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The journey to becoming a nurse often comes with challenges, from rigorous anatomy coursework to hundreds of clinical hours. However, there’s one challenge, in particular, that every nursing student must face to earn a spot in their professional world—the NCLEX.

In the United States, the NCLEX is a standardized test that all prospective professional nurses must pass in order to practice. While this exam may loom large at the end of your nursing school road, it’s not an impassable hurdle—especially with some expert advice on your side. 

Keep reading to discover our top seven best tips for how to pass the NCLEX.

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What is the NCLEX?

Before you begin studying for a test, it’s important to know just what you’re studying for. As such, if you’re unfamiliar with the NCLEX, you may have a few questions running through your head, such as: 

  • What topics are covered on the NCLEX? 
  • Are there certain subjects I need to know more about than others?
  • What kind of questions does the exam have? Multiple choice or short answer?

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) isn't just any run-of-the-mill test—it's a rite of passage and one of the steps to become a registered nurse. Commissioned by The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX asks students to demonstrate their aptitude and knowledge regarding all things nursing. This is why it stands as one of the nursing school requirements for students who wish to become a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Practical Nurse (PN). 

If you wish to pass the NCLEX nursing exam, you’ll benefit from first having a thorough understanding of the test’s content, format, and overall purpose. To that end, let’s explore the ins and outs of this intricate exam for future nurses.

Test Format

As of April 2023, the NCSBN board implemented the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN-NCLEX), a new and revised version of the test.1 The main difference between the old NCLEX and the NGN-NCLEX is the test’s format, which has been adopted for the digital age.

To fit this new format, the NGN exam uses these types of questions:2 

  • Multiple choice questions
  • Matrix multiple-choice questions 
  • Drop-down cloze questions
  • Bowtie questions with ranked scoring
  • Select all the apply (SATA) questions
  • Unfolding Case Studies (test-takers receive information from a medical record and answer questions to analyze findings, make clinical judgments, and evaluate patient response)

Also, the NGN uses a new framework called the Clinical Judgment Model (CJM) to evaluate a nursing candidate's ability to make sound clinical judgments and decisions in patient care. In particular, this new framework places more emphasis on long-form questions—about 10% of all NGN exam questions are long-form.

Test Content

At its heart, the NCLEX is meant to evaluate your nursing skills and knowledge. However, nursing (and healthcare in general) is a complex field, and the NCLEX must account for the wide variety of subject matter nurses should know. 

To test future nurses holistically—covering areas like patient assessment, anatomy, safety protocols, ethical practices, and more—the NCLEX includes questions on the following subjects at the following levels:3

  • Effective and safe care environment
    • Care management (15-21%)
    • Infection control and safety (10-16%)
  • Health promotion and maintenance (6-12%)
  • Psychosocial integrity (6-12%)
  • Physiology integrity
    • Primary care and comfort (6-12%)
    • Pharmacological and parenteral therapies (13-19%)
    • Reduction of risk potential (9-15%)
    • Physiological adaptation (11-17%)

Depending on your desired career path, the NGN-NCLEX also comes in two versions—the NCLEX-RN for Registered Nurses and the NCLEX-PN for Practical Nurses. While both tests are similar, most NCLEX-RN questions center around care plans and patient evaluation, whereas NCLEX-PN questions focus on collecting patient information and supporting care plans.4

Top 7 Tips for Passing the NCLEX

While the NCLEX may seem daunting, with the right strategies and a dash of determination, you can conquer this formidable challenge with the passing standard or better and be one step closer to achieving your nursing ambitions.

To that end, pull out your pen, crack open your books, and let’s take a look at our top 7 tips for how to pass the NCLEX.

Tip 1: Create a Study Schedule

To put it simply, NCLEX preparation should be a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re planning to confine studying to one week of all-nighters, you’re setting yourself up for failure (not to mention a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety).

To succeed on any major exam, you need a well-structured study plan. In particular, the NCLEX requires extensive study of specific nursing practices and healthcare information. Conquer this mountain of knowledge by using these common studying techniques to create a workable schedule:

  • Start at least six weeks ahead of the test
  • Break your study materials into manageable chunks and allocate time for each
  • Rank subjects by priority—what will definitely, possibly, and maybe be on the test
  • Consider how many daily study hours you’ll need to feel comfortable
  • Track your study hours on a calendar

Tip 2: Use NCLEX Review Materials

Like tools to build a house, the right study materials can transform your study sessions from impossible to achievable. Fortunately, the NCLEX offers a plethora of study materials for its test-takers.

