NCLEX Study Plan (3-Step Formula to Acing Your Exam)

Aria Miller
Published by Aria Miller
Last Updated On: March 23, 2022

The NCLEX is no child’s play. It’s the one test that determines if you’re eligible to become a nurse, so it makes sense for it to be challenging.

At best, you’ll need a few weeks for practice and review. We’ll help you create a winning study plan—and pass the NCLEX—with our proven tips.

Why Do I Need An NCLEX Study Plan?

A woman using laptop and notes to study for NCLEX

A study plan will help you do three things:

  • Pass the NCLEX
  • Understand what to expect in advance
  • Organize your studying in a way that fits your lifestyle

A study plan could help you pass the NCLEX faster as well. If you don’t know already, not all students get the same number of questions on the NCLEX.

You can get a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265. How many you’ll get depends on the level of knowledge you demonstrate early on.

Then it’s best to make sure you solve the questions correctly from the very start. That’s what a thorough review and study plan will help you do.

Gather Your Resources

Before you start to prepare, gather these three resources that will tell you:

  • what to study
  • what to focus on
  • how to divide your time.

1. NCSBN Test Plan

The NCSBN test plan is a review of the NCLEX exam and everything that’s in it. Review it so that you know what to study during your prep, as well as the questions you can expect on the exam.

2. Textbooks, Workbooks, and Notes

Textbooks are helpful resources for creating an NCLEX study plan. Your study sessions could follow the way lessons are organized in your textbook. This will reduce the time you’d spend on creating an NCLEX study plan from scratch.

Otherwise, you can use all the materials you’ve gathered during school for review and practice.

3. Schedule

How long you’ll study for the NCLEX is up to you, but we recommend setting aside at least 4 weeks. Your schedule should determine what you’ll focus on during those weeks and what you’ll study each day. I’d also advise you to spend the last week or two on practice and review.

“You are encouraged to review the NCLEX test plans before your exam appointment. The test plans serve as blue prints to outline the content to be tested and guide the item writing process.”


- National Council of State Boards of Nursing[1]

Questions to Expect When You Take the NCLEX-RN

open books and school materials on classroom table

Most nursing students do know what to study. The real question is what to focus on. You probably won’t have enough time to cover everything you’ve learned in nursing school during your NCLEX prep. You must manage your time properly and spend it where it matters. Lucky for you, we have an overview of the NCLEX-RN structure:

Test Category Percentage of Questions on the Test
Safe and Effective Care Environment 
  • Management of Care
  • Safety and Infection Control


Health Promotion and Maintenance 6-12%
Psychosocial Integrity 6-12%
Physiological Integrity
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaptation

Overview of Content Distribution on the NCLEX[2]

You’ll need this information when crafting your plan and deciding how much time you need each day for a particular section. According to this table, these are the three most important subject areas:

  • Management of Care
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Physiological Adaptation

Most of your day should probably go to studying Management of Care. The exact number of hours depends on your current level of knowledge, but this table should give you a good starting point for an estimate.

Lab Values: An Unavoidable Part of Every NCLEX Study Plan

Lab value questions are a part of every NCLEX-RN test. The goal isn’t to test if you’ve memorized these values but rather your ability to detect abnormalities and act accordingly. Many questions will relate to monitoring, obtaining, and comparing two or more values.

Take your time to review normal lab values and study them well. You’ll instantly increase your chances of a high score.

Develop a Weekly NCLEX Study Plan

A man writing on a notebook while using his ipad

First, answer these questions:

  1. How many hours a week can you dedicate to studying for the NCLEX?
  2. How many hours a week do you need to study to pass the NCLEX?
  3. Where should most of your time go?

These insights will help you determine how to organize your day. For example, if you can study for 10 hours a week, you may want to divide your time like this:

Subject Area Time Spent Studying Study Day(s)
Management of Care 5 hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Physiological Adaptation 3 hours Tuesday & Wednesday
Psychosocial Integrity 2 hours Thursday

You should develop a unique NCLEX study plan for each week. Try to reserve the last week or two for review and practice to make sure you have enough time to process all the information.

Take Practice Tests

A person writing on a paper

Passing the NCLEX is 1000x easier when you know how the test looks and the questions you can expect. We already mentioned you’ll have to answer at least 75 questions to pass the NCLEX.

They’re structured in a unique way that may take getting used to. That’s why you should take practice tests.

Here are several websites that offer free practice tests (and even courses):

  • Nurse Plus
  • Kaplan Nursing

Where Can You See Your Results?

You take the NCLEX—then what? Though most nursing students would love to get their results the same day, they’ve got a long wait ahead.

You can only receive your results from your nursing regulatory body (NRB), and it usually takes them 6 weeks after the exam to send you your results[3]. However, some states let you see “unofficial” results after just 2 business days in exchange for a fee.

3-Step Formula for an Effective NCLEX Study Plan

A female student having a read in a library

1. Invest in an NCLEX Review Course

If you want to avoid studying for long hours because you can’t make yourself stick to the schedule, invest in an NCLEX review course. Many students struggle with staying motivated, so getting someone else to keep you on track seems like a good option.

It doesn’t have to be a big investment either. Online courses are usually cheaper than the in-class ones, plus they can be tailored to your schedule.

2. Use Versatile Study Aids

If dry study sessions don’t fit your learning style, consider taking a more creative approach. Versatile study aids and study sessions you enjoy will help you pass the NCLEX with no sweat.

Here are some creative study aids:

  • Flashcards
  • Mind maps
  • Interactive games
  • Video and audio materials
  • Practice questions

You can also find done-for-you study materials online. Consider the following:

  • Union Test Prep. Free short study guides that make your practice easier and faster.
  • Nursing.com. Free PDF cheat sheets that help students with testing both during and after nursing school.

3. Study In an Organized Environment

Your study environment is one of the most important factors influencing learning success. An organized environment can help you pass the NCLEX with ease.

On the other hand, a disorganized environment only decreases your chances of passing the NCLEX. This is because a disorganized environment distracts you, irritates you, and disheartens you.

Remember those times when you sat down to study—then dropped your study plans after you couldn’t find that one notebook you needed? Yep, I bet it happened a lot. This is a scenario you don’t want to happen during your NCLEX study sessions. Testing is stressful as it is, so remove unnecessary triggers.


How much should I study per day?

How much time you need to spend studying each day depends on your previous knowledge and competencies.

However, you don’t want to study for longer than two hours a day so that you retain as much information as possible and avoid burning out in the first few weeks.

What is the best study tool for NCLEX?

We already mentioned some, like Kaplan and Nursing.com. You can also visit UWorld, ATI, and Hurst.

The Takeaway

If you prepare properly, there’s no question about whether you’ll be able to pass the NCLEX. It’s not like passing is impossible—it’s just that the test-makers want you to take the exam seriously and give it your best shot.

Gather all the information on the exam so that you may start crafting an adequate NCLEX study plan. And if you think study plans are a waste of time, consider how much time you’ll waste if you end up failing the NCLEX.

Plan ahead, and you’ll never have to worry about retaking the test or undergoing the NCLEX prep again.

Also, feel free to check out our list of the best NCLEX prep programs today.


  1. https://www.ncsbn.org/testplans.htm
  2. https://www.ncsbn.org/2019_RN_TestPlan-English.pdf
  3. https://www.ncsbn.org/1222.htm

About the author

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment