The 24 Hours Before Taking the NCLEX

The 24 Hours Before Taking the NCLEX

NCLEX is a huge step in nursing students’ journey to becoming registered nurses. In this post I provide guidance, emotional support, and practical tips to help you navigate the stress and the anxiety associated with the NCLEX exam. My goal is that you arrive at the testing center with a clear mind and confidence that you will do your best.


Surviving Your NCLEX Test Day
Jelena Susic


June 25, 2024

Tackling the NCLEX

At one point in your life, you’ve decided you want to care for people. You went through a rigorous selection process and a difficult program where you’ve likely seen classmates give up and leave. At the culmination of clinicals, nursing plans, countless flash cards, thousands of practice questions, and with your brand-new Nursing diploma in hand, there is now only one thing standing between you and the prospective RN job – NCLEX. 

As an RN, I recognize the anxiety Nursing students experience before taking this exam. It is not only a proof of knowledge but a life-changing exam for which you have been preparing for years. It validates that you can think critically well enough to take care of a patient. 

With only 24 hours left before the NCLEX, you must be wondering if there is anything you can do to improve your test performance. The answer is: Absolutely! Put down your notes, and step away from the books and flashcards. You are as ready as you’ll ever be. Your brain is full of facts and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to cram any more information into it. The most important thing in the last 24 hours is to allow yourself to relax and calm your mind so that you can perform to the best of your ability.

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Having anxiety before the test is completely normal. In some cases when your brain experiences anxiety, it can push itself into a fight or flight mode, making it unable to access the information you have worked so hard to retain. I will present some stress-busting ideas that may be helpful. There is no requirement to try all of these; if you find anything below that sounds like a good idea, or something you identify with, you have earned one more way to combat pre-test anxiety.

The Day Before the NCLEX

Familiarize yourself with the testing site 

Plan the route. If you can, go to the testing site around the same time you’d be leaving home on the day of NCLEX. If you are driving, locate the parking area. If possible, walk into the building, and find the testing center. Look at the alternate routes in case there’s trouble on the road and use the travel time of the longest route as departure time for the next day.

This way, you will have a couple of routes mapped in your mind and will reduce the possibility of not having the time to make it to the location. When you go through the motions, you consume less of your precious brainpower you’ll need for the test. You can also try to arrange for a support person to drop you off.

Familiarize yourself with the testing environment and conditions, and prepare accordingly 

Most testing locations will not allow anything in the testing room. They will provide pencils and paper. Certain test centers have photos and a video overview of the location. Some of them have lockers in the waiting room, others in the hallway outside of it. 

Plan to bring a bottle of water and enough snacks to sustain you through the five-hour testing period. Your brain will be working very hard, and you don’t want to be hungry while test-taking. Find out how long of a break or how many breaks you are allowed to take. Plan to dress in loose clothing and in layers so you aren’t uncomfortable during the exam. Being too hot or too cold can sabotage your ability to focus.

Do something relaxing 

Go for tried-and-true methods such as surrounding yourself with positive and encouraging people, treating yourself at your favorite restaurant, going for a walk in nature, getting a manicure or a massage, taking a long bath, meditating.

Make it a day about you. 

Plan to use a test-taking system that you’ve learned in nursing school

At this point, there isn’t enough time to retrain yourself to a new test-taking method and it may make you less confident. Stick to what you know works for you.

The Evening Before NCLEX

Visualize your future as an RN

Visualization is a powerful technique that can help relieve anxiety symptoms and increase confidence. By imagining positive scenarios, you stimulate positive emotions that counteract anxiety and negative thoughts. Visualize yourself walking into the testing site with confidence, knowing the right answers, and passing the test with ease. Now imagine how it feels to be an RN. Imagine your future self working at your favorite clinical site or wherever you would like to be employed. Try to involve as many senses as you can and imagine as many details as possible, such as what you’re wearing, the space you’re in, the people around you,  what you smell, and the noises you hear. The more senses you involve in your visualization, the more vivid your vision will be.

Go to bed on time

Goes without saying. Give your mind and body enough time to rest and build energy for the next day. 

The Morning of NCLEX

Have a nutritious breakfast and make sure you eat protein

You don’t want to have a sugar spike and crash while you are taking the test. Give your brain a solid source of energy so it can perform effectively.

Write down your fears and leave them behind

Leave them in your car, a locker, anywhere away from you. Studies have shown that expressive writing, without worry about spelling frees up mental resources, allows the brain to perform better on tests.

Take deep breaths

Diaphragmatic breathing is a quick and effective method of activating the vagus nerve, which will in turn activate your parasympathetic nervous system, lower your heart rate, reduce your cortisol levels, and improve your mood. This will come in very handy in the waiting room as you hear students talk about their stress and what they are anxious about. There are several types of breathing exercises you can do, with the simplest being taking slow, deep abdominal breaths with your hand over the diaphragm. This is also a good exercise if you are getting overwhelmed by a test question.

Final Thoughts

I took the computer NCLEX in 2006. When I reached the 75th question, I excused myself and went to the restroom, despairing. Ten minutes later, I returned and answered the 76th question and my test was over.

Nclex scoring at a glance

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The experience of taking NCLEX is something I’ve never forgotten. If you’re reading this, you are already doing more than I have before I took the NCLEX. I didn’t know much about relaxation methods at the time and I wish I had sought out more information about this topic. I hope that you find this article helpful, and I truly wish you the best on your nursing journey.

You got this! 

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