Your NCLEX Study Plan: When & How to Study

Mike Linares MSN, RN Apr 25, 2024
Young Asian woman studying for National Council Licensure Examination (nclex) National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)

Acting as the final barrier to earning your license and starting your medical career, it makes sense that many new grads spend a large chunk of time studying for this critical test. But, with the right approach and a well-crafted NCLEX study plan, you will be well on your way to a passing grade in no time!

For newly graduated nurses, studying and finishing your final exams is just the beginning of the final push to earning your full license.

As one of the few professional schooling programs requiring students to pass an additional examination assessment after graduating, it’s very common for nursing students to feel quite stressed about taking the NCLEX exam.

So, looking to help those who may need to learn how to structure their ever-important studying time best, we created this helpful guide to walk you through some of the most foolproof NCLEX prep techniques to get you a passing grade. 

Whether you are in your first year of nursing school or coming up on graduation, it is always early enough (or too late!) to start thinking about your studying strategy.

Preparation is key — so let’s jump right in and get you ready to absolutely crush your NCLEX!

Jump to Section

  1. Why Do I Need to Take the NCLEX?
  2. How to Study for the NCLEX-RN
  3. Why You Need a Personalized Study Plan
  4. Primary NCLEX Question Topics
  5. Resources You Need for Your NCLEX Study Plan
  6. The Ultimate NCLEX Study Plan (and FAQ)

Why do I need to take the NCLEX?

Unlike other degree programs where graduation is a joyous occasion that marks the end of the need to study, nursing students are met with a different fate. 

The National Council Licensure Examination (more commonly known as the NCLEX) is a mandatory test taken by newly graduated nurses to earn their full practice license. Depending on the program you took during your schooling, there are two different forms of the NCLEX exam:

  • The NCLEX-RN — This is the exam taken by nursing students who took a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Once candidates pass this exam, they can officially become licensed by their state as registered nurses. Questions from this exam span a wide variety of topics, but also include questions testing nursing management and leadership.
  • The NCLEX-PN — This exam is written by students who have gone to school to become licensed or practical nurses. Similar to the NCLEX-RN, this exam also tests the candidates with a wide variety of different question styles and topics, but this exam focuses on coordination of patient care.

And as of April 2023, the NCSBN has rolled out the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN). This new version of the exam is designed to reflect the evolving healthcare landscape and equip nurses with the skills necessary to provide safe and effective care to patients. 

The NGN differs from traditional NCLEX exams by incorporating a more interactive and scenario-based format, allowing test-takers to demonstrate their critical thinking, decision-making, and clinical judgment skills.

But how can you get motivated to study for this massive test right after finally completing nursing school? While this can seem like an almost unfair and daunting task, with a proper NCLEX study plan, we know you will be ready to write with plenty of confidence!

How to Study for the NCLEX-RN

Preparing for the NCLEX exam is essential to ensure success. Avoid arriving at the testing center unprepared by following these steps:

  1. Understand the NCLEX format: Familiarize yourself with the exam’s structure and the computer adaptive test system, where correct answers lead to harder questions and incorrect answers lead to easier ones.
  2. Start early and create a study plan: Begin studying early and stick to a consistent schedule. Avoid cramming for the test and ensure your study plan fits into your routine.
  3. Study according to your learning style: Identify whether you’re a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner and tailor your study methods accordingly. Use techniques like mnemonics and limit study sessions to maintain focus.
  4. Take practice tests: Incorporate practice exams into your study routine to become familiar with the NCLEX format and identify areas for improvement. Utilize quality resources that give realistic NCLEX practice questions to ensure readiness.
  5. Use the best study resources: Ensure you’re utilizing high-quality study materials to avoid being unprepared for the exam. SimpleNursing provides comprehensive study guides and resources for successful NCLEX preparation.

Why You Need a Personalized Study Plan

Before you jump in and start panicking about creating the perfect NCLEX studying plan, we encourage our readers to take a step back and look at a few important factors that will heavily dictate their progress. 

Just because the NCLEX is important doesn’t mean that studying for it can take over all aspects of your life — so making a feasible plan based on your current situation is essential for success. 

So, before you jump into a rigorous study routine that will be too draining to maintain, consider the following factors:

  • Date and time of your scheduled test — The exam date is a highly important factor because it dictates how long you have to study! In most cases, it’s recommended that candidates have anywhere from six to eight weeks to study before writing. So ensuring you book a time that gives you enough time is essential.
  • Study time available — While you may have multiple weeks before your exam, it doesn’t mean that studying is the only thing you will be doing during that time. If you are super busy with a job, volunteering, or other obligations, be sure to factor that time into your study plan.
  • How you prefer to learn — Depending on how you like to study and learn, you may need more or less time to create the needed resources. Whether you like to create cue cards, watch videos, write notes, or draw concept maps, factor your learning style into your initial study plan for the best results.

Primary NCLEX Question Topics

Now that we have taken a generalized assessment of our study capacity, it is time to break down the content of the NCLEX exam into sections. On both the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN exams, all of the questions will fall under at least one of the following four major themes:

  • Providing a safe and effective care environment
  • Physiological integrity
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity

Each of these topics is important to study, it’s important to note that not all topics receive an even number of questions during your exam. Because of this, breaking these themes down further into more specialized areas of study and assessing the most common weight of each topic can be a helpful tool for those who want to maximize their study time.

