Kudos! You’ve gone through all it takes to graduate from nursing school. It’s now time to cross the final hurdle that leads you straight to your first job as a licensed nurse—taking and passing the NCLEX exam.
While it’s normal to want to delay your study plans, one good way to overcome any hurdle is to start early enough. This gives you more time to catch up on many things, including changes in test style and format.
This year, the NCLEX exam will make a few turnarounds. If you’re thinking of cramming, you may need to make some changes in your preparations to pass with flying colors. After all, the exam in itself doesn’t come free—you may need to spend $400 or more for each registration.
Your best bet will be to give it all you’ve got. Perhaps you don’t know where or how to start, so you’ll certainly need some essential study timeline tips you need to succeed.
How Soon Should Your Preparations Start?
When people cram, it’s usually because they have limited time to cover a lot of ground. Depending on how soon your test date is, starting six months before is the smartest thing to do. During this early stage of preparation, review NCLEX-style questions, most importantly real-life nursing case studies. To make studying more effective, develop a study plan that works for you and stay committed.
The more consistent you are, the better you can identify your areas of weakness and improve them. The first three months could still be used to read and grasp different concepts—refresh your knowledge of what you’ve been taught while at school.
A few months before the exam, go over past questions repeatedly. Grade yourself, and in cases where your answer was incorrect, note them down. Those are knowledge gaps that need to be filled. It’s normal to feel anxious whenever there are so many knowledge gaps. Try not to panic—it’s simply a sign that you need to study more. Start developing test-taking strategies and techniques.
Try setting a regular schedule to answer some questions in the morning and others in the evening. After every session, assess and meditate on all questions, not just those that were answered incorrectly. This will help you affirm that your correct answers weren’t just lucky guesses.
Two weeks before the exam, take a break from studying and focus on self-care. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy meals. Do some light studying and review your notes, but don’t cram too much.
On the day before the exam, prepare everything you’ll need for your NCLEX exam. Get a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast on D-Day. Be sure to arrive at the testing center early with all necessary documents. And yes, stay calm and confident.
With a timeline, you’re probably wondering where to start. This is why you need to create milestones. Some of the world’s smartest people make SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound—so can you! Here are some ideas of the milestones you can set for yourself:
- Create a study plan and schedule that aligns with your ideal timeline.
- Gather all the necessary study materials, such as reviewers, practice questions, and flashcards.
- Review key concepts from nursing school that you may have forgotten or need a refresher on.
- Complete at least one review book or study guide.
- Practice with NCLEX-style questions.
- Identify areas of weakness and focus on them in your study plan.
- Complete two or more reviewers or study guides.
- Increase the number of NCLEX-style questions you are practicing with.
- Start to identify patterns in your incorrect answers and adjust your study plan accordingly.
- Complete all your assigned review books and study guides.
- Practice with 200-300 NCLEX-style questions.
- Take practice exams and analyze the results to identify areas of weakness.
These are just examples. You can come up with yours. The goal is to break your study plan into small, manageable steps that will allow you to track and measure your progress.
Create a Reading Plan that Works
Creating a concrete study plan is essential when preparing for the NCLEX licensure exam. Your plan should be well-structured, organized, and tailored to meet your needs. Here are some innovative ways you can consider for establishing a concrete plan:
1. Use a study planner app.
There are many study planner apps available that can help you set study goals, organize reading time, and receive reminders to stick with your plan. Some popular examples include Todait, Egenda, Power Planner, Easy Study, Evernote, and StudyBlue.
2. Join an NCLEX study group.
Joining a study group that includes people of similar interests can be a great way to stay motivated and on top of your game. These groups can provide support, feedback, and help you stay on track with your study plan, especially on days when you don’t feel like following through. Depending on your preference, you can choose between online or in-person study groups.
3. Take an NCLEX review course.
Participate in a review course—many NCLEX review courses provide a structured study plan covering all the areas of the exam. These courses are usually taught by experienced instructors who can provide guidance and feedback. Taking a review course is a great way to ensure that you cover all the necessary material in a structured and organized manner.
Some of the top NCLEX review and prep courses you can consider include:
- Kaplan NCLEX Review: Kaplan is a well-known provider of test preparation materials and has been helping students prepare for the NCLEX for over 40 years. Their review course includes access to a comprehensive question bank, practice tests, and an online course with live and recorded lectures.
- UWorld NCLEX Review: UWorld is a popular and highly-regarded test prep company that offers an NCLEX review course. Their course includes access to over 2,000 practice questions and detailed explanations, as well as an adaptive learning platform that adjusts to the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Hurst Review Services: Hurst is another well-known provider of NCLEX review courses. Their offering includes access to a comprehensive content review, hundreds of practice questions, and an online platform with video lectures and interactive content.
- ATI Nursing Education: ATI is a popular provider of nursing education materials and offers an NCLEX review course that includes access to a comprehensive question bank, practice exams, and an online course with video lectures and interactive content.
These review courses utilize adaptive learning technology for a personalized learning experience—they assess your strengths or weaknesses and provide customized study plans that are tailored to your needs.
4. Create a mind map.
Mind mapping is a technique that helps you visualize the relationships between different concepts and topics. Think of it as creating a diagram that connects related study topics. This technique is especially powerful because it involves visualization through colors, images, and other visual aids, which makes your studying easy to understand and remember. To harness the power of mind mapping, choose a specific topic, write the main idea in the center of the page, and then add subtopics or branches to the main idea. Use colors and images wherever necessary to make the mind map visually appealing and engaging.
5. Use spaced repetition software.
Spaced repetition software, such as Anki, Brainscape, and Memrise, is a learning technique that uses increasing intervals of time between study sessions to improve long-term memory retention. They work by scheduling review sessions based on the difficulty level of each flashcard and your performance in previous review sessions.
This means that more difficult flashcards will be reviewed more frequently, while easier flashcards will be reviewed less frequently. After choosing a spaced repetition platform to use, create flashcards for the topics you want to study—flashcards can include questions, definitions, and other important information—then start reviewing regularly, ideally on a daily basis. This will help to reinforce the information and improve long-term memory retention.
Ultimately, preparing for the NCLEX licensure exam requires a combination of content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and test-taking strategies. Be sure to create a well-planned study schedule, use reputable study materials and take practice exams. Preparing for the NCLEX exam can be stressful, and it is essential to prioritize self-care. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and take breaks when needed.
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