YOUR Comprehensive Guide to the NCLEX-RN!

How and when should I take the NCLEX?

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, or NCLEX-RN, is one of the components required for licensure as an RN. This exam can seem daunting. However, with solid preparation, YOU can pass this exam!


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How and when should I take the NCLEX?

STEP 1 Familiarize Yourself With the Exam

The first thing you should do is become familiar with what the NCLEX-RN exam is, what is covered on it, how it's administered, etc. You can find this information on the website for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). NCLEX & Other Exams | NCSBN

On the NCSBN's website, you can find the "Candidate Bulletin", which covers an overview of the exam, registering and scheduling the exam, what to bring on your test day, test rules, how test day runs, the content covered on the NCLEX, and information on the structure of the exam, such as the adaptive testing and the passing standard.

You can also find the Test Plan for the NCLEX-RN examination on the NCSBN's website. The Test Plan shows the general content areas covered on the NCLEX-RN exam, including the percentage of items that are covered in each content area.

STEP 2 Start Preparing Your FIRST Semester of Nursing School

The best thing you can do to prepare for the NCLEX-RN is to start early, as in, your first semester! In most nursing schools, your exams each semester will include NCLEX-style questions. In my program, many (including me :D) complained about the number of select all that apply (SATA) questions on our exams. When I took the NCLEX, over 20 of the 75 questions I had were SATA! Good thing we had that preparation.

When you're studying for your exams, you should be answering the questions at the end of each chapter you're studying. Nursing school textbooks generally also have companion websites with even more questions related to each chapter (note: to access these questions you may need a code, and this code generally is only available for new copies of the book, not used). All of these questions not only reinforce the content you learn from your lectures and readings but also help you get into the habit of answering NCLEX-style questions.

In addition, look into review books that have NCLEX-style questions. Throughout nursing school, I used the "Success Q&A Review" series of books. I highly recommend these books, as each book has 1000+ questions just on that subject. There are books for Fundamentals, Pharmacology, Research, Pediatrics, Maternal/Newborn, Psychiatric/Mental Health, Medical-Surgical, and Leadership. Check them out here:

You may also find the Pearson Reviews and Rationales series helpful as well. These books contain content review, as well as questions, for each subject. Check them out here: Nursing Reviews and Rationales

Check your local library for these books, rent them from Amazon, split the cost with friends, either way, doing as many NCLEX questions as possible during school will not only help you do well on exams but minimize the amount of time you spend after graduation prepping.

STEP 3 Standardized Preparation Programs During School

Many nursing schools also employ standardized test preparation programs throughout their curriculum. This can be ATI, Kaplan, HESI, etc. My program used HESI. Some schools will factor your scores on these exams into your course grades, some require you to obtain a certain minimum score on a comprehensive exam at the conclusion of your program to graduate, and others only use them as guides for you to focus your study. It is to your benefit to maximize your use of these programs.

One major benefit to these programs is that they build your test-taking stamina. In my last semester, we took three comprehensive HESI exams, with 150 questions each. This helps you get used to sitting for an extended period of time, under testing conditions, answering NCLEX-style questions.

STEP 4 Start FOCUSED Preparation As Soon as Possible After Graduation

After I graduated nursing school, I took a full week off from everything. I was done with school, I was off from work, and I did absolutely nothing related to nursing. You should definitely take some time off after graduation as well. You completed a great accomplishment: you finished nursing school! Reward yourself with a vacation or a staycation.

The next question is how long should you take off? Opinions vary on that. Personally, I think 2-3 weeks max is ideal. You should definitely treat yourself after graduating, and decompress. At the same time, you don't want to take too long to get back into study-mode, especially when, if your school used a standardized testing program, you probably just finished taking a comprehensive NCLEX-style exam, and are already in NCLEX mode.

Therefore, after your break, it's time to get back into the books!

STEP 5 Content Review Books

One resource that you can use is a content review book. Lets fact it, there's no way you're going to reread all of those 1000+ page nursing school textbooks. There's no way you're going to go through thousands of PowerPoint slides. A content review book summarizes the most important information from all of your nursing classes, giving you the "high yield" information that can show up on the NCLEX.

The most popular content review book seems to be "Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination". This book has very high reviews, and I recommend it. Now, although this book is a summary, it is still dense. You should focus your reading on areas that you know you aren't as strong in. For example, I knew that pediatric nursing wasn't my strong suit, especially congenital heart defects and GI anatomical disorders. I focused my content review in pediatrics.

