The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a critical step in a nursing professional’s journey. Among its many challenges, difficult questions can be particularly daunting. However, with the right strategies, you can approach these questions with confidence and increase your chances of success. Here’s how:

1. Understand the Question Structure

Before diving into answering, it’s crucial to understand what the question is asking. NCLEX questions often contain a lot of information, but not all of it may be relevant to the answer. Focus on identifying the key components of the question:

  • The Stem: This is the main part of the question, where the problem is presented.
  • The Scenario: Additional context or information about the patient or situation.
  • The Question Itself: Look for keywords like “best,” “most important,” “initial,” which guide the type of answer required.

2. Use the Process of Elimination

One of the most effective strategies for tough questions is to eliminate clearly wrong answers. Even if you are unsure about the correct answer, narrowing down your choices increases your odds. Look for options that are:

  • Outliers: Answers that are significantly different from the others.
  • Absolutes: Options with words like “always,” “never,” “only,” which are rarely correct in the nuanced world of healthcare.

3. Prioritize Patient Safety and Needs

Many NCLEX questions are framed around patient safety and care priorities. When in doubt, consider:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Basic physiological needs often take precedence.
  • ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation): Life-sustaining needs are usually the most urgent.
  • Safety and Risk Reduction: Choose options that minimize potential harm to the patient.

4. Think Critically, Not Memorization

The NCLEX tests your ability to think critically, not just recall information. When faced with a difficult question:

  • Consider the Context: Use your understanding of nursing principles and practices to think through the question.
  • Look for the “Best” Answer: There might be several “correct” options, but your job is to find the best one based on the scenario.

5. Manage Your Time and Stress

Anxiousness can cloud judgment. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t Dwell on One Question: If you’re stuck, move on and return later if time allows.
  • Breathing Techniques: Simple deep breathing can help manage stress levels during the exam.

6. Practice with NCLEX-Style Questions

Regular practice with NCLEX-style questions is invaluable. It helps you:

  • Get Familiar with Question Formats: Understanding how questions are structured can help you quickly identify the most important parts.
  • Improve Time Management: Timed practice sessions can help you learn to allocate your time effectively.

7. Seek Feedback and Support

Discussing challenging questions with peers or mentors can provide new insights. They might offer different perspectives or reasoning that you hadn’t considered.


Difficult questions on the NCLEX can be intimidating, but with these strategies, you can approach them more effectively. Remember, the NCLEX is designed to test your ability to think like a nurse, not just memorize facts. Embrace these challenges as part of your professional growth and step confidently into your role as a healthcare provider.