Generally speaking, the average NCLEX exam question weight falls as follows:

Question ThemePercent of NCLEX Questions 
Physiological adaptation14%
Management of care20%
Reduction of risk potential12%
Safety and infection control12%
Pharmacological and parenteral therapies15%
Basic care and comfort9%
Psychosocial integrity9%
Health promotion and management 9%

Resources You Need for Your NCLEX Study Plan

As you approach the end of nursing school, it’s highly advised that you begin to compile all the needed study resources to tackle the NCLEX. While there are a variety of different helpful options depending on your learning style, here are some of the most common examples of valuable study resources worth having at your disposal:

  • Textbooks from your courses — As the most traditional source of nursing knowledge, your textbooks are full of helpful information. Be sure to complete some of the practice questions at the end of each chapter, as many textbooks offer NCLEX-style questions as part of their educational resources.
  • Cue cards, notes, and other study materials you have made — To get through nursing school, you had to study a lot. So you better put all of that hard work to good use! Using your own previously made notes is a great way to tackle NCLEX studying, especially for topics that have historically given you trouble.
  • An NCLEX question database — Possibly one of the most helpful resources, having access to NCLEX questions to practice is great for evaluating your preparedness for the exam. Make sure the resources are provided next gen NCLEX practice questions.
  • Educational videos — If you like listening while you learn, instructional videos can be a helpful resource during your studies! 

The Ultimate NCLEX Study Plan (and FAQ)

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to make your personalized NCLEX study plan. Depending on your learning style and lifestyle factors, your study plan may look different than your friends — but as long as you are covering and comprehending the essential content, you are well on your way to a passing grade.

When you sit down to begin your study plan creation, it’s incredibly common for a series of questions to come to mind about how to best use your time. If you are still trying to figure out where to start with your scheduling, here are some of our top NCLEX tips for getting the most out of your dedicated studying time.

What topics should I start studying first?

The way you order the study topics in your NCLEX study plan is completely up to you — but there are some ways to be strategic with your planning. For some, starting with the topic they have historically struggled with first can help them build confidence while also giving them more time to comprehend the content. 

Others may prefer to leave these topics until the end of their schedule, allowing the content to be fresher in their mind on the day of the exam.

Additionally, it is advisable to focus on topics that fit under a more heavily weighted theme on the exam (examples include management of care and physiological adaptation) to improve your overall testing score.

How long should I study each day?

The amount of time that you choose to schedule in your NCLEX study plan can be highly subjective from person to person — but on average, it’s recommended that a nursing student aims to study at least three to five hours a day (excluding days off) while they prepare for the exam. 

In most cases, this study time is most effective when split between multiple shorter study periods rather than one more marathon session. 

What time of day is best for studying?

Depending on your current life schedule and obligations, the time you have available to study may only sometimes be the most ideal. That being said, choosing to schedule two study sessions a day (at least a few hours apart) is a great way to encourage improved content retention. 

In a perfect world, scheduling a two-hour content review and study session in the morning, followed by an hour-long self-quiz and assessment period in the evening is often viewed as one of the most effective ways to study for the NCLEX. 

But, if this particular schedule is not achievable based on your current situation, no worries! Make the adjustments you need and stay consistent — and you will feel prepared for exam day in no time.

Should I schedule days off as part of my study plan?

Yes! While it can be tempting to want to study every single day up until your exam, doing that will only decrease your productivity during each study session. Instead, we advise that you take at least one (or even two) days off from studying a week to allow your brain to decompress from all of your hard work. 

Whenever possible, fill these days with activities and hobbies that you enjoy, so you feel more well-rested and invigorated for your next planned study period.

How often should I practice NCLEX questions?

Ideally, practice NCLEX-style questions should be integrated into your study plan every day. As the best way to test your knowledge base and determine if you are ready to write, practice NCLEX questions can also help you feel more confident with the wording of the exam. 

As part of our three-step NCLEX study guide, we suggest the following breakdown for practice questions:

  1. Aim to complete 60 questions a day, up to five times a week, for a total of 300+ questions a week.
  2. Whenever possible, read through the reasoning for each correct and incorrect answer to understand the content better.
  3. Do the largest number of questions in the topics you struggle with the most.
nclex study plan

For additional tips and tricks for creating your personalized NCLEX study plan, check out our helpful YouTube video covering everything you need to know about study planning with limited time:

Following this advice, you should be able to finish upwards of 1200 practice NCLEX questions in a four-week period. You should aim for a 70% or higher accuracy rate when answering these questions. If you are below that average close to your exam date, we advise pushing back your test writing time.

Combining the answers to the above questions, an example of a highly effective and strategic weekly NCLEX study plan could look something like this:

Week 1: Physiological Integrity (pharmacological and parenteral therapies)

7-9 am:
Review study plan
7-9 am:
7-9 am:
7-9 am:
Create additional study resources
7-9 am:
7-9 am:
Evaluate knowledge from the week
Day off
5-7 pm: Practice NCLEX questions and review5-7 pm: Practice NCLEX questions and review5-7 pm: Practice NCLEX questions and review5-7 pm: Practice NCLEX questions and review5-7 pm: Practice NCLEX questions and review5-7 pm:
Review and reschedule topics if needed
Rest and relaxation

And with this foolproof plan, you can just adjust, rinse, and repeat for as many weeks as you need to feel confident. Keep practicing and working hard — you are well on your way to passing the NCLEX and earning your nursing license!

Begin Your Journey to Improved Grades and Better Comprehension

An NGN study plan can provide you with opportunities for self-assessment and targeted improvement. By engaging in regular practice exams and self-evaluation exercises, you can identify their areas of strength and weakness. 

Our team at SimpleNursing is committed to providing world-class educational resources to nursing postgrads looking to ace the NCLEX on the first try. 

Dive into our vast resource library, starting with a free trial.

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