How to Schedule Your Nclex Study Plan: Updated 2023 Guide to Help You Pass

Now you’re finally done with nursing school, the next step is to pass your NCLEX before you can get your nursing licensure. The NCLEX test is quite a hurdle and passing it is no easy feat. After paying your fees and scheduling your test day, it’s time to settle down and begin prepping for the exam.

But how do you prepare for the test? Do you need to review everything that was taught in nursing school? Where should you start? If you’re confused and are not sure where to begin preparing for the NCLEX test, then you’ve come to the right place. Our article today will be talking about how to prepare an effective NCLEX study plan that will help you pass your test without a hitch!

NCLEX Study Plan

Nursing students are often surprised when they realize that the NCLEX exam is very different from the ones in nursing school. So much so that even exemplary students may find it difficult to complete the NCLEX exam without some help. You may have all the technical knowledge you need but the format of the questions may be confusing or difficult to understand.

While the NCLEX test is difficult, the good news is that you just need to be well-prepared and know what to expect in order to ace through the 75 questions minimum paper. To go into the exam with knowledge and confidence, you need to have the best NCLEX study plan to guide you and keep you on track.

What to Consider When Planning Your NCLEX Study Schedule

How long do you have before your actual test date? We recommend having at least 1 to 2 months of dedicated study to cover the study materials, take practice tests, and review whatever topics that you need more focus on. Whatever your timeline is, you can adjust your study plan according to it.

Do you have other commitments?

This is another good place to start as you develop your NCLEX study plan. Just because you have an upcoming exam doesn’t mean you need to drop everything else. You may have a job, a family to take care of, or other obligations that prevent you from studying full time. Finding time in a busy timetable may not be easy but it’s an important step if you want a successful outcome. This leads us to the next point:

How much time can you commit to studying in a day?

Cramming everything in one day does not work and it’s important that you space out your studies so that you do not get flustered on the final week before your NCLEX. Cramming for an exam actually works against you as it decreases your concentration and reduces data retention. Everyone has a different capacity for studying in a day but generally, it should be around 3-6 hours a day.

What’s your preferred learning style?

Everyone is different and that includes which learning style is most effective for them. There are seven different learning styles: visual, auditory, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary. The majority of us are visual learners but it’s a good idea to use other styles to improve learning efficiency. After going through nursing school, you should already know which learning style best works for you.

Essential Components of a Successful NCLEX Study Plans

There are five components that you need to look into and include when preparing your study plan. Each component is further explained below:

1. Personalize your NCLEX Study Plan

Creating an overall plan is crucial to reaching your final destination of passing the NCLEX and getting your nursing license. Part of creating the plan includes researching how to study for the NCLEX. If you’re unfamiliar with whatever is discussed below then it’s high time to start preparing or you might just lose a lot of money and time just to retake the NCLEX.

2. Complete your Self-Assessment

Before you start anything, you should first take a self-assessment to set a realistic timeline for your NCLEX study plan. This step can also help you better decide which NCLEX test date to go for (if you’re not picked one already). Some questions to ask yourself include:

How much time can you commit to studying in a day?

Most students schedule around 3-6 hours a day to prep for the exam and take 1 day off each week to relax and recharge. Consider your current commitments/obligations and figure out how much time you can dedicate in a day. Do you have a work schedule or family responsibilities you need to fit your study periods around?

What time do you feel most mentally alert and what is the best time for you to study?

Some students can absorb more information and focus better at different times of the day. After years of studying, you should know yourself best and try to schedule your study plan on the times when you’re at your best.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Do you struggle with multiple choice exams or select all that apply (SATA) questions? Do you usually experience anxiety during exams? What are some of the major distractions that keep you away from studying and how can you minimize them?

Are there any content areas or concepts that you struggle with and need to spend more time reviewing? If so, do you need to find a tutor or a peer to help you with this?

After going through the self-assessment and if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or if you need some help with some concepts, you may want to consider signing up for a review course for NCLEX-RN. While some NCLEX prep courses are a little expensive, you should treat them as an investment as it helps you save time and money and anxiety in the long run by helping you pass the NCLEX the first-time round.

Foundational Nursing Content Review

The next thing to do is to review the foundational content that applies across state boards in nursing regardless of patient group, body system, disease process, or area of practice. The foundational content that you need to review includes:

  • Nursing process (assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation – ADPIE)
  • Anatomy physiology (Normal and abnormal findings of vital signs, age, gender specific differences, growth and development through the lifespan).
  • Principles of microbiology (Principles of medical & surgical asepsis, modes of disease transmission, standard and isolation precautions).
  • Principles of therapeutic and professional communication.
  • Nursing scope of practice, patient rights, nursing codes of ethics.

Client Needs Category

In addition to your foundational content, you need to allocate some time to prepare for the Client Needs category of the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCSBN has selected the Client Needs category as the basis of the exam since it provides a universal structure for defining nursing actions and competencies. Being a nurse is a patient-oriented career and this section of the test focuses on clients in all care settings.