The Saunders review book is the one I recommend, and you can borrow it from the library, split the cost with friends, buy used, etc. Note that if you buy it new, you also get a code for online questions on the companion website, which help to reinforce content. Check out the Saunders book here : Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX

You can also purchase through Amazon.

STEP 6 Question Resources (Books, Apps, Programs)

In addition to content, your primary focus on studying should be answering as many questions as possible. For many, content review with a book like Saunders can be skipped, especially if you did extremely well in nursing school. Question practice is a must for everyone. You should have practice answering all types of NCLEX-style questions (multiple choice, SATA, hot spot, ordered response, etc.).


There are a number of books that contain NCLEX-style questions for you to practice. The most highly recommended I have heard are:

I personally used the Prioritization, Delegation, and Assignment book, and this book was consistently recommended here on allnurses, and I saw why. Many NCLEX questions ask you to prioritize. Whether it's which patient you will see first, which intervention you will carry out first, or which action requires you to intervene immediately, practicing these types of questions is essential to doing well on the NCLEX-RN. These questions are also on the more difficult side, therefore they give you quality practice for the NCLEX.


As I'm sure you can imagine, there are many apps available for you to answer NCLEX-style questions on the go. If you're standing in a long line or sitting on the bus, instead of checking social media again, why not answer a few questions? The best-reviewed app, and the one I used is "NCLEX Mastery". This app has over 1300 questions, and it also has mnemonics and terminology to help you study. Highly recommended! nclexmastery


There are also a number of computer programs that offer NCLEX-style questions. The most popular are UWorld and Kaplan, which offer question banks (Kaplan also offers courses). Both UWorld and Kaplan have 1600+ questions in their banks, with all the different types of questions you would see on the NCLEX.

I tried both UWorld and Kaplan. I completed all of UWorld, and about 600 questions from Kaplan. Hands down, I recommend UWorld, and I have found consistently more positive reviews for UWorld than Kaplan. UWorld offers challenging questions with a large number of SATA questions. I believe this was critical in helping me pass the NCLEX-RN. As I mentioned earlier, over 20 of the 75 questions I had were SATA, and I often had 3-4 in a row. UWorld's user interface also mirrors the NCLEX, so when you're sitting for the exam, it won't be a shock. Finally, another major benefit of UWorld is the rationales. These are the best rationales you will find anywhere. They are detailed, given for the correct and incorrect options, often have color images, and are essentially a content review.

Kaplan wasn't bad, but UWorld was better. The rationales given on Kaplan questions are not detailed, and sometimes it isn't clear why an option was wrong. If you only can get one, UWorld is the one you should choose, without question (they both cost the same). UWorld also has an app that you can use on your phone.

STEP 7 Review Courses

Finally, a number of companies offer review courses for the NCLEX. Kaplan and Hurst review courses are very popular, and I have especially heard Kaplan mentioned. Kaplan offers a live in person review, a live online review, and a self-paced online review course. Kaplan also offers a guarantee that you'll pass the NCLEX. I have heard good things about Kaplan's course and strategies, so if you have the money, perhaps that is another option for you to consider. A course offers you a set, structured schedule to study and prepare for the exam, which can be beneficial if you need guidance in your studies. My school offered us a virtual ATI online review course. This review course was ok, it offered a tutor who gave you recommendations on what to study based on your scores on assessment exams, as well as access to other questions banks, ATI review books, and powerpoints. I don't think I would recommend it if you have to pay for it.

STEP 8 Focus on Question Strategies!

Let's face it: there's absolutely no way you can know everything there is to know that may be tested on the NCLEX exam. But, you can still pass! When I was taking the NCLEX, there were many questions that I didn't explicitly know. However, using test strategies I learned, I was able to narrow down the options and make an educated guess.

Kaplan advertises its decision-making tool that helps you answer questions. If you purchase their course, you will learn that strategy. The Saunders book has a chapter on test-taking strategies. There is also a Saunders Strategies for Test Success book that details their strategies and provides practice questions. ATI also has test-taking strategies, and I have attached the document found on their website (note: the exam plan they discuss is not the current one, however the strategies always remain the same). Either way, learn ways to answer questions you may not know, and use those during the NCLEX. For example, if a question asks you which intervention would you implement first, you may use the ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) strategy and choose to open the airway first (by sitting the patient up, for example), then administer oxygen. You may also use Maslow's Hierarchy to answer questions (by focusing on physiological needs before love/belonging needs, for example).

