Dr. Jan Olson By: Dr. Jan Olson
NCLEX Study Guide

This NCLEX study guide will walk you through some important steps to help prepare for this exam. Preparation is the key to scoring high but the problem is that most people are not sure where to start. So we’ve done most of the work for you by putting all of the information together in a handy study guide.

Use our study guide below to help you begin the study process and start preparing for your exam. We have also outlined some tips on how to study for the NCLEX and listed some resources to help with your studies. 

Summary: Use our NCLEX study guide to better understand what you should be studying for your exam. 

Now let’s walk through an example of a study schedule you can use to prepare for the NCLEX. However, this schedule is not set in stone and could change depending on the results of the initial practice test. This NCLEX study guide also assumes you will have at least 5 hours a day to dedicate to studies.

Week 1

  • Initial Practice Test - Take this practice test before you do any prep work so that you know where you stand. This identifies your strongest and weakest areas. 
  • Safe and Effective Care Environment - Study this section of the NCLEX in detail. This includes:
    • Care Management
    • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance - Use this time to study everything related to the health promotion and maintenance section of the exam.

(Don’t worry about taking another NCLEX practice test this week since you won’t have reviewed all the materials.)

Week 2

  • Psychosocial Integrity - Study psychosocial behaviors and related subjects to prepare for this section of the exam.
  • Physiological Integrity - Review this information so that you’re prepared for this section of the NCLEX. This includes:
    • Basic care and comfort of patients
    • Pharmacological therapies
    • Parental therapies
    • Risk reduction and risk potential
    • Physiological adaptation
  • Take a Practice Test - End week 2 with a practice test and then compare it to your initial test. Your score should see some improvement. You’ll use this practice test to plan for week 3.

Week 3

  • Review Strong Topics - This means the areas you scored highest in when you took the practice test. You’ll spend about 70% of your time here because you’ll use your strengths as the foundation of your score. 
  • Review Weak Topics - Choose your weakest areas and review them one-by-one. Dedicate about 30% of your time to these. You’ll never perfect weaknesses but any improvements you make will resonate in your final score. 
  • Take a Practice Test - End the week with another practice test. Compare it to the one you took on Week 2. Did you improve? Where was the improvement? 

Week 4

  • Answer Questions - Use a practice exam to answer questions in your weakest areas. Then carefully review every answer. This will help give you another slight boost.
  • Review Strongest Areas - Do this toward the end of the week. You won’t need to dedicate as much time here as you did in Week 3. 
  • Take a Practice Test - This time you need to fully simulate the test environment. Give yourself a time limit and pretend like it’s the real thing. You should ace this practice test! If not, you’ll need to determine what areas brought your score down and review them.

Following the proper study habits is just as important as the material. The problem is that most people study inefficiently so they spend more time and get less results. Make the most of your time by following these essential study habits.

  • Never cram. Space out your study sessions and material so that your mind has a chance to absorb all of the information. Cramming only leads to stress and fatigue on test day, both of which cause you to perform below average. 
  • Take a NCLEX practice test at least once a week while preparing for this exam. Everyone who is successful practices consistently to maintain their success. Musicians practice their instruments. Baseball players practice their skills. Testing is no different. 
  • Studying doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to read and reread textbooks until the information is drilled into your head. The key is to understand the material, not simply memorize it. Make sure that you fully understand what you are studying rather than just memorizing it.
  • Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake. Mistakes are a normal part of life. The key is to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them.
  • When studying material, be sure that you mix things up from day-to-day. You don’t want to spend two days studying the exact same material. 
  • Mix in visual learning tools. Most people learn better from visual references so using visual tools makes study time more efficient since you spend less time learning the same material.
  • Understand the context of what you’re studying. For example, facts and figures are great but you should always dig deeper. Why does that statistic matter? What does that fact have to do with the NCLEX?
  • Always make a plan but most importantly, stick to it! Don’t create a study plan only to find yourself skipping sessions. Once you have a plan in place, follow it to the letter!

It’s important that you set your expectations correctly in the beginning. However, the NCLEX is not like other tests you might have taken.

While it’s a multiple-choice test, there can be multiple answers that might be considered “correct,” but one of them is always the “best choice.” A student’s score is based on the strength of their choice. With that said, questions are either correct or incorrect so if you don’t provide the best answer, then it’s considered incorrect.

There are also some fill-in-the-blank, graphics, and audio questions. The total number of questions that are asked on any given test is different for all students. NCLEX uses a system called Computer Adaptive Testing. This system adjusts the test for each individual student. The difficulty of the test scales based on how you answered the previous question. 

You’re not allowed to skip questions. 

This throws a lot of people off so be prepared. This computerized test does not allow you to skip questions so you’ll have to be extra careful that you don’t spend too much time on a question. 

Time Limit for the NCLEX Exam

Plan 60 to 90 seconds for each question and arrive 30 minutes early so you can be seated on time. The testing center provides a brief orientation before throwing you into the test. Once started, you will have anywhere from 5 to 6 hours depending on whether you’re a PN candidate or an RN candidate. 

You get two breaks during the exam – the first clocks in at 2 hours and the second clocks in at 3-and-a-half hours.

Investing in an NCLEX prep course is the absolute best way to approach this important test. These courses come with all of the necessary study material and practice tests. Furthermore, this information is guaranteed to be up-to-date. You can check out our reviews of the best NCLEX prep courses or see our top rated pick below. 

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Nursing.com is our recommended provider for NCLEX prep courses. Make sure you pass your exam the first time around.

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With that being said, self-studying is definitely an option. However, this method has some risk involved. First of all, you have to find all of your own resources. The problem is that many of these resources will be out of date. Plus you spend valuable time verifying everything that could be spent studying. 

When you invest in a prep course, all of these risks are mitigated and you can spend your time studying. 

With that said, here are some other benefits. 

  • An NCLEX prep course helps you memorize and understand material better because it provides context. 
  • Walk into the testing facility full of confidence on test day! Prep courses boost your confidence and give you peace of mind. 
  • Avoid test anxiety by gaining the confidence that you will succeed. Passing a practice test will build you up for the big moment. Plus being prepared for a test also lessens the anxiety that comes with it. 
  • Use your time more efficiently by jumping right into your studies without the added worry of researching your own materials.

The NCLEX is a tough exam so you absolutely must prepare thoroughly before trying to tackle it. You’re probably going to get frustrated on certain questions during the exam but it’s essential that you spend no more than 90 seconds on any one question. If your time is up, make your best guess and move on. 

Remember that this is the final step before becoming a licensed nurse so it’s supposed to be difficult. But you’re prepared! Your mental attitude will make all of the difference. 

Follow this NCLEX study guide to walk into test day with the confidence and knowledge to ace this exam!