The Client Needs Categories to include four broad aspects that are important to developing safe, effective, and holistic nursing care:

1. Safe and Effective Care Environment

2. Health Promotion and Maintenance

3. Psychosocial Integrity

4. Physiological Integrity

Familiarize Yourself with the NCLEX-RN Exam and Test Plan

If you want to win, you need to first know what you’re up against. Completing a handful of practice exams is not enough to help you pass. You need to be very familiar with the NCLEX-RN exam and test plan. Some of the few things you should understand are:

  • What are the common factors that can cause you to fail or pass the NCLEX?
  • How is the NCLEX Test Plan generated and what Client Needs Categories and Integrated Processes are tested?
  • What is Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) and how is it used in the NCLEX exam?
  • What’s the NCLEX testing environment like and what can you expect? (rules, breaks, computer, NCLEX questions during the exam, etc.)

How Does the NCLEX Exam Run?

The NCLEX exam has a minimum of 75 “test items” and a maximum of 145 questions. filling or passing the exam is possible by answering just the minimum or the maximum number of NCLEX questions, or any number between 75 and 145. The exam will end once you have answered enough test items to either pass or fail the exam. It will also end once the maximum 5-hour time limit is reached.

The NCLEX examination will end in one of three ways:

1. The 95% Confidence Interval Rule

The computer will stop administering questions once it is 95% certain that your ability is either clearly above or below the passing standard. This method is also the most common way most candidates either fail or pass the exam.

2. Maximum-Length Exam

In the scenario where you’re very close to passing the exam, the computer will continue administering questions until it’s reached the maximum number before considering the final ability estimate:

  • If the final ability estimate is above the passing standard, then you pass the exam.
  • If the final ability estimate is at or below the passing standard, then you fail the exam.

3. The Run-Out-of-Time Rule (R.O.O.T)

The NCLEX exam has a maximum duration of 5 hours. Once you reach the time limit, the computer will use the same final ability estimate method discussed above to determine whether you pass or fail the exam.

NCLEX Exam Test Plan: Cognitive Domain (Bloom’s Taxonomy)

The Cognitive Domain consists of six major categories that start from the lowest or most basic level of learning that involves recalling or identifying facts through to increasingly and more abstract levels of learning. The six categories of learning are:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis

The Cognitive Domain is used as the basis for constructing and coding questions for the NCLEX exam. Most questions on the NCLEX are designed based on the application and analysis level.

Time to Develop your Personal NCLEX Study Planner

1. Decide how to study the exam content

This step involves deciding how you want to split the materials that you need to cover. Logically, you’ll either choose one of the Client Needs categories or subcategories at a time:


Safe and Effective Environment
• Management of Care
• Safety and Infection Control

Health Promotion and Maintenance

Psychosocial Integrity

Physiological Integrity
• Basic Care and Comfort
• Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
• Reduction of Risk Potential
• Physiological Adaptation


Safe and Effective Environment
• Coordinated Care
• Safety and Infection Control

Health Promotion and Maintenance

Psychosocial Integrity

Physiological Integrity
• Basic Care and Comfort
• Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
• Reduction of Risk Potential
• Physiological Adaptation

Assign yourself blocks of time for the topic you choose. Below are several tips that you can use when planning your schedule:

  • Give yourself a day off to relax and enjoy activities with others.
  • Begin the week by examining the NCSBN Test Plan to see what content to study and topics covered on the exam.
  • Split the day into two sessions. The spacing effect is the opposite of cramming and leads to long-term memory retention.
  • Do practice tests to review and find items you need to place more focus on. Doing more practice tests also helps you to familiarize yourself with the testing mode.
  • Take a day near the end of the week to prepare for future study in Management of Care by making flash cards and returning to the NCSBN Test Plan to see if you’ve missed out on any topics.
  • Spend some time evaluating what you’ve covered for a week. Questions to ask yourself: Did you learn everything you wanted? Did the practice tests go well? Are there any learning gaps? Do you need to schedule more study time before NCLEX?

2. Practice questions and tests

As your study calendar moves forward and you take more practice tests, you’ll begin to see how the content in each of the Client Needs is presented. You may be expected to memorize facts such as normal lab values and vital signs but this information is usually included in a question that requires analysis.

The NCLEX test is written based on Bloom’s taxonomy model since nursing practice requires the application of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and requires more complex thought processing. This is where practice tests are very good since they will ask about the same content in several different ways to get you familiar. Each test item will take a different approach or ask about a specific point of the content.

3. Setting time aside for yourself and taking breaks

You’ve been prepping for years to become a licensed nurse with years of nursing school and weeks at different clinical settings while juggling other responsibilities. Now that you’re in your final stretch of becoming a licensed nurse, you want to remember taking some time off to rest. It’s crucial that you’re healthy, relaxed, and confident when you sit for your NCLEX exam.