To that end, consider using any of these review materials for your study sessions:

  • Free practice test plans from the NCLEX website
  • Free sample questions from the NCLEX website
  • Old versions of the NCLEX 
  • NCLEX practice exam books
  • NCLEX prep courses

Tip 3: Join Study Groups

Studying for the NCLEX is a significant undertaking—but you don’t have to go about it alone. Split up flashcard duties and other tasks with a study group. The camaraderie and shared knowledge of a nurse study group can foster both accountability and encouragement, all while lessening the grunt work of studying. 

Not sure where to find your power team? Consider forming a study group through any of the following outlets:

  • Fellow classmates or nursing students
  • Online nursing communities
  • Nurse school resources (academic advisors, student resource centers, etc.)
  • Local study meetup groups
  • Study apps

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Tip 4: Take Breaks and Make Time for Self-Care

When studying for a major test like the NCLEX, it's easy to get caught up in the work. Between the NCLEX practice questions and the flashcards, 12 p.m. may slowly trickle into 12 a.m. or later. However, you don’t have to enter a relentless cycle of studying to prepare yourself for the NCLEX—in fact, doing so may hurt your performance.

Neglecting your physical and mental well-being can be counterproductive to your test-taking abilities and critical thinking skills. Research shows a correlation between sleep and test scores, so make adequate time for rest.  Similarly, remember to take breaks (try the 20-minutes-on, 5-minutes-off Pomodoro method) and maintain at least a few elements of your normal self-care routine, such as:

  • Journaling
  • Exercising
  • Preparing and eating healthy food 
  • Taking part in social activities
  • Reading
  • Meditating

Tip 5: Utilize Technology

In today’s digital world, technology isn't just a convenience—it’s also a potent tool for students and nurses. By harnessing the power of technology, you can accelerate and bolster your study efforts for a competitive edge on exam day. 

Many students may already know about any online test plan or prep course. However, there are other nifty ways to take advantage of technology to earn a better NCLEX score, such as:

  • Using digital flashcards
  • Downloading eBooks and online texts on the NCLEX
  • Taking an online course
  • Using study management apps (Trello, Evernote, or Notion)
  • Practicing with NCLEX simulation tests
  • Reviewing online nursing forums and social media
  • Listening to podcasts 
  • Watching YouTube channels
  • Playing NCLEX review games
  • Signing up for online tutoring

Tip 6: Seek Guidance from Educators

A major component of nursing is mentorship. Almost every nursing professional can point you toward at least one teacher or fellow nurse who helped shape their career. To that end, when taking the NCLEX, don’t be afraid to call on your mentors or other authorities in the field.

If you’re intimidated or unsure of how to approach these individuals, consider pursuing their guidance in these ways:

  • Attending office hours 
  • Joining nursing associations
  • Attending networking events for nursing
  • Reaching out to alumni networks
  • Contacting your clinical preceptor
  • Engaging with your professors or academic advisors

Tip 7: Stay Positive

And the final tip that affects all the others? Stay positive.

There’s a reason you’ve gotten far enough along in your nursing journey to take the NCLEX. It’s because of your hard work and dedication. So, when preparing for the exam, remember to believe in yourself and your abilities. 

The NCLEX is challenging, but it's a hurdle you can overcome with the right attitude. Cultivate a growth mindset, stay focused, and remind yourself of your commitment to nursing as a passion and profession—and the test is yours for the taking.

Start Your Nursing Career with Alliant

Passing the NCLEX exam is a crucial step in any nurse’s professional journey. However, that journey must start with an education that will prepare you for exams and licensure—and Alliant International University is poised to help pave your way.

Our bachelor’s of science in nursing and our master’s of science in nursing are designed to bring you to the next level in your nursing career, no matter your previous studies or experience. With dedicated faculty, flexible scheduling, and ample hands-on opportunities, our nursing programs will help you feel confident and capable when it comes to pursuing your nursing ambitions.

Turn your passion for healthcare into a career. Apply to the nursing programs at Alliant International University today.


  1. Falcone, Sarah. “What You Need to Know About the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN)”. February 1, 2023. Accessed on September 19, 2023.
  2.   Jividen, Sarah. “What is the NCLEX Exam? How to Prepare & Pass”. May 8, 2023. Accessed on September 19, 2023.
  3.   Jividen, Sarah. “What is the NCLEX Exam? How to Prepare & Pass”. May 8, 2023. Accessed on September 19, 2023.
  4. N.a. “Is the NCLEX-RN Harder than the NCLEX-PN?” Kaplan. N.d.…. Accessed September 19, 2023.
  5. Capello, Kelly. “The Impact of Sleep on Learning and Memory”. Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. December 21, 2020.…. Accessed September 19, 2023.

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