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NCLEX Techniques in 5 Easy Steps

By Prof. Rachell Allen, RN, MSN, NP

Because of the long emphasis on traditional NCLEX learning, the science of learning involving the brain has long been forgotten, bypassed or overlooked.

There are lots of books out there giving you all the inside scoop on how to succeed in nursing. They tell you exactly what your professors tell you. Keep up on your reading, don’t miss a class, review your notes, study, study and study.

The bad news is that NCLEX students often find that preparing for the test takes a lot more time and effort than just making a stack of index cards and staying up a couple of nights a week. A typical full-time review program is about 45 hours of work in and out of class. That’s why it’s called “full-time” – it’s the equivalent of a full-time job. Surveys have shown that students who claim to have studied intensively often report 11 hours studying for a course per semester. So you ask, “that’s how much time it takes to learn one chapter in a typical textbook?”

So Why Is Reviewing For NCLEX a Problem?

Mostly because a lot of these students feel they need to know everything all at once.

Suppose you have an exam on let’s say, Pharmacological Agents in the Care of Patients coming up next week. What do you do? Chances are, you make a list of drugs to memorize, put them in your index cards until you can rattle off each list flawlessly. Now this may help you in this particular exam, but a week later, when you need these same information to learn the next chapter, you can’t perfectly recall them. You may even find that you did not retain as much in your memory.

So why, you ask.

The Science of Learning

Because real learning is not just about index cards and memorizing. You may already know that your brain is divided into front and rear lobes. The rear deals with passive sensory stimuli and memory retrieval (looking back). The front explores, learns new things and makes hypotheses. The interesting thing is that when new information is learned, it travels back and forth in a loop. This simply means that if you can recall what Cushing’s Syndrome is, then learning has effectively taken place. If not, you will have to re-learn it again. This is exactly the part of the loop that most nursing students focus on. Trying to learn over and over again by shuffling index cards. A little knowledge sticks here and there, but it should be clear by now, why most does not. Learning never occurred in the first place.

Learning Techniques in 5 Easy Steps

So how does learning take effect? There are countless ways to learn information and for the purpose of this article, I will only outline five of these:

Make it interesting.
Our brain has limited capacity for processing loads of information when learning. Its attention span is extremely selective and the only information that does get retained are those it sees relevant and enticing enough.

Interesting helps. Can you recall the plot of the movie Titanic? If you’ve seen the film, you can, because it is interesting enough. I use “interesting” in my lectures all the time. The concepts become alive in the sense that they are fun to learn and therefore relevant and memorable.

Remember, not Memorize.
You may now have probably realized why a deck of cards didn’t work the last time you took a major exam. Because all you did was memorize so you can quickly store the list in your brain. The bad news is that when the finals came, you were back to zero. All that time and nothing showed.

Somehow, we still need to get that information from your short-term memory into long-term memory. This is what I call “remembering” not memorizing. And the good news is that you never lose anything from your long-term memory, just the ability to retrieve it. Remembering is connecting information with what you already have in your brain. Memorizing is learning information as is, like disconnected items. Do you see the difference?

Whenever you learn something new, you need to try to find a connection to whatever you already know. Because you won’t retain that information very long unless you see the relationships and the overall picture.

Use Memory Devices.
You might have recalled someone’s name by giving him a pet name like Jake Fake because his name is Jake and he wears mostly fake accessories. If it works for you, be my guest. You’re welcome.

The human brain’s attention span is extremely selective, therefore it must depend largely on memory aids and shortcuts if it is to learn the desired information effectively. That’s why in my lectures, I use elaborate memory clues, mnemonics and some other variants to make nursing terminologies easier to understand and remember. Their relevance hook is that they are attention-grabber, funny and memorable.

Reduce Information Overload.
I mentioned previously that our brain has limited capacity for processing data. When confronted with a truckload of information, it becomes extremely discriminating.

Good news? It is easier for a learner to focus their attention on a subject if there is minimal information. Reducing information is reducing noise for the brain and therefore reduce the risk of experiencing information overload.

So if you are studying the full chapter on let’s say, Blood Administration, you should highlight only the key areas that would most likely come out in the NCLEX test. For example, a 25-Day Integrated Review Program on NCLEX would do just that. Safely assuming that you’re planning on passing the NCLEX, I suggest you take those out that’s not necessary to your learning goals. Highlight what’s most important when you review for NCLEX.

Use Top-Down Learning.
I personally find this an interesting technique to a better, longer memory retention. I use this method by pulling out concepts from my student’s past experiences and existing knowledge first before learning new topics in nursing. It accomplishes two things: First, it reinforces the long-term memory. Second, it fosters the new learning process.

In my class, I usually make it a priority to discuss what my students already know about a certain subject before introducing the new ones. If you haven’t used top-down method in your review preparation for NCLEX, I suggest you make an effort to make this a habit.

NCLEX Techniques in 5 Easy Steps is based on BRAIN RN™, the copyrighted work of Rachell Allen, RN, MSN, NP. Brain RN™, also a trademark of is an extremely powerful study method that teaches memory tricks and devices for easy learning and better memory retention. It is offered as part of the author’s 25-Day Integrated Review Program for NCLEX. For more information, visit at


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for posting the article. We really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

gud day, i would like to ask regarding the application in vermont? i'm a board passer of june 2007 board exam and the PRC will issue the license card after a couple of months. i would like to ask of do i need the license card or is it ok to pass the certification since the card is not yet available? thanks! more power!

Anonymous said...

you can attach a certificate of passing instead of the PRC card for vermont.

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