Obviously, you need to eat well and take plenty of sleep. Make some time for family and friends. Exercise and enjoy the outdoors or do something you enjoy such as cooking, reading, gardening, or sports. Doing an activity that takes your mind off studies will actually improve your ability to learn and retain information in addition to reducing stress and anxiety.

4. Review during your final week of NCLEX Study Plan

Regardless of how long you schedule your study plan, try to schedule a full week just for content reviews and practice tests. If you’ve stuck to your calendar and have covered everything, you can rest assured knowing that your fundamental knowledge and ability will serve you well.

You may also want to concentrate on taking the NCLEX simulator test this week to be confident in answering questions in 60 to 90 seconds. You may also want to return to SATA test items as well. Only you know how much and what you can handle best at this time.

5. Relax the day right before your NCLEX

You’ve made it. You’ve followed a solid NCLEX study plan, used available resources (class notes, nclex review books), and you’re now one day away from the exam. There’s nothing left to do now except relax and enjoy your last day as a “candidate”. There’s no point trying to cram everything in now as research has proven that last minute cramming does not work.

The NCLEX has a huge question pool with thousands and thousands of questions to pick from. There’s just no way to know what will come out. The best thing you can do now is to relax and get sufficient rest before the big day.

What to Expect on the NCLEX Exam Day

Once you sit in front of the computer and begin the exam, you’ll be presented with questions one at a time on the computer screen. You can take your time with each question (but bear in mind you have a maximum of 5 hours to take the exam) – but it’s not possible to go back to the previous question once you click confirm on your answer.

You also need to answer every question presented to you on the screen even if you’re not sure if you got the correct answer. The computer won’t allow you to move on to the next question without answering the one on the screen.

Types of Questions on the NCLEX-RN Exam

The NCLEX-RN exam may have questions presented in the following formats:

  • Multiple choice
  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • Select All That Apply (SATA)
  • Prioritizing (Ordered response)
  • Chart or exhibit
  • Questions that contain an illustration or figure
  • Drag and drop

It’s not just about knowing the course but learning how to read the NCLEX questions is also one of the most important things you can do to prepare for the exam. One good method is to break down the test items into pieces so that you do not miss key parts of the questions.

Look at Test-Taking Strategy Textbooks

Test-taking strategy textbooks and NCLEX review books are a good place to add more detail to your NCLEX study plan to pass the NCLEX since they:

  • Show/explain the best way to study for the exam
  • Explain how to understand the exam questions
  • Teach how to approach NCLEX-RN questions
  • Explain alternate exam questions and strategies for handling them

Common Mistakes When Preparing for the NCLEX-RN

Here are some of the most common mistakes students make when prepping for the NCLEX that you need to take note of and avoid:

  • Not making an NCLEX study plan
  • Trying to memorize content
  • Not practicing NCLEX style questions
  • Not practicing CAT adaptive exams
  • Not preparing for 1st exam attempt
  • Not understanding the NCLEX-RN test plan
  • Studying in silos without using a resource or guide
  • Rushing for the next exam attempt
  • Not covering all possible content

Best NCLEX Prep Courses

By now if you’re still confused or just don’t know where to begin in your preparation for NCLEX, then you might want to consider subscribing to an NCLEX review course to help you out. Here are some of the best NCLEX prep courses that you can consider:

BoardVitals NCLEX Review

When it comes to NCLEX prep courses, BoardVitals has got to be a top choice. BoardVitals offers one of the best peer-reviewed question banks for NCLEX examination with 2,800 NCLEX-RN and 900 NCLEX-PN questions written and reviewed by nurses and educators.

The BoardVitals NCLEX prep course even has their question bank offered in a CAT platform that will present you with test questions according to your individual level of knowledge that’s calculated after each answer is submitted. BoardVitals is so confident in their NCLEX prep courses that both of their most popular courses come with a 100% pass guarantee.


  • Questions in multiple choice question and alternate format to mimic the real test.
  • 100% pass guarantee.
  • Detailed explanations are provided.
  • The company donates one vaccine with every new course purchase.

Kaplan NCLEX Review

Kaplan NCLEX-RN prep course is one of the highest recommended NCLEX prep courses from nursing schools all across the US. The course offers unlimited QBank, QBank + Computer Adaptive Test, Content + Practice Pack with 3 adaptive practice tests plus live and on-demand videos, a live online classroom, self-paced course, or live in-classroom course to suit any learning style.

The Content + Practice NCLEX course is easily the most well-rounded NCLEX review courses available in terms of content, practice questions, and NCLEX examination simulations. Kaplan even lets you access all these in the comfort of your own home to save you time and money from traveling to and fro In Class lessons.


  • 3 simulated NCLEX exams with CAT technology.
  • Questions in different formats including alternatives.
  • More than 2,100 NCLEX practice questions in their QBank.
  • Visual explanations.
  • 24/7 access to Live and On Demand videos.
  • Full refund if you do not pass the exam for the first time.
  • Practice with Kaplan’s exclusive Decision Tree.

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