How to Create an NCLEX Study Plan

6 Min Read Published April 24, 2023
How to Create an NCLEX Study Plan

Preparing for the NCLEX may be the most intimidating part of becoming a practical or registered nurse. Despite your comprehensive nursing program, you may still have questions about how to study for the NCLEX.

Without a well-thought-out study plan, NCLEX preparation can quickly become overwhelming. We recommend planning out your NCLEX prep process rather than just diving in. A personalized NCLEX study plan will help you cover all the material without missing anything or having a single cram session.

This article will help you create an organized study plan for your learning style. We'll discuss how to study for the NCLEX, important NCLEX topics, and how to allocate time for your NCLEX prep schedule. We'll even provide a sample NCLEX study plan for you to build upon. 

Let's create your perfect NCLEX prep plan today so that you pass the NCLEX on the first try!

What Is an NCLEX Study Plan?

Your PN or RN NCLEX study plan should take a comprehensive approach to prepare for the NCLEX. It should include the following:

  • Study strategies tailored to your learning style 
  • Understanding the NCLEX format and testable topics
  • Setting manageable study goals
  • Keeping track of your progress
  • Taking practice NCLEX exams
  • Planning strategic breaks to avoid burnout

The study plan you create depends on your learning style, lifestyle demands, and whether you have test-taking anxiety. These factors could impact how long your study plan is and your mode of study (flashcards, reciting, notes review, etc.). Considering them will help you make a study schedule that caters to your test-taking needs.

Why You Need an NCLEX Study Plan

Your study plan will ensure you take a thorough, logical approach to NCLEX practice. It will help keep you organized and motivated, reducing anxiety before the exam.

But the study plan will also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your knowledge gaps will allow you to determine which topics need more attention.

5 NCLEX Study Plan Tips From an NCLEX Prep Expert

1. Find Your NCLEX Study Style

Shelly Luhning MN, BSN, RN, developed a self-study and a “hands-on” coaching-style NCLEX prep program for NCLEX Education. Luhning says NCLEX test takers must decide whether self-study or guided exam preparation suits them best.

You can determine the style that suits you best by performing a self-assessment. Luhning recommends reviewing the Client Needs categories from the NCSBN Test Plan to help decide which style works best for you.

2. Set SMART Goals

After you know your study style, you can set SMART goals for your study plan. Your SMART goals should define when, what, why, and how you study for the NCLEX. 

3. Know Your Deadlines

Remember that you have 90 days from receiving your ATT number to take the exam. You cannot get a refund if you fail to complete your test before the 90 days are up. So plan your study according to how much time you have.

4. Set Guidelines for Your Study Sessions

Luhning also highly recommends you avoid cramming once you begin studying. Instead, break your study into manageable daily periods. Luhning sets forth these study parameters for your consideration:

  • Study for an average of 30-35 hours a week
  • Create a 6-hour daily study maximum
  • Set aside study time for five days weekly
  • Study for at least 10-12 weeks before the exam
  • Take 10-minute breaks for each hour of study
  • Avoid multitasking during study hours

5. Incorporate “Active” Study Strategies

Finally, the Luhning method suggests looking for "active" study strategies. Instead of re-reading material, try watching videos or doing NCLEX practice questions that make you “think critically and use clinical judgment."

NCLEX Question Categories and How To Prepare for Them

NextGen NCLEX questions are based on one of four Client Needs categories outlined by the NCSBN Test Plan. You should have a firm grasp of the material from each group:

1. Safe and Effective Care Environment

This NCLEX Client Needs category covers two main subtopics: management of care and controlling infection. You should focus your study plan for this portion on care coordination, documentation, infection control standards, and precautions.

2. Health Promotion and Maintenance

As you study for this Client Needs category, consider all human life cycle stages. Your study plan for this portion should include client teaching, education, and physical assessments.

3. Psychosocial Integrity

Registered and practical nurses must address patients' emotional, social, and mental needs. This category tests those skills by assessing your knowledge of mental health issues, family, relationships, and social dynamics.

4. Physiological Integrity

Physiological Integrity NCLEX exam questions test your knowledge of body structures, functional disorders, pharmacological therapies, nursing dosage calculations, and factors that affect them. You'll need to study four subcategories for this Client Needs section:

  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaptation

Understanding the topics tested in each category is one piece of building your NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN study plan. 

Additionally, you should plan your study according to how much of the NCLEX includes each category. Refer to the screenshot below to learn about the exam's content distribution:

Source: NCSBN

How Much Time Should You Spend Studying Each Area?

Your approach to time allocation for NCLEX prep depends on your needs. For example, you may divide your study time according to the percentage of NCLEX questions dedicated to each Client Needs category. But, this method could backfire if you're already well-versed in high-percentage topics.

Instead of using a "one-size-fits-all" study plan, Luhning recommends tailoring NCLEX prep to your specific situation. 

Start by reviewing each category and test your recall using NCLEX question banks. You can identify your strengths and weaknesses to better plan how to divide study time.

Then, learn some NCLEX test-taking tips and strategies and practice them. Finish preparing for your exam with a comprehensive review while focusing on topics that still cause you trouble.

Study Resources

Luhning offers insights into valuable resources you can use to prepare for the NCLEX. As you create your study plan, she recommends you reference these resources:

  • Your nursing school textbooks
  • The updated NCLEX Test Plan
  • Hurst for solo study
  • Uworld for question banks
  • Kaplan for effective study strategies

These resources focus on NCLEX specifics like content, questions, and strategies. Enroll in an all-encompassing NCLEX review course if you want broader study materials. We've also created in-depth prep course reviews for the following programs:

Sample Week-by-Week NCLEX Study Plan

Now, you have all the tools necessary to build your customized NCLEX study plan. But creating your self-study plan from scratch is still a challenging task. Based on Luhning's method, we've devised a cursory 10-week NCLEX practice plan. 

Use this sample NCLEX study plan as a starting-off point for your personalized self-study. Tailor it to your needs as you conduct your NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN practice.

Weeks 1-8: Content Review & Question Banks



Client Needs Category

Subcategory (If applicable)



Safe and Effective Care Environment

Management of Care



Safe and Effective Care Environment

Safety and Infection Control



Physiological Integrity

Basic Care and Comfort



Physiological Integrity

Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies



Physiological Integrity

Reduction of Risk Potential



Physiological Integrity

Physiological Adaptation



Physiological Integrity

Physiological Adaptation



Health Promotion and Maintenance



Psychosocial Integrity










Week 9: Learn and review NCLEX test-taking tips and strategies

Week 10: Comprehensive review and NCLEX practice tests

NCLEX Study Plan: Your Key to Exam Success

If your NCLEX exam is coming up, a study plan is one of your best tools for success. Ensure your NCLEX study plan includes personalized topics, a deliberate schedule, and NCLEX practice tests.

But self-guided study plans aren't for everyone. If you want guided NCLEX prep courses, our nurses reviewed offerings from Hurst and to help you choose the best program.

Looking for more NCLEX prep resources? Check out these comprehensive guides for NCLEX success:

Leona Werezak
Leona Werezak Contributor

Leona Werezak BSN, MN, RN is the Director of Business Development at NCLEX Education. She began her nursing career in a small rural hospital in northern Canada where she worked as a new staff nurse doing everything from helping deliver babies to medevacing critically ill patients. Learning much from her patients and colleagues at the bedside for 15 years, she also taught in baccalaureate nursing programs for almost 20 years as a nursing adjunct faculty member (yes! Some of those years she did both!). As a freelance writer online, she writes content for nursing schools and colleges, healthcare and medical businesses, as well as various nursing sites.

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