Preparing for the NCLEX
3-Step Expert Guide for Nurses

Preparing for the NCLEX: A 3 Step Guide

You did it! You finished nursing school after years of a grueling class schedule, stressful clinical rotations, and impossible exams! Congratulations! Now, the only thing standing between you and your RN license is that pesky board examination, the NCLEX! The last thing you may be wanting to do at this point is crack open a book and get to work, but proper preparation is essential for success on the NCLEX. The following 3 step guide will help you prepare to be as successful as possible on the big day!

3 Steps to Prepare for the NCLEX

  1. 1

    Pick a date:

    The first, and sometimes most daunting part of the process is scheduling the exam! You may struggle to decide on the right amount of time you need to study and prepare. Ideally, you should choose a date about 8 weeks out from your graduation date. Scheduling your exam earlier than that may not provide adequate time to review the material you just spent several years learning. Scheduling it beyond 8 to 10 weeks from graduation can sometimes hinder success because as time goes on, nursing graduates tend to start losing some of the knowledge they’ve built during their nursing program.

  2. 2

    Create a study plan:

    It’s extremely helpful to have a plan in place to drive how and when you study for the NCLEX! Make a calendar if that helps you to stay on track! Whatever you do, make a schedule and stick to it. Below is one suggested schedule that has been successful for many nursing graduates.

    • First week after graduation -- Realistically, you may be somewhat “burned out” after graduation, and hitting the books hard in preparation for the NCLEX may not be your idea of fun. It is absolutely permissible, and even encouraged, to take a 1 to 2 week break after graduation to enjoy yourself! Spend some leisure time appreciating your accomplishments thus far and refueling for the next segment of your journey toward your RN license!
    • Week 2-6 -- Now is the time to get started. If your nursing school had you take an exit exam, such as the HESI or ATI, review those results. If you didn’t take an exit exam, do some sample tests to get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. Identify your weakest areas and target those first. You should plan to study for approximately two hours per day right now. Plan to spend half your time reviewing notes and materials, and half taking sample test questions. Be sure to read the rationales for each correct and incorrect test answer. You will unearth many helpful bits of nursing wisdom by doing so. Write them down and review them! As you become more proficient in your weak areas, move onto your stronger areas as well. Don’t skip over non-clinical sections such as nursing leadership, because you WILL see these incorporated into test questions! The NCLEX is designed to be a very well-rounded exam, so you’ll need to be on your game!
    • Weeks 7-8 – In the final weeks before your exam, plan to devote more time to studying: three hours per day should be your goal at this time. Review your notes in all areas once again and target any areas that still feel questionable to you. The week before the exam, do some full practice tests. Aim to complete large chunks of questions in one sitting: ideally at least 75 questions at a time. If you have the opportunity, do practice tests on the computer to mimic the actual exam!

      free NCLEX tests
      Nurse.plus tests are designed to duplicate the exam experience (Free Practice Tests)

  3. 3

    Gear up for the NCLEX:

    You’re in the home stretch now! The day before the exam, take the entire day off from studying. Don’t look at your notes. Don’t pick up a book. Don’t do any flash cards. Let your brain rest and recharge! You’ve worked hard enough already to get to this moment! Do something enjoyable, and be sure to stay hydrated and go to bed at a decent hour.

    relaxing before the exam
    Studying the day before the exam crowds your short term memory with last minute information that can interfere with long term memory retrial

    On the morning of the exam, wake up and have a healthy breakfast. Avoid foods that are heavy or greasy, as you won’t want to take frequent restroom trips throughout your test. Dress in comfortable clothing, keeping in mind that most testing centers won’t let you wear a coat, jacket or scarf into the testing room. Pack your bag minimally as the testing center may or may not want to search your bag (they take things very seriously at the testing centers, if you can’t already tell). You may want to pack a small snack since the test can go on for several hours and you may need to refuel. You don’t need to pack any scrap paper or pencils; the testing center will supply you with something to jot notes down on.

    Here is a short video to let you know about all the security measures they have at the testing center:

    If you arrive early for your exam, resist the temptation to review materials “one more time.” Sit in your car and do something that distracts you from the task ahead…perhaps play a game or chat with a friend. Your goal is the enter the testing center prepared and somewhat refreshed!

Always remember that when it comes to the NCLEX, “failing to plan” is “planning to fail!” The hard work you put into preparing for the NCLEX will all be worth it once you have those coveted initials “RN” after your name.

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