Looking for some killer studying strategies to help you pass the NCLEX the first time? Of course, you are, that’s why you clicked on this article.

Well, you can see in the title of this blog that we’re offering you 5 studying strategies, but there are a ton of them out there. Organization strategies. Time management strategies. Note-taking strategies. What to study, when to study, how to study.

There are recommendations for just about every type of studying there is. But we chose to focus on the 5 strategies that pop up repeatedly when new nurses who passed the NCLEX are asked about what helped them most to prepare.

But before we dive right into the awesome strategies, the first thing you need to understand is that the NCLEX exam isn’t like the tests you’ve been taking in nursing school. It’s not even the same species of the test. If your average test is a fluffy little purring housecat – the NCLEX is a roaring tiger.


Why The NCLEX Exam Isn’t Your Average Test


LOL – sorry if that analogy has you all worried – it was too good not to include. But seriously, the NCLEX exam isn’t your average test. Here’s why:

You know that the NCLEX exam is taken on a computer and is timed. That time limit is enough on its own to make most people sweat. But in addition to this, the NCLEX exam is a CAT (computerized adaptive test). A CAT is a form of testing that uses algorithms to adapt to your level of ability.

What does that mean? Well, that means that if you go on a long streak of correct answers, the computer is going to adapt and start giving you harder questions.

What? That’s not fair. Well, the computer also knows this, so if you answer wrong, it will dial it back with a simpler question. Why is the computer doing this? It wants to test your level of ability, not just how many facts, figures, and data you’ve memorized.

The whole point of the NCLEX exam is to test whether or not you have the basic level of understanding and rational, logical decision-making skills to give the safest, minimum amount of care to your patient while causing the least amount of harm.

You’re not going to know all the answers. Just like when you’re a new nurse, you’re not going to know everything you need to do in every situation. The NCLEX is testing whether or not you’re going to be able to safely and effectively provide the care on your first day on the job.

Sounds hard, doesn’t it? Don’t worry. We’re going to help you get ready for this sneaky test.


What Are The Best Ways To Study For The NCLEX?


Of all the different ways to study for the NCLEX exam, these 5 strategies pop up in almost every how-to article, video, and interview with recent nursing grads who passed it.

nursing student studying


Practice Questions

The #1 thing that almost everyone who passed the NCLEX says helped them the most was doing practice questions. Lots of practice questions. As in hundreds of them.

Practice questions are in effect, practicing taking the NCLEX exam itself. You’ll learn how to understand what the question is asking, the tricks, and the format of each style.

While most are multiple-choice, you’ve also got the dreaded SATA (select all that apply), prioritization questions, fill-in-the-blank, identification of diagrams and charts, lab values, and more.

Where can you find practice questions? The best NCLEX study book will have thousands of questions and some even include online practice tests and quizzes. There are also NCLEX flashcard sets to help you review and study on the go.

You may have also seen one of the several online NCLEX prep courses and are wondering, “Should I use an online NCLEX prep course too?” Hint: lots of people swear by them, and they’re one of the only ways to simulate taking the test in real-time.


Set A Regular Schedule

There is an enormous amount of information covered in the NCLEX exam. You know this – you made it through all the courses in nursing school.

Unless you’re a supergenius, you know that you’ve got to study. And not a one night, or even one week, cram session. You can’t cover it all.

And remember, the NCLEX isn’t just asking how much you’ve memorized – you have to KNOW the material.

The only way to absorb and apply the information you’ve learned is to study it regularly. Then review it. Then study some more.

Set a regular study schedule. Do a little bit every day, even if it’s only 45 minutes to an hour. Don’t slack. Don’t skip.

If you keep a regular studying schedule all you’ll need to do when it’s time to take the NCLEX is do a comprehensive review to be ready.



You probably already know a hundred mnemonics by now – ABCs or ADPIE anyone? The reason nursing has so many mnemonics is because of the insane amount of information, procedures, steps, and values a nurse needs to know on a daily basis.

You don’t need to learn them all – a good strategy is to focus on areas that give you trouble and collect a set of mnemonics to help you out. There are tons of mnemonics online, but don’t be afraid to create your own as well.


Form A Study Group

Study groups work. Not only can you share information with each other (notes from that lecture you missed), you can also quiz each other, help each other with areas you’re weak in, and teach each other.

In fact, teaching a concept or idea to someone else is an excellent way to help you understand it better.

Find a time that works for everyone’s schedule, stick to it, and hold each other accountable for attending. It only works if you have a group – otherwise, you’re just studying on your own.


Focus On Your Weaknesses

We all have weaknesses. Some concepts and subjects just don’t seem to click in your head or the information just refuses to make sense. Take an inventory of what’s giving you trouble and spend some extra time on it – however, don’t neglect the areas that you’ve got down.

TIP: if you’re having a particularly hard time with a subject – find a tutor. Whether it’s one provided by your school, a mentor, or a friend, find someone who can give you some extra help.

BONUS TIP: For some people, it’s not the studying that’s the hard part – it’s taking the actual test. Many people have test anxiety and if you’re one of those people, here are a few ways on how to deal with test anxiety.

For most nursing students, the NCLEX exam is pretty intimidating. It covers everything you’ve learned. It’s timed. And you have to pass it to become a licensed nurse. No pressure, right?

But if you use these 5 studying strategies, when you sit down to take the NCLEX you’re going to be the most prepared person in the room. The questions you’ll see will look familiar and you’ll have your game on point.

You won’t even need to worry about what comes next when you’re a brand new nurse – because you’ll be ready to start your career in the world of healthcare.

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