Nurse ready to pass her NCLEX exam

How to Study for the NCLEX: Your Ultimate Guide

When it comes to how to study for the NCLEX, preparing the right way is key. Nursing school is no joke and with the limited time you have, it’s vital to be sure you’re using it wisely. 

That’s exactly why we put together this handy guide to helping you get the most out of your studying sessions. By utilizing a few simple study hacks, you’ll be on the fast track to getting those sought-after credentials after your last name in no time. 

But how do you do it? Where do you begin? What’s most important? 

The reality is the NCLEX is unlike exams in nursing school. And this is precisely why you’re here today. So let’s dive into how to study for the NCLEX … the right way.

Make an NCLEX Study Plan

When you go into any big event without a plan, odds are things won’t end up going as well as they could have. You need a well thought-out plan for how to study for the NCLEX. Whether your exam is in one year or one month, it’s never too early or too late to evaluate your studying process to make it more effective. 

Studying for the NCLEX is a marathon, not a sprint. Success at the testing center is all about endurance. This is why you start training now, not a week before test time. You’d never run a marathon without training, so don’t plan to pass such an important exam without practice. 

When you study, give yourself enough time to get the job done. Study in 25-minute intervals, give yourself a 5-minute break, then repeat. After 100 minutes of studying you reward yourself with a longer break. This is called the Pomodoro Technique. Bonus: It’s also useful for when you have that big research paper to write.

Things to Keep in Mind When Making Your NCLEX Study Plan

  • If you know the date of the exam, write it on the calendar. Plan backward from that to ensure you cover all areas of nursing when figuring out how to study for the NCLEX.. 
  • Studying for the NCLEX begins when you start nursing school. Take each class and each clinical experience seriously.
  • When studying for your regular classroom exams, aim to soak in that content. NCLEX prep is a cumulation of all the years of nursing school combined. It helps to think of it as a holistic exam.
  • Review all exam subject areas
    • Management of coordinated care
    • Basic care and comfort
    • Health promotion and maintenance
    • Psychosocial integrity
    • Physiological adaptation
    • Pharmacological and parenteral therapies
    • Reduction of risk potential
    • Safety and infection control

Plan an NCLEX Study Schedule

tools needed to create an nclex study schedule

A study schedule ensures you don’t leave anything out. It also helps you focus on using a comprehensive approach to studying. When you cover all exam subjects and nursing areas, you can stay on track to pass the first time. 

Since you’ll be studying each day and not cramming, plan what you’re going to study ahead of time. Setting goals like this for yourself helps hold you accountable and makes studying a part of your routine. Also, don’t forget to schedule rest days in there, too. It’s important to not burn yourself out.

Here’s an example of an NCLEX study schedule to help you understand how to study for the NCLEX:

Monday: Fluids and electrolytes + labs

Tuesday: Antepartum, maternity, postpartum, and gynecology

Wednesday: Hematology + immune system

Thursday: Pediatrics + oncology

Friday: Cardiovascular + EKG

Saturday: Respiratory + musculoskeletal + integumentary

Sunday: Rest

Each week, reassess what you need to work on and make a new schedule, switching up your topics to study each week so you don’t get bored. You can even plan out your schedule for a month at a time. This helps you stay on track and prevents you from wasting your valuable time.

In addition to this schedule, spend time each day taking NCLEX practice questions. This is the hands-down best way to prep yourself. We’ll get more into this in a bit.

NCSBN provides free test plans for both the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN. These study guides give you an outline and serve as a guide for NCLEX test prep. 

Practice Makes Perfect 

Practice for the NCLEX by taking practice test questions every day — it’s truly the secret to passing. This consistent testing helps you to practice for the real thing and helps your brain get familiar with this specific type of testing called computerized adaptive testing. It’s a win for you since you won’t waste valuable test time figuring how to answer the various types of questions and can instead focus on answering quickly and correctly.

Questions on the NCLEX may be multiple choice, ordered responses, fill in the blanks, or hot spot. Also, you may need to use charts, videos, stories, or graphics provided to answer various exam questions. This is why it’s important to invest in quality resources to help you practice. Try the Daily NCLEX Challenge for a fun practice testing experience.

A few pointers to remember while taking practice exams are:

  • Always review the correct answers so you can learn from them. Keep practicing these forms or types of questions until you’re consistently getting them correct. 
  • Use notes, books, and knowledge from nursing school to study. 
  • Revisit concepts you’re struggling with often. 
  • When answering individual NCLEX questions:
    • Visualize all scenarios to draw upon your nursing knowledge base.
    • Always assess the patient before calling the doctor.
    • Use the airway, breathing, circulation approach (ABC).
    • Avoid the all-or-none extreme type of answer choices.
    • Systematically eliminate imperfect or incorrect answers until you find the best answer (many answers can be right, but may not be the best).

Use Varying Studying and Memorization Techniques

Practicing a variety of techniques helps you to actively study and absorb information instead of passively reading that information. When you do this you retain what you study much better than silently reading a textbook.

Here are a few techniques to try:

  • Teaching — Teach your fellow nursing students about a particular topic.
  • Study groups — Study in a group to learn from each other.
  • Listen to podcasts or use audio learning — Try this while walking or driving. Not only do these switch things up a bit, but they also make great use of your time.
  • Mnemonics — Use patterns of letters or ideas to help you memorize your study materials.
  • Make connections — Connections help you to see the big picture and activate your critical thinking skills.
  • Read out loud — This helps you to remember better, making you a better test taker.
  • Draw — Sketch out complex topics or make lists to find new ways of seeing a particular topic.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

nurses going on a walk to un-stress from nclex prep

Let’s face it, studying for the NCLEX is a full-time job! But don’t burn yourself out by studying so much you’re giving up things that bring you joy. 

Here are a few study tips that’ll help you survive until test day:

  • Get adequate, quality sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat well
  • Exercise or go for walks to clear your mind
  • Socialize with friends
  • Spend time alone or meditate
  • Calm your nerves by checking out your test site before the test to familiarize yourself with the exam day process

What Not to Do When Studying for the NCLEX

Here are common things nursing students do that you should avoid doing when studying for the NCLEX.

Overlearn 

Don’t focus on one subject for too long. It can be tempting to keep reading, especially when it’s an area you’re interested in, but keep in mind you need to be knowledgeable in many areas.

Multitask 

Put your phone on airplane mode and don’t check your email during a study session. It’s important that you take your study time as seriously as a job.

Study With One Learning Style

Vary the ways in which you study. While it’s easy to fall back on believing you only learn in one specific way, research shows most people learn in many different ways.

Draw From Past Experiences

Don’t draw from experiences as a nursing student or from past clinical experiences, particularly if they differ from your textbooks or study materials. The truth is you may have picked up on an incorrect way of doing things. All nurses perform care a bit differently. Plus, techniques and procedures can vary from facility to facility. 

Focus on what you’ve learned in the classroom. Textbooks and classroom instruction better prepare you for the NCLEX than real-life healthcare experiences. Remember, the NCLEX is rooted in evidence-based practice, not anecdotal data. 

Do You Know How to Study for the NCLEX?

Knowing the NCLEX exam format and practicing test-taking skills from repeated testing are integral parts of passing. If you start healthy study habits now, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

If you’re overwhelmed by how to study for the NCLEX, sign up today for the Daily NCLEX Challenge. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting prepared with thousands of other nursing students just like you. See you there!


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