How to Manage NCLEX Exam Anxiety for Nursing Students

NurseJournal Staff
Updated August 22, 2022
Learn how to reduce nursing exam stress with practical tips. Explore the signs of excessive NCLEX anxiety and what to do if you experience them.
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Just thinking about an upcoming NCLEX, whether the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN, can make even the best-prepared nursing students feel some level of pressure. This all-encompassing examination covers all nursing topics — your best subjects and most difficult. The stakes are high, since you need to pass the examination to earn your license.

It is perfectly normal to feel anxious about the NCLEX. Some anxiety can even be good motivation to study harder and fight for success. Too much anxiety, however, causes unnecessary stress and can even make you too nervous to do your best.

This guide explores how to manage nursing exam anxiety and master your pre-test nerves. Keep reading for more on how to reduce nursing exam stress.

Recognizing NCLEX Anxiety

NCLEX anxiety can manifest in different ways, depending on the person and the situation. You might have signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Physical tension, especially in your neck, shoulders, and back
  • A feeling that your gut is clenching
  • Changes in your appetite, such as eating more or less than usual
  • Thinking about the examination when you should be thinking about other things
  • Worrying that you won’t do well
  • Frequent waking during the night

Experiencing some of these symptoms on occasion is normal. This can remind you of the high stakes and keep you motivated to study and do your best work. You can address these minor signs of anxiety with the tips on how to reduce nursing exam anxiety outlined below.

Some people might also experience extreme symptoms of NCLEX anxiety, such as:

  • Being convinced that you are going to fail, despite good grades on past examinations
  • Feeling tempted to drink heavily or engage in other unhealthy activities to forget about the examination or ease your anxiety
  • Not sleeping because of the exam
  • Persistent physical manifestations of anxiety, such as an upset stomach, vomiting, or bowel irregularities
  • Persistent worst-case thinking or planning to harm yourself if you don’t pass

These are more serious and can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.

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Effects of Exam Anxiety

Most people who have mild and intermittent NCLEX anxiety can use it to motivate themselves or otherwise prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally for the examination. In other words, they find it relatively easy to manage their anxiety in a way that doesn’t interfere with their lives or well-being.

However, some students, including those who are otherwise exceptionally well-prepared for the examination, find that NCLEX anxiety does interfere with their lives and overall health. They may find themselves experiencing ongoing mental or physical symptoms of anxiety, which can lead to long-term disorders. These disorders can even keep you from taking the exam or might make you do poorly on it because of high anxiety, not lack of preparation.

However, there are ways of managing nursing exam stress that can help prevent these outcomes.

Techniques for Managing NCLEX Anxiety

Just like success in other challenges is a mix of mental, emotional, and physical factors, you can prepare yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally to manage nursing exam anxiety. While these methods cannot get rid of NCLEX anxiety entirely, they can help you minimize its impact on your life or recognize when you need additional support.

  1. 1

    Make sure you’re prepared

    Begin planning your route to NCLEX success early in your nursing education. Read candidate materials and understand how the exam functions. While the exam is the same across the U.S., registration practices vary by state. Practice exams can help you understand how questions are structured and how to approach them.

  2. 2

    Make sure to get exercise, healthy food, and good rest

    It is all too easy to sacrifice exercise, a healthy diet, and sleep to study or burn off steam. However, you want to be in the best possible physical shape you can, so that the mind-body connection works in your favor and helps you reduce NCLEX anxiety.

  3. 3

    Think positively and visualize success

    Preparation and positivity make the perfect pairing. While you’re preparing for the exam, take time to visualize what success looks like. Imagine yourself getting the news that you passed and celebrating with your classmates, friends, and family. Use this mental image to push anxious thoughts from your mind.

  4. 4

    Do things that minimize stress, like yoga, listening to music, getting outside into nature, or spending time with pets.

    If you are looking for how to manage nursing exam anxiety, look for activities that you enjoy. Use activities like yoga, listening to music that puts you in a good mood, and spending time in nature or with pets to get into a good mental state. When you are relaxed and at ease, be mindful of that feeling. Later, you can deliberately recreate it when you feel NCLEX anxiety.

  5. 5

    Talk to a counselor or a mental health professional if exam anxiety is causing you serious distress.

    For some students, NCLEX anxiety can become serious. If you find your anxiety overwhelming, talk to your school counselor or a mental health professional. They have the experience and training to teach you how to manage nursing exam anxiety that threatens to interfere with your well-being.

    Getting help is a sign of strength and that you know when a situation needs specialized professional expertise. Give yourself the same compassion and professionalism you plan to give your patience as a nurse.

Setting Up for Success

The secret to NCLEX success is finding ways to reduce nursing exam anxiety and turn it into a motivational tool. Approach success as a matter of mental, emotional, and physical preparation, and take advantage of your school’s resources. Finally, talk to someone you trust if you find that anxiety is causing you serious distress. A professional can show you how to manage your feelings and position you to be ready to succeed and begin your nursing career.

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