How to prepare for the NCLEX: 11 Tips

accelerated bsn student
accelerated bsn student

Choosing to become a registered nurse not only offers opportunities for personal and professional development but also brings an enriched sense of fulfillment. A study conducted in 2023 revealed that nurses — reflecting on the challenges posed by the pandemic — experienced positive shifts in career satisfaction. These changes were attributed to an increased sense of job significance, a strengthened commitment to serving humanity and an enriched perception of work as profoundly meaningful.

It's apparent that for many individuals embracing the role of a nurse is not simply a profession but a vocation. Within this exciting path, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) stands as a significant milestone, measuring your preparedness to deliver compassionate and proficient patient care. In this blog, we explore how to prepare for the NCLEX, offering not just insights but practical tips to pass the NCLEX to ensure confidence as you launch your nursing career.

The Significance of the NCLEX

The NCLEX is the gateway to your career in nursing. Successfully passing the NCLEX signifies that you possess the knowledge, skills and abilities required to be a practicing nurse. It's a validation of your commitment to patient well-being and a demonstration of your preparedness to navigate the challenges of the health care field.

The History of the NCLEX

The NCLEX has evolved significantly since its inception, with the first exam administered in 1982. The test was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), an organization that plays a pivotal role in regulating and advancing nursing practice across the United States. The NCSBN continually refines the NCLEX to align with the dynamic landscape of healthcare and nursing education, ensuring that the exam remains a valid and reliable assessment of a candidate's readiness for entry-level nursing practice.

Uniform Standard for Licensure

The NCLEX plays a pivotal role in maintaining a uniform standard for licensure across different states and territories in the United States. While each state board of nursing has its specific licensure requirements, the NCLEX is a standardized assessment that ensures consistency in evaluating the competence of nurses regardless of their geographic location. This uniformity contributes to the mobility of nurses, allowing them to practice in different states without undergoing additional licensure exams.

Adherence to Professional Standards

By emphasizing evidence-based practice, critical thinking and ethical decision-making, the NCLEX reinforces the professional standards expected of registered nurses. The exam not only assesses the foundational knowledge of nursing graduates but also evaluates their ability to apply this knowledge in real-world clinical scenarios. This aligns with the overarching goal of producing competent and ethical practitioners who can provide high-quality care to diverse patient populations.

Safeguarding Patient Welfare

Perhaps the most profound significance of the NCLEX lies in its role in safeguarding patient welfare. By ensuring that licensed nurses possess the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver safe and effective care, the NCLEX contributes to maintaining the integrity of the nursing profession. This commitment to patient safety resonates throughout the history of the NCLEX, emphasizing its enduring importance in health care.

How to Prepare for the NCLEX: Test Content and Format

The NCLEX test format includes various question types to evaluate candidates' competence and ability to provide safe and effective patient care. Understanding the test format and content is instrumental for nursing students as they gear up for the examination. Here's an overview of the NCLEX content distribution:

Content Distribution

The exam content is divided into four major categories: Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity and Physiological Integrity. Each category encompasses various subcategories, addressing different aspects of nursing practice.

Client Needs

Percentage of Items from Each Category/Subcategory

Safe and Effective Care Environment

  • ‚ Management of Care
  • ‚ Safety and Infection Control
  • 15–21%
  • 10–16%

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
  • 6–12%
  • 13–19%
  • 9–15%
  • 11–17%


Source: NCLEX-RN® Test Plan

Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT)

The NCLEX is administered using Computerized Adaptive Testing, which tailors the difficulty of the questions based on the candidate's performance. As the test progresses, the computer adapts by presenting questions that align with the individual's ability level.

Question Types

  • Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs): Most NCLEX questions are multiple-choice, where candidates select the correct answer from a set of options.
  • Select All That Apply (SATA): Candidates may encounter questions that require selecting multiple correct answers from a list of options.
  • Ordered Response: This type requires candidates to arrange the response options in a specific order.
  • Hot Spot Questions: Candidates identify a specific area on an image or graphic as part of their response.
  • Chart or Exhibit Questions: Candidates analyze charts, graphs or exhibits to answer questions.

Number of Questions

The number of questions on the NCLEX varies for each candidate. The test typically consists of 74-145 questions, including 15 pretest questions that do not count toward test takers' scores. The exam continues until a predetermined level of confidence is reached regarding the candidate's ability or until the maximum number of questions is administered.

Time Limit

Candidates typically have five hours to complete the NCLEX, including breaks.

Passing Standard

The NCLEX does not have a predetermined passing score. Instead, candidates are evaluated based on their ability to perform at or above the passing standard, which is determined by the NCSBN.

Pretest Items

Candidates may encounter pretest items that are not scored. These 15 questions are included to gather statistical data on their effectiveness for future use.


Candidates are allowed breaks during the exam, but the clock continues to run. The number and duration of breaks may vary depending on the testing center’s policies.

11 Tips to Pass the NCLEX

The NCLEX has evolved to stay current with developments in nursing education and practice. It is a testament to the nursing profession's dedication to maintaining high standards, adapting to change and prioritizing the safety and well-being of patients.

Aspiring nurses navigating their nursing education can use the following tips to pass the NCLEX:

1. Start Early, Stay Consistent

Early preparation is the cornerstone of success on the NCLEX journey. Begin your preparations well in advance to allow for a gradual and comprehensive review. Consistency is key—establish a study routine that accommodates regular, focused review sessions. This approach builds a strong foundation and instills confidence as the exam date approaches.

2. Create a Study Schedule

Developing a personalized study schedule is crucial. Align it with your daily commitments, treating NCLEX preparation as a non-negotiable task. A well-structured schedule not only ensures effective learning but also helps manage stress by breaking down the study process into manageable segments.

3. Understand the Test Format

Familiarize yourself with the NCLEX format, encompassing various question types such as multiple-choice questions and select all that apply (SATA). Practice with sample questions to become comfortable with the exam's structure and pacing, ultimately boosting your confidence during the actual test.

4. Use Reliable Study Materials

Invest in high-quality study materials aligned with the latest NCLEX test plan. Utilize reputable textbooks, online resources and practice exams to stay current. Regularly check for updates to ensure your study materials reflect the most recent content, enhancing the effectiveness of your preparation.

5. Prioritize Weak Areas

Identify and prioritize your weaker subjects. Allocate extra time to understanding and reinforcing these areas, creating a more well-rounded knowledge base. Addressing weaknesses head-on is a proactive strategy to boost overall proficiency.

6. Active Learning Strategies

Engage in active learning using techniques like flashcards, mnemonics and practice quizzes. These methods reinforce understanding and make the study process interactive and enjoyable. Active learning enhances retention and application of knowledge.

7. Simulate Exam Conditions

Replicate exam conditions during practice sessions. Take timed practice exams in a quiet environment to acclimate yourself to the pressure of time constraints. This can enhance your endurance while  also reducing anxiety on the actual exam day.

8. Join Study Groups

Collaborate with peers in study groups to share insights and discuss challenging topics. Teaching others reinforces your own understanding and exposes you to diverse perspectives on complex subjects. Collective learning fosters a supportive environment.

9. Self-Care is Crucial

Maintain a healthy balance between study and self-care. Incorporate breaks, exercise and prioritize sufficient sleep. A well-rested mind and body are vital for optimal cognitive function during your studies, ensuring sustained focus and effectiveness.

10. Stay Positive and Confident

Cultivate a positive mindset throughout your preparation. Believe in your abilities, celebrate your progress and focus on how far you've come. Confidence is a powerful asset on exam day, positively impacting your performance.

11. Consider NCLEX Coaching

Programs like Rockhurst’s ABSN, offer one-on-one NCLEX coaching post-graduation. Personalized support ensures ongoing refinement of your skills and knowledge, providing a strong foundation for success as you transition into your nursing career.

Rockhurst's ABSN Program: Your Path to Confidence and Competence

Preparing for the NCLEX is a multifaceted journey that requires dedication, consistency and a positive mindset. Following these tips to pass the NCLEX will not only enhance your chances of success but also contribute to your preparation to be a confident and capable nurse.

Are you ready to take the next step in your nursing career? Benefit from personalized one-on-one NCLEX coaching, ensuring you have the support needed to confidently step into your role as a registered nurse. Your journey to success starts here – seize the opportunity with Rockhurst's ABSN program.

Explore Rockhurst's ABSN program, where success extends beyond graduation.

About Rockhurst University's Online Programs

In the heart of Kansas City since 1910, Rockhurst University is dedicated to learning, leadership and service in the Jesuit tradition, and today is the #1 Regional University in Kansas City (2021 U.S. News and World Report).

Rockhurst University’s online programs are delivered by the highly reputable Saint Luke’s ™ College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the School of Education. As an educational leader serving exceptional students in the field of health care and education, we are committed to preparing the workforce of tomorrow with our unique programs designed to prepare graduates to meet the needs of diverse populations and work in various organizations.

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