If you’re getting ready to graduate nursing school this year and curious about about how to manage your time as you prepare for the NCLEX, this post is for you! We will go through the ideal NCLEX study timeline.
(Side note: There is a massive NCLEX change that will be implemented on April 1, 2023. To learn more the new format, click here.)
I recorded a podcast episode of this topic, and you can listen to it below!
Table of Contents
During Your Last Semester of Nursing School
Pick one NCLEX study plan and stick with it. It’s ideal if it’s something you used throughout nursing school and are familiar with how it works. Many NCLEX-prep programs have subscriptions that are based on time periods, so you may not want to get one until after you graduate.
If you’re curious about the best NCLEX reviews for 2023, check out this article.
Get a calendar and plan out your last semester carefully. Make sure to include deadlines for things like applying for jobs, getting a resume together, figuring out which state BON you’re going to apply to for your license, all of your deadlines for school (exams, care plans, papers) and anything else you must do.
(And if you want me to walk you through all of those steps, click here for a free mini course with downloadable checklists to keep you on track!)
If you decide on an NCLEX study plan, begin taking a handful of practice questions per week, but don’t stress about it.
Finally, focus on getting through school! You can’t take the NCLEX if you don’t graduate!
Immediate Post-Graduation Groundwork
After you have walked across the stage, enjoyed your pinning ceremony, and officially bid nursing school farewell, I encourage you to take a break. Take 5-7 days off to decompress from the marathon of nursing school and prep for the sprint ahead to pass the NCLEX.
Now that school is over, your entire focus will be passing the NCLEX. Think of studying for this as your short-term part-time job.
Most graduates take the NCLEX within 4-8 weeks of graduation. Waiting longer is not better. The farther you get away from the rigor of school and constant exposure to clinical topics, the harder it becomes to recall and deploy the information when needed.
If you take a full week off post-graduation, then jump head-first in to NCLEX prep, that will give you plenty of time to learn foundational information, take many practice questions, review necessary content, and take a few full practice exams.
Now it’s time to recalibrate your brain. You’re no longer trying to pass multiple classes with various assignments with clinical paperwork. You have one responsibility: To pass this one exam. This is a new challenge, take a fresh breath of air and pivot your expectations from that of nursing school to this sole focus of passing the NCLEX.
Why this is important: It is expensive to fail.
Each time you apply to take the NCLEX, you must pay fees. Per policy, you must wait a minimum of 45 days before you can re-test. You can take it as many as 8 times in one year. You cannot work as a nurse until you pass this exam. Therefore, if you have a job lined up to start after you pass and instead of starting in two weeks, you have to wait 45 days, you’re missing out on a month of money. If your starting wage is $30/hour, that’s about $4,320 (if you work 36 hours/week) of lost wages.
This is why I am a big proponent of investing in a solid NCLEX-prep program. Some can get pricey, but compared to how much is at stake with a delayed start date for a nursing job, it’s a no-brainer.
How to Structure Your Study Time
Now that you’ve taken your break, are highly focused and determined, and have your NCLEX-prep program selected, it’s time to get down to business.
Your studying should consist of three types of learning:
- Structural information about the exam
- Practice questions – reading rationales and getting repetitions in
- Content review – focused on what you don’t know
I want you to get some foundational information about how the exam is structured. I talk about it a bit in this post. The NCLEX is a computer adaptive exam, so it’s very different from normal nursing school exams.
Depending on which NCLEX-prep program you go with, you could also take a pretest to get a baseline assessment of where your areas of focus should be. It is wise to be aware of the limitations of our ability to sustain focus. Therefore, do not waste precious mental bandwidth going over information you already understand.
Now, make a schedule for yourself. I suggest studying for 4-5 hours per day, 5-6 days per week until test day. This could look like studying from 0600-0900 and 1500-1730 daily. Schedule your study times for when you are at the top of your game mentally. If you’re an early riser, get good study time early. If your peak focus periods of the day are late morning and early afternoon, schedule it then!
Go through questions, allowing that to guide your content review needs. As you answer questions incorrectly and identify needs, flag topics to review with content. Make sure you’re getting longer sessions in with taking practice questions so you can get used to sitting for extended periods and successfully answering questions.
Take Care of Yourself
While you’re going through this intense period of time, take care of your physical body. Get good sleep, eat nutritious meals, decompress yourself from the stress and experience of nursing school. It’s counterproductive if your body is having to overcome exhaustion, dehydration, or crazy blood sugar highs and lows.
Right Before Your Exam
The week before your exam, take a practice test to see if you truly are ready. You can reschedule up to one business day before your exam, if needed. However, if you’ve been doing your studying and sticking to your plan, you should be good to go!
The day before your exam, don’t study. There is no cramming for this exam; it’s simply too complex and comprehensive to cram. Rather, relax. Take a deep breath, enjoy a good meal and put your feet up. You’re almost there!
Take a day to really ground yourself and prepare for game day. Ensure you know where you’re going, what to bring, and what to expect. Give yourself plenty of time to get there early and maybe sit in the car and pump yourself up!
Ideal NCLEX Timeline Final Thoughts
The most important aspect here is to believe in yourself. Be your best cheerleader, not someone you have to overcome to focus.
If you want me to walk you through all the things you’ll need to do in your final year of nursing school in more detail, get some downloadable checklists too, click here.
Godspeed, nursing students!