Learning question strategies is a must to be able to answer any NCLEX question thrown at you, even if you don't know exactly the disease process or the medication being asked about.

STEP 9 So What Should I Use to Study? There's So Much Out There!

From all of this, it seems like there's so much out there to help you prep for the NCLEX! Indeed, it can be overwhelming. The key is to only pick a few resources, and stick to them. You absolutely need a question resource, over 1000 questions. If you feel like your content foundation is lacking, even in one or two areas, then a content review book is helpful. If you feel like you need guidance from an instructor to help you prepare, a review course would be helpful. The key is to maximize your resources. For me here is what I used:

Saunders Comprehensive Review Book

I only used this for a few chapters. I would use it if I found I was consistently getting certain types of questions wrong.

Virtual ATI Online Review

I completed most of this before the NCLEX, but did not complete the Predictor Exam, though I completed all of the modules and assessments.


I completed all 1900+ questions

Prioritization, Delegation, and Assignment Book

I completed all of the questions in the first half of the book (not the case studies)

Kaplan QBank

I only completed about 600 of these questions

NCLEX Mastery

I completed about 1000 of these questions, usually on my break at work or when I was out and had downtime.

So, in general, most people would find success (again, if you maximize your study)

  • A content review book
  • UWorld QBank
  • Prioritization Book

For many, a review course such as Kaplan could also be added. Based on what I have seen posted on this website, the Saunders Book, UWorld, and the PDA LaCharity book all get consistently good reviews.

STEP 10 When Should You Take the NCLEX?

So you've applied to and paid the state board and Pearson Vue, you've received your ATT, and now you're looking at the dates available. When should you take it? The answer to that question is individual, however, you don't want to wait too long. For me, I finished my program on 8/4 (graduation 8/31), received my ATT on 9/16, and tested on 9/20. So, I was doing focused studying for over a month.

If you are doing well on your practice questions and in your review course, then you should schedule your exam as soon as possible. The best thing to do is choose a date, and as long as it's over 24 hours from the test date/time, you can reschedule. I've found that once you choose a date, it becomes more "real", and your studying becomes more purposeful.

STEP 11 Tips During the Exam

  1. Remember your test-taking strategies!
  2. Carefully read each question, and look for keywords/phrases (like "not", "further information", "first", "successful", "priority")
  3. Once you choose an answer, reread the question again, check your answer, then click next! Don't dwell on an answer, as you may choose a correct one to an incorrect answer. I know I have!
  4. Take your time! Give yourself a minute or two for each question.
  5. Take a break! Sometimes it's helpful to step away for a little to refocus your mind. You don't have to wait for the scheduled breaks. If you need a break, take one!

STEP 12 After the Exam

Congrats! You completed the NCLEX! This is a big accomplishment, and you should be proud of yourself. If your state participates in Quick Results, you can pay for your unofficial results 48 hours after your exam on the Pearson Vue website. My exam was at 8am, and two days later the results were available at 9am (of course I was checking every 2 minutes starting at 8, haha). During the time in between, do something fun to get your mind off of the exam. It can be nerve-wracking waiting what seems like an eternity, but taking your mind off of it helps.

Yes, you can also try the Pearson Vue Trick (PVT) (I know you're wondering :wacky:). Basically, if you try to re-register for the NCLEX after you put in your credit card information and hit submit if you receive an error message saying that you have recently scheduled an exam, then you passed (maybe). If it accepts your credit card payment or says declined for insufficient funds (some try this with a gift card with $5, for example), then maybe you passed, maybe you didn't. The PVT isn't 100% right all the time, but many try it. I did as well. I tried it 20 minutes after the exam, 2 hours after, 6 hours after, and after 24 hours, all the so-called "good popup". I'm not recommending you do this, but I know that many do it, and at least for me, getting the "good popup" helped me convince myself that I passed while waiting the 48 hours for quick results.


Thanks for reading! I hope this guide helps you in your NCLEX-RN prep. The key is to start early, use a limited number of study resources, do focused studying, learn test-taking strategies, and remain calm during the exam. Whether you're taking the NCLEX for the first time or taking it again, with preparation, you CAN pass the NCLEX.


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