Creating the Perfect NCLEX Study Plan

NCLEX study plan

Congratulations, grad nurse. You finished your degree program! You’ve spent years worth of blood, toil, tears, and sweat working your way through coursework and skill evaluations, survived your final exams, and you’ve finally arrived at your NCLEX grand finale: the gatekeeper for your career aspirations.

Nursing school has prepared you well, but that one truly final exam is fast approaching and you are feeling the pressure. All nurses have been there, and while for some the test itself may be a distant memory, the intensity of that portion of a nurse’s evolution is impossible to forget. 

Don’t worry, you’ve got this! We’ve got the perfect NCLEX study plan to propel you into licensure and get you started building your career. 

Understanding the NCLEX

As of April 1, 2023 there is a new edition of the NCLEX, and it’s called the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN). It has significant changes to content, including new question types and a new scoring system.

The NCLEX is one of the key components of our New Grad Nurse Survival Guide. You need to know the expectations, and how to manage them to get the ball rolling on entry into practice.

NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination and represents the national standard for entry into practice that all registered professional nurses and practical nurses in the United States must achieve to become licensed.

What’s on the Test?

The NCLEX includes questions from four key areas of professional clinical nursing practice, and like many of the exams you took during nursing school, questions can be multiple choice or response, graph or chart analysis, drug calculations, and ordered response. The key areas are:

  1. Safe and Effective Care Environment (25-33%)
  2. Health Promotion and Maintenance (6-12%)
  3. Psychosocial Integrity (6-12%)
  4. Physiological Integrity (40-50%)

There are also some new question types you should be aware of in addition to the traditional ones above. They include:

  • Case scenario. These questions are a series of related questions about one particular topic. 
  • Extended multiple choice. These questions offer the possibility of partial credit. 
  • Drop-down answers. These questions function as fill-in-the-blanks. 
  • Extended drag-and-drop. Unlike traditional drag-and-drop questions, there are more answers than spaces. 
  • Highlight text. These questions require you to highlight an area of text to complete.
  • Matrix/grid. These are qualified multiple-response questions that test your ability to determine if an answer is anticipated, nonessential, or contraindicated.
  • Trend. These questions test your judgment about basic principles in standard materials. 

How is the NCLEX Graded?

The NCLEX uses what’s called computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to grade the exams. As you’re taking your NCLEX, the computer will continuously make an assessment of your abilities. It’s designed to do this so that the questions don’t end up being too easy or too hard. Based on the computer’s assessment of your ability, the next question you receive will be one that you have about a 50% chance of answering correctly.

Polytomous scoring is the newest update on the NGN, and we’ll spare you any more vocabulary since you’ve got plenty to learn already! Basically, the new algorithm takes into account questions that can offer you partial credit.

The big takeaway for you? Do what you planned on doing all along and get as many right answers as you can!

How Long is the NCLEX?

The number of questions you have to answer depends entirely on your performance, and how quickly the CAT program determines your ability with confidence. The CAT program uses what’s called a 95% confidence interval to determine if you pass or fail.

You will never have less than 85 (70 scored and 15 unscored) or more than 150 (135 scored, 15 unscored) when taking the NGN. How many you get is entirely up to the CAT (it’s very feline). On average the exam can take anywhere from 2-5 hours, so rest up!

Expert Tip: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get caught up in the numbers and trick yourself into thinking you’re doing poorly because you’ve reached a higher number of questions than your friends. Focus on one question at a time.

Good Study Materials are Essential

Your studying is only going to be as good as the materials you’re using, and when it comes to preparing for the NCLEX, there’s nothing like a solid NCLEX-RN review book. 

Saunders Comprehensive Review For The NCLEX-RE Examination is an excellent place to start. With access to almost 6,000 practice questions, study tips, and practice exam questions, this book is the superhighway to NCLEX study plan success.

Creating your NCLEX Study Plan

By the time you’ve graduated nursing school, chances are you have some idea of what kind of a test taker you are. This is not a one size fits all type of thing, so your plan needs to be customized to habits and tactics that work for you.

What to Study

Review the NGN Test Plan. Start with the topics you know you’re weak on. You can use practice exam resources like Saunders to get some feedback if you’re not sure, and hitting weak areas in advance will balance out your knowledge base. 

When to Study

Knowing when to study depends largely on the other personal and professional obligations you may be navigating. Ideally, you would want to pick a timeframe that will have the least potential for interruptions. There are also certain parts of the day that you may be most alert and able to focus.

Expert Tip: It’s always worth training for the race you’re running. If your test starts at 10AM, try to do some studying then even if you’re a night owl.  

How Long to Study

If you look for recommendations on how many hours you should be studying, you’ll see anything from 2-5 hours per day, which is also the length of the test. The test will give you two optional breaks: one after the first 2 hours and then another 1.5 hours later, so training to concentrate for several hours will help.

Start small, maybe 45-60 minutes, and then take a 10 minute break. You can build over time, and remember: quality study over quantity!

Expert Tip: The day before the exam, don’t study at all. Give yourself the day off, disconnect, and relax. Nothing you study the day before the NCLEX is going to make or break your success.

Scheduling Your Exam

Of course, it doesn’t matter how well you prepare if you aren’t able to get a date on your calendar. There are several steps for registering:

  1. Apply with a Nursing Regulatory Body and pay the registration fee online or by contacting candidate services
  2. Wait until you receive an Authorization to Test ATT from the Pearson VUE. You should receive confirmation of payment as well, so if you have seen neither contact candidate services. 
  3. You are required to test within 90 days of your confirmation, and you can schedule your test online or by calling Pearson VUE candidate services. 

The Day of the Exam

Leading up to exam day, you want to make sure you get your proper rest. Avoid things like caffeine that may disrupt your sleep the night before, and eat a reasonable, healthy meal on the morning of the test. This is no time for McDonald’s!


During the check-in process for your test at the NCLEX test center, you will be required to present two forms of valid ID. The IDs you bring need to meet all requirements or else you will not be able to take the test. Make sure you read all materials carefully and double-check the night before. 

Arrive Early

Do your best to arrive early, and plan enough time to get a little lost if you’re not familiar with the location. A good goal would be showing up at the NCLEX test center 30 minutes before your scheduled start time. If you arrive more than 30 minutes late you may not be allowed to test.

Create a NCLEX Study Plan

Creating an NCLEX study plan is going to set you up for success as you move into that one final stage before officially becoming a licensed professional nurse. A strong plan needs to be personalized to your needs, and provide the structure and knowledge base you need to be comfortable and prepared. 

Also, a little continuing education can go a long way in preparing you for your new career and may be required in the state you will be working. Premiere has you covered with an extensive selection of high quality, informative online courses developed by healthcare experts across the country that will keep you informed and up to date on a schedule that works for you.

And remember: keep calm and study on! With these tips, you will undoubtedly be successful in your transition from graduate nurse to licensed RN. We’re looking forward to seeing your career unfold!

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