The Complete Study Guide to Help You Prepare for