How to Study for the NCLEX and Pass the First Time

Female nursing student in scrubs and a white lab coat studies for the nclex

Congratulations on graduating from nursing school! You’ve worked really hard to get to this point and, while that’s a huge achievement, you’ve got one more hill to climb. Before you start your professional career, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

There are two versions of this test. The NCLEX-RN is for graduates who want to become registered nurses (RN), while the NCLEX-PN is for those who want to become licensed practical nurses (LPN) or vocational nurses (LVN).

In the United States, Canada, and Australia, a passing score on the NCLEX is required for even entry-level nursing positions requiring licensure. To help you with your NCLEX prep, this article will show you how to study for the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN to increase your chances of passing the first time.

What’s covered on the NCLEX-PN?

The NCLEX-PN is a form of computerized adaptive testing with anywhere from 85 to 205 multiple-choice exam questions. Twenty-five of these test questions are considered “experimental” and won’t count toward your final score.

The number of questions you’ll have to answer will depend on how well you’re doing on the test and the number of questions you’ve answered correctly already. Choosing the correct answer pays because the fewer test questions you get wrong, the fewer questions you’ll face on exam day.

Overall, though, the NCLEX-PN covers five key sections relevant to the duties and responsibilities of a practical nurse. Those five sections include:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment: This section deals with nursing care that’s helpful and supportive to the health care delivery setting and the overall well-being of patients.
  • Safety and Infection Control: This portion of the NCLEX-PN exam focuses on testing a nursing student’s knowledge of how to keep patients and colleagues safe from health and environmental hazards.
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance: In this segment, NCLEX-PN test-takers face questions designed to show their understanding of how health problems grow and develop, as well as best practices for the early detection of illnesses.
  • Psychosocial integrity: This part of the test presents questions that gauge a nursing candidate’s knowledge of the factors that can affect the mental, social, and emotional well-being of patients.
  • Physiological Integrity: In this component, the test-taker must be able to address and assist in the daily living activities of patients.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) gives test-takers five hours to complete the NCLEX-PN. This time includes two optional breaks, an instructional video, and 25 experimental questions.

What’s covered on the NCLEX-RN?

The NCLEX-RN exam is designed in an integrative manner, meaning all content areas — such as surgical, pediatric, psychiatric, etc. — are contained in one test. The NCLEX-RN test is geared toward the needs of a registered nurse and is structured as a multiple-choice computer adaptive test with some alternate question styles.

These other styles include fill in the blank, drag and drop, chart or exhibit, and multiple response. Some may also require you to provide rationales for your answers.

The number of questions and their difficulty are both determined by the number and style of questions answered correctly. Questions focus on critical thinking and applied nursing judgment calls.

The NCLEX-RN test is structured into four Client Needs categories, which contain eight subcategories. The four major Client Needs categories include:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment: This category contains NCLEX questions related to management of care and safety/infection control. Nursing actions tested here include error prevention, confidentiality, client rights, and referrals, among others.
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance: This portion of the NCLEX exam includes questions on subtopics like health screening, lifestyle choices, physical assessment techniques, and the aging process.
  • Psychosocial Integrity: For this section, test-takers will need to show mastery of behavioral interventions, end-of-life care, crisis intervention, family dynamics, and spiritual influence.
  • Physiological Integrity: This segment of the NCLEX-RN test presents questions across subcategories like basic care and comfort, reduction of risk potential, and physiological adaptation.

The NCLEX-RN may contain anywhere from 75 to 265 questions, with 15 “experimental” questions that don’t count toward the final score. Test-takers have six hours to complete the test, with an optional break after two hours and another optional break after 3.5 hours of testing.

How to study for the NCLEX-PN or -RN

The fact is you’ll need to prepare for the NCLEX exam. The last thing you want to do is show up to the testing center without any test prep ahead of time.

Whether you have a ton of time or just a couple of hours a week, access to SimpleNursing’s NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN prep has everything you need to study. To get you started, though, here is how you can study for the NCLEX.

1. Understand the NCLEX format

The first step toward passing the NCLEX the first time is knowing what you’ll be tested on, including nursing topics, essential information, and unique subtopics.

It’s also important to know how the computer adaptive test works. Both forms of the NCLEX test are interactive in the sense that your correct answers will always lead to marginally more difficult questions.

Incorrect answers will tell the computer to choose an easier question. Your competency is gauged not just by how many answers you get right but also by how hard those correct questions are compared to others on the test.

2. Start early and create a study plan — don’t cram!

Success on test day is also about starting early and sticking to a consistent plan.

Make an NCLEX review schedule that slots into your routine so you always know what and when you’ll study. Also, make sure to set aside some time to study each category of information independently.

The worst thing you can do is wait until the last minute, attempt to cram, or routinely stay up late trying to cover more than can be efficiently covered in a study session.

3. Study by your learning style

If you’re wondering how to study for the NCLEX – study time doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t work with your learning style. Are you a visual or an auditory learner? Do you like to read or is it better for you if information is conveyed in a video?

Answers to questions like these can help you figure out a way to study that’s conducive to your way of absorbing information. Using mnemonics, “teaching” other candidates, and keeping study sessions no longer than three or four hours at a time can help you retain valuable NCLEX exam information.

4. Take practice tests

Your NCLEX practice should also include practice tests. Mock exams can help you get used to the NCLEX format and even help you brush up on the most missed questions ahead of time.

Study sessions for NCLEX review are only ever as valuable as the materials used, though. With SimpleNursing, you can get access to a wide selection of practice questions and take your practice exam strategy to the next level.

5. Use the best study resources

The last thing you want is to be one of the unfortunates with a clinical horror story. Many times, this occurs because a test-taker is unprepared for the NCLEX exam or used study resources that were less than the best.

To avoid retaking the NCLEX exam, create a test plan built around study guides that use quality resources. When it comes to high-powered study tools for NCLEX review, SimpleNursing has you covered.

Study smarter for the NCLEX with SimpleNursing

Anyone who has completed nursing school knows that they need all the support they can get. Whether you need help getting ready for the NCLEX-PN test or the NCLEX-RN test, SimpleNursing is the trusted resource you need to do your best.

Let the informational podcasts, videos, and care plans at SimpleNursing help you walk out of the testing center knowing you passed the NCLEX exam the first time so you can focus on the next stage of becoming a professional nurse.