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A nursing educator from a nationally ranked research university shares her timeline for testing success.

As a nursing student, everything you do in school is to prepare for the NCLEX-RN, the most important test of your career. Yet, even though you begin learning the specific information you need to pass this exam on the first day of class, you cannot just rely on retaining this information if you hope to succeed. In truth, it takes quite a bit of practice to get ready for the NCLEX-RN. You need to make sure you understand not only the specifics of the exam but the information it will test. As a result, the only way to ensure you are ready to take this exam is to give yourself enough time to prepare.

It’s Never Too Early to Start Studying

The earliest date to take the NCLEX-RN exam varies depending on your state, but the majority of students test approximately 45 days after their graduation date. 

Even though the majority of nursing candidates are able to pass the exam the first time they take it, those who fail are allowed to retake the test after 45 days from their original testing date and can retake the test as many as eight times a year. Each state Board of Nursing has additional standards for testing, so it is important to consult your board individually. To do this search the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the regulatory organization for the NCLEX-RN.

When it comes to studying for the NCLEX-RN, it is never too early to start preparing for this critical test. No matter where you are in nursing school, you need to start prepping for the NCLEX-RN. Even simply familiarizing yourself with the format and style of questions can help you become more comfortable with what you will see on the exam and benefit you in the long run. That is why it is best to plan ahead and schedule a weekly study time, where you can slowly start reviewing the information and not wait until the last minute to cram everything at once. 

However, this does not mean that the test preparation needs to be boring. Beyond taking detailed notes in class and reviewing information weekly, some of the best NCLEX-RN test-taking practices have social aspects, such as:

  • Studying with other students;
  • Meeting with peer tutors and mentors; and 
  • Talking to test experts who can help.

Collaboration when studying often has benefits, with studies indicating that collaborative learning is an effective way to engage students, develop higher-level thinking skills, and increase student retention. 

What Information to Focus on Six Months Out

If you want to be able to sufficiently prepare for the NCLEX-RN, you need to give yourself enough time to thoroughly review the extensive amount of information that will be tested. Generally, successful candidates will start studying for the exam five to six months before taking it, which is typically the last semester of nursing school. In addition, during a student’s senior year they will also begin to use UWorld, which will help them get prepared to answer questions that require critical thinking skills. 

This is the time to start reviewing topics that you may have had issues with during nursing school or ones that you need further clarity in. But it is also the time to start actively learning, becoming engaged in classes, and preparing for unit exams. Our unit tests have similar material to the NCLEX-RN, allowing students to prepare cumulatively for their final exam. Basically, the last six months of nursing school become a continuous study period, where you build on the material rather than take each subject separately and try to connect the dots at the end. 

Buckling Down 12 Weeks Out

Around the 12-week mark, it is really time to start dedicating your schedule to preparing for the NCLEX-RN. This means making the most of all the resources you have, including prep tools, practice exams, and tutoring services. 

This schedule should work for most students, but of course every aspiring RN is different. As a result, you need to take an active role in your learning by assessing your own strengths, weaknesses, personal learning habits, study skills, and test-taking abilities. From there it is a question of giving yourself ample time to prepare not just for one exam but for a successful career in nursing. 

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Maria Grandinetti, Ph.D., RN, BSBA, CNE
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