Basics Cheat Sheet for NCLEX

April 5th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

It’s been the week of the nurse licensure exam or NCLEX here at “The Nurses Station” and that got me thinking. I’ve been giving all this explanation and advice, how about I do something really useful?

I wrote earlier that you need to know concepts, understand theories, and have keen judgment to pass the NCLEX. That got me thinking, how about if I put some of the information in one place, like a big cheat sheet. Actually write it out in one place—stuff I know you need to have on board to become a licensed RN or LPN. So here goes.


Better than 1,2,3—ABCs are always the first priority.

  • Airway – Is it clear? If it isn’t, we’ll never get to the next letter:
  • Breathing – If this isn’t possible oxygen won’t reach the lungs and be transported around the body in the blood, know as:
  • Circulation – Without which hypoxia and cardiac arrest will ensue.

These are the basic life saving principals and they combine with that only slightly lesser known phrase, “look, listen, and feel.” Look in the mouth to make sure airway is clear, listen for breath, and feel for pulse. Whether in the ER, the OR, or on the floors this is nursing 101.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Human needs are ranked on an ascending scale according to how essential those needs are for survival. Abraham Maslow ranked human needs on five levels.

  1. Physiologic Needs – Needs such as air, food, water, shelter, rest, sleep activity, and temperature maintenance, are crucial for survival.
  2. Safety and Security Needs – The need for safety has both physical and psychological aspects. The person needs to feel safe, both in the physical environment and in relationships.
  3. Love and Belonging Needs – The third level of needs includes giving and receiving affection, attaining a place in a group, and maintaining the feeling of belonging.
  4. Self-esteem Needs – The individual needs both self-esteem (i.e., feelings of independence, competence, and self-respect) and esteem from others (i.e., recognition, respect, and appreciation).
  5. Self-actualization – When the need for self-esteem is satisfied, the individual strives for self-actualization, the innate need to develop one’s maximum potential and realize one’s abilities and qualities.

Human needs serve as a framework for assessing behaviors, assigning priorities to outcome criteria, and planning nursing interventions.

The Nursing Process

The nursing process is a systematic, rational method of planning and providing individualized nursing care. In the simplest terms the nursing process is:

  1. Assessing – Collecting data.
  2. Diagnosing – Figuring out what is the problem.
  3. Outcome/Planning – How to best manage the problem.
  4. Implementing – Putting the plan into action.
  5. Evaluating – Did the plan work?

The five phases of the nursing processes are not singular entities. They often overlap, for example, assessment is often carried out while implementing and evaluating. The nursing process allows for RNs to use time and resources more efficiently, to both their own and their client’s benefit.

The Six Rights

They are called the “rights” of medication administration. All medication errors can be linked, in some way, to an inconsistency in adhering to these “rights” when giving meds to patients.

  1. Right Client – To identify a client correctly, the nurse must check the medication administration form against the client’s identification bracelet and ask the client to state his or her name to ensure the ID band is correct.
  2. Right Medication – This is a multi-step process. The medication should be check against the medication order and the medication label. Nurses should only administer medications they prepare and verify. If an error occurs, the nurse who give the medication is the one responsible for the error.

    If a client questions the medication a nurse is about to give it is important not to administer it until it can be rechecked against the prescriber’s order. An alert client will know if a medication is different from those received before.

  3. Right Dose – The unit dose system is designed to minimize errors. If a medication must be prepared from a larger volume or strength than needed or when the prescriber orders an amount different than what the pharmacy supplies, the chance for a mistake multiplies. When performing medication calculations or conversions, have a colleague, another qualified RN check the calculated dose.
  4. Right Time – The nurse must understand why a medication is ordered for certain times of day and whether that time schedule can be altered.
  5. Right Route – If a prescriber’s order does not designate a route of administration such as orally or by injection or IV (intravenously) the nurse must consult the prescriber. If the prescribed route is not the recommended route the nurse should double check with the prescriber.
  6. Right Documentation – This is a fairly new addition to the traditional “Five Rights” but has been widely adopted by facilities and caregivers. Many medication errors result from inaccurate documentation. The documentation should clearly reflect the patient’s name, the name of the ordered medication, the time the drug was given and the medications dosage, route and frequency. After giving the medication the MAR must be completed per facility policy.

Basic Lab Values

It is important for you to remember normal lab values because they might be included in questions throughout the test.

Serum Electrolytes

  • Calcium: 8.5–10.9mg/L
  • Chloride: 98-107
  • Magnesium: 1.6-2.6 mg/dL
  • Phosphorus:2.5–4.5mg/dL
  • Potassium: 3.5-5.1
  • Sodium: 135-145 mEq/L

Hematology Values

  • RBC: 4.5–5.0million
  • WBC: 5,000–10,000
  • Platlets: 200,000–400,000
  • Hemoglobin: 12–16 g/dL Women; 14–18 g/dL Men
  • Hematocrit: 37 – 48% Women; 45 – 52% Men

Arterial Blood Gases (ABGs)

  • pH: 7.35-7.45
  • pCO2: 35-45 mEq/L
  • HCO3: 24-26 mEq/L
  • pO2: 80-100%

Chemistry Values

  • Glucose: 70–110 mg/dL
  • Specific gravity: 1.010–1.030
  • BUN: 7–22m g/dL
  • Serum creatinine: 0.6–1.35 mg/dL (< 2 in older adults)
  • LDH: 100–190 U/L

  • CPK: 21–232 U/L

  • Uric acid: 3.5–7.5 mg/dL

  • Triglyceride: 40–50 mg/dL

  • Totalcholesterol:130–200 mg/dL
  • Bilirubin: <1.0 mg/dL

  • Protein: 6.2–8.1 g/dL

  • Albumin: 3.4–5.0 g/dL

of course this is only a beginning. There is so much you will be expected to know but if you have graduated nursing school you have been exposed to all that you need. A lot of the NCLEX is critical thinking. What I have provided here are some facts and theories that will make pulling all that information together easier.

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