How to Study for the NCLEX?

This is a guide for a comprehensive NCLEX review.

1. Start by creating your personal study plan.

You need to consider how much time you have to study before you want to take the exam.  Six weeks? Three months? Six months? Give yourself plenty of time, especially if you are retaking the exam. 

2. Get a thorough review book like Saunders' Comprehensive Review or Pearson Reviews and Rationales: Comprehensive Review for NCLEX-RN.

  • To plan your study schedule, divide the amount of time you have to study
    (e.g. 16 weeks) by the number of sections in the book you’re using, leaving at least two weeks before the exam to do an overall review and to work on whatever areas might still be giving you trouble.
  • If you are using a Candidate Report or results from a predictor test, you might prefer a study book that uses the same test plan categories as the NCLEX, so you can study according to the categories you may be weaker in, according to your results. In that case, try Mary-Ann Higan’s Comprehensive Review for NCLEX-RN by Pearson.

3. Budget time in your schedule every day for studying.

You have a lot riding on this exam, so set some boundaries!  Explain to family and friends that studying is your LIFE right now and ask them to respect that and support you on this.  Study away from home, if necessary. 

4. Once you've found your study spot and carved out your time, start with the sections of the book that are the hardest for you.

  • Go to “My Progress” in your NCLEX Mastery app to find these tough spots. Rank each section from hardest to easiest for you... and then read that thing!
  • Work on only one section at a time, and if you finish reading a section, do the practice questions and read every one of the rationales.
  • Also reinforce the information from each section with NCLEX Mastery test questions.  Just immerse yourself in that subject for the time you've allotted (three days, a week, etc).
  • As you move onto each section, plan for at least 15 minutes a day and one hour each week to do practice questions in the NCLEX Mastery app and/or the review book from all of the sections you have studied so far during this review to keep this information fresh!
  • Rather than taking practice quizzes for everything all at once, you should focus on one area at a time. 

5. “Spacing” your review in this way greatly improves recall and retention.

  • Studies show that revisiting material after allowing it to become a bit “fuzzy,” forces the brain to create more varied memory traces.  When learners are then prompted to retrieve this information after a period of time (say, after 5 days and again after 10 days), it alters the way the information is stored and makes for easier retrieval later!
  • For this reason, it’s ideal to do periodic NCLEX Mastery quizzes on ALL the material you have studied up until that point along with whatever subject you’re working on that week.

6. As you come across drugs throughout your comprehensive review, consider organizing them all by pharmacologic class.

  • You can create an entire page in a notebook for each pharmacologic class or put them into a spreadsheet. Drugs that share the same pharmacologic class also share similar-sounding generic names (e.g. -olol, -pril, etc), similar mechanisms of action and, therefore, similar side effects and contraindications. 
  • By grouping them together, you can save yourself a bundle of time and energy and generalize a lot of this information.  Some of the drugs will be outliers, and you'll want to make notes on those that stand out from the bunch, but you'll quickly see how similar all the drugs on each of your cards or pages are... this will save you a lot of energy when you work on learning all those drugs for the NCLEX!

8. The NCLEX Mastery app suggests mnemonics along with related questions, and there is also a large category devoted to mnemonics. 

Studying with mnemonics facilitates higher retention and easier retrieval of content, therefore reducing test anxiety on exam day.

9. Use your “snatches” of time.

  • Think of all the time you spend waiting: 5 minutes in line at the post office, 25 minutes waiting at the doctor’s office, 10 minutes waiting for a meal, 15 minutes waiting for a friend to meet you... Use those moments to your advantage. 
  • You can keep recordings of your notes to listen to (and those are great for long drives!) and use the NCLEX Mastery app for quizzes.  If you sneak in just an extra 15 minutes a day this way (which is easy to do with the app alone!), that adds up to seven and a half hours of extra study time in a month with barely any effort!