re already strong, additional studying isn’t going to help you. You need to cover those weak areas.

Q: What do you suggest for students preparing for nursing school classes?

I’m assuming, though I don’t know for sure, Crystal is asking for new nursing students.

Understanding. Understanding how you learn. Understanding your study habits. Make sure you stay organized and you’re studying every single day. Take one day a week to refresh and reboot. Go in with a positive attitude and be eager to learn. Learn something new every single day. 

And I still do this at work. I think some of the veteran night shift nurses are very appreciative of it. When I show up, I am excited and I’m positive and I’m passionate about what I’m doing. Every day is an opportunity to learn. Every day there’s a new challenge. And so, if you show up eager and ready to learn, especially at clinical, I think that will make a huge difference in your learning experience.

Q: Did you buy a book, online subscriptions, Apps to study for the NCLEX?

I subscribed to Picmonic. And at the time, the 4 Weeks to NCLEX Workbook & Study Planner was only available as a PDF. So, I downloaded it and had it printed at a local print shop. The only other book I used was the one provided through our mandatory ATI program. But again, I didn’t really use it. I used the Picmonic App, and for the video lectures. Some of them were pretty helpful.

For clinicals, I used EPOCRATES for some med information. That was pretty much it for my nursing school and NCLEX prep study tools. 

Q: I’m having a hard time with clinical paperwork and studying for exams, what advice do you have?

First, I completely understand. For anyone not in school yet, during clinicals, you have to write care plans. These take a long time but are very beneficial in helping you understand how to intervene when your patient has problems, or you may have heard this called the nursing process.

As for studying for exams, I would take the concept guides, or the study guides, provided by my instructors, and I would build a Picmonic playlist for that specific guide. And I took tons of Picmonic quiz questions, focusing on watching the video or using the supplemental materials for the questions I answered incorrectly. My school only used e-books; we didn’t have actual paper books. The reason I liked the e-books was that I could easily search for specific phrases or specific conditions. This practice really helped me learn and retain the information. 

With studying, because I could hit the key points, I needed to hit in my study guide, as opposed to just trying to read the entire chapter. Like, for pathophysiology, the reading was literally insane. For me, it was impossible to read all of the material in the one-week time.

Q: I recently graduated and I’m tutoring the nursing students, what should I use and how can I help them use Picmonic in my tutoring? 

That’s a good question. What I usually recommend to students is to watch just a few videos a day. You don’t have to get through 20 videos in one sitting. That’s a lot that’s a lot of material. Maybe focus on five to 10 videos, depending on how long they are. I would just watch the education portion, but you can do the education and story if you want, and then do the quiz questions. And I forgot to mention this, so whenever I would do my quiz questions, I would read the rationale every single time.

Sometimes when you answer the question, the rationale doesn’t pop up. So, you know what the correct answer is, but you don’t necessarily know why. And the why is very important. Or it doesn’t tell you the path or behind it or the mechanism of action. It’s very important that you read the rationales. I would read the rationales every single time. So that way I understood why the right answer was the right answer. 

When I would watch the video, I would pause it for a second, click on it, read the rationale. I didn’t realize that at first. I discovered that later on. And when I started incorporating that in, it made a huge difference. And, you know, you can recall things not just for exams, but in clinical settings. You know, when you’re dealing with a certain situation, you can recall your pathophysiology or your medication or whatever the case may be.

Let’s see, so that might help them, Alisa, having them read the rationales whenever they’re doing their Picmonic, not just listening to it.

Q: We have 10 chapters to read, how do you comprehend and retain the information?

That’s a lot of reading. Like I said earlier, for Partho, we would have crazy reading like that. I would take the key subjects for each chapter and either use Picmonic or and watch the videos of those key subjects.

That really saved a lot of time. After, doing the daily quiz questions with the spaced repetition, just helps you retain it. So, for the NCLEX, I don’t think I had that many questions on pharmacology. It’s understanding the mechanism of the action and what is the goal, what is it you’re trying to accomplish with your medication, and then any major side effects, especially adverse effects.

Q: Are Picmonic quiz questions, similar to board-style questions?

I wouldn’t say that they’re similar to NCLEX, but the quiz questions help you retain the information. And like I said, if you read the rationales, it will become clearer. It’ll help you with your understanding. And then that’s going to lead to better critical thinking for the NCLEXv if you can work through that rationale.

Q: What do you recommend for someone who wants to go into NICU? I know it’s a competitive program.

I did a nontraditional route. I joined an organization called the Association for Women’s Health Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. And I attended their meetings. This is pre-pandemic, so meetings may be a little bit different now, as they have virtual meetings. There’s also NANDA and the NASA National Association of Neonatal Nurses. In my area, there wasn’t an active chapter. So, I went with AWHONN and I would show up to the meetings.

I’d be the only student nurse there most of the time and I would try to speak with the nurses. Two of the chapter leaders for the central Florida chapter knew I wanted to be in the NICU. I let them know that I wanted to be a NICU and they reached out to the nurse manager. She said to email her to set up an interview and to email her my resume. So, essentially networking. Networking is key, I believe, to landing a position not just in the NICU, but any kind of competitive area — or just any job in general. If you network, let people know you’re excited or you’re passionate or enthusiastic about getting in that particular specialty.

That’ll be really important. A lot of people also suggested trying to get a CNA job or a patient tech job in that particular department. That can definitely help if you’re toward the end of school if you have a preceptorship. My program didn’t offer a preceptorship. If you have a preceptorship and you can get into the NICU or whatever department you want to get into, that can also help lead to a job as well.

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