I’d like to share a quote I came across the other day and I wish I would have seen this when I was writing one of my first blogs.  The one that discussed how death is inevitable and bodily deterioration is certain. It’s always good to come back and be reminded of a topic, though, so that’s what I’m doing now.

The quote is from Henry Nouwen’s, Show Me The Way, and while you might not be a believing Christian, the quote has meaning nonetheless: “A slow discovery of mortality results in an appreciation of beauty without clinging to it as if it were a lasting possession…all living is dying” (p. 136-137). I love this thought because it reminds me that living in an impermanent world highlights its very beauty all the more. I am young, just out of college, beginning my working career: my body recovers quickly, yet I see that this won’t always be the case as I work with my patients. My patients who are 94-years-old shuffle across the floor, suffer from severe lower leg swelling, and can barely sit up on the bed for a doctor to examine them. Nouwen’s reflection causes me to be grateful for the health that I have now, but it also helps me accept that one day I will deteriorate. I can live into my physical abilities now without fruitlessly clinging to them (because they won’t last).

Sorry to go into such a deep thought at the very beginning, but it was worth sharing.

I’d like to talk a little about my experience with the NCLEX. A lot of my friends who are a year behind me have taken or are about to take their nursing boards. I’m reminded of the long, arduous process that it took for me to finally get that title of Registered Nurse. I’m sure other nurses will have their own personal NCLEX journeys, but here’s mine for other nurses to empathize with (or if you’re not a nurse, you can read this and hopefully gain some insight into how someone prepares for testing day).

Early Preparation

My nursing program began preparing me for the NCLEX from the very first semester. Along with my classmates, I received an account through Assessment Technologies Institute (ATI), an online program that offered review material for each specialty of nursing. My classmates and I would have books that complemented the online review material and corresponded with our particular clinical experiences and classroom studies. For example, my first semester was focused on the area of mental health, so my clinical rotations were done at a local psychiatric facility.  My classroom studies focused on mental health disorders and medications to treat these, and my ATI material was a compilation of all nursing knowledge within the realm of mental health. At the end of this semester, we would take a proctored test for mental health nursing through the ATI website. The goal would be to pass with a score higher than the national average (usually around 65-78%).

My ATI preparation was similar each semester of school, just different areas of study: take practice quizzes, read the material in the book, and take the final proctored test at the end of the semester. I did this for mental health, pediatrics, obstetrics, med-surg, and public health. The incentive to doing well on the ATI exam each semester was simple: you got to leave on school break 1-2 days earlier. If you failed the first time, you had to retake the test on a different day. So for two years during school, I was gradually preparing for the NCLEX in this way.

When to Apply for the Authorization to Test Varies by State

My route towards the NCLEX was dissimilar from my classmates in several ways. First, I was heading back to Colorado after graduation, whereas most of my Michigan-born-and-bred classmates were remaining in the mitten state. In Michigan, students who wish to take the NCLEX can apply for their Authorization to Test (ATT) before they have graduated from an accrediting nursing institution. An ATT is required to sign up for the NCLEX and typically takes several weeks to be processed. My classmates were applying for their ATT in April. I felt frustratingly behind because I couldn’t apply for my ATT through the state of Colorado until I received my official transcript AFTER graduation. My type-A personality was slowly dying inside as I realized that I was stuck: I had to wait for the papers that stated I was a graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing individual. Ugh.

Work and Study

Another difference between me and my peers was that I planned to work while studying for my NCLEX. Many of my peers were planning on studying full-time in preparation for their boards, and some of them were working part-time. I not only accepted a full-time camp nurse position with 24-hour on-call responsibilities, but the camp was located in a remote area of the Colorado mountains, where internet access was limited. I had no idea what I was actually signing up for. Had I been fully aware of the demands that my camp nursing position required, I would probably have opted for a job that gave me a little more time to study.

I came to camp on Memorial Day, just a week after graduating college. On June 1st, I finally received my transcript and was able to submit my ATT to the state of Colorado. I was hoping and praying that it wouldn’t take longer than four weeks to process. I did not want to spend all of my summer at camp thinking about the NCLEX or trying to find 30 minutes here or there to run to the nearest internet for a brief study session. All I could do was wait, though.


I’d love to share more about my experience as a camp nurse, but for now, I’ll stick to the parts that pertain to preparing for the NCLEX. I spent the next few weeks trying to balance the necessities of life with learning a new job, meeting new people, and yes, studying. I did online practice quizzes as much as I could, trying to expose myself to as many NCLEX-like questions that I could. After I had taken all of the ATI practice tests and quizzes at least three times, I moved on to Kaplan, another online program with similar tests. I read through class notes, re-wrote information again and again until it cemented in my brain. The amount of material that could possibly be on the NCLEX was an overwhelming and frightening cloud over my head, and all the while I was trying to make sure campers had their medication, cuts and scrapes were receiving the proper treatment, and basically making sure over a hundred 9-12 year olds would make it back to their parents in one piece by the end of the week.

And then it came – my ATT came through in 3.5 weeks. I was ready to sign up for the NCLEX. When I went online to sign up, my options were limited. Either I could take the test in two days or I could take it in six weeks. Out of the pure desire to be done with studying, I hastily signed up for the test in two days. My reasoning was this: “What the heck. If I’m not ready by now, then I don’t deserve to pass.”

The rest is history. I drove down to Denver to take the test, finished in less than an hour, figured that I either did unimaginably bad or pretty good and had a celebratory Chick-fil-A lunch on my way back to camp. However, it wasn’t until 48 hours later when I received my results that I could finally breathe a sigh of relief: the hours upon hours that I spent studying culminated in a small, unassuming “Pass” on my computer screen. But the joy of finally becoming a Registered Nurse was real, and here I am one year later. How time flies.

Balancing Work, Life and Studying for the NCLEX was last modified: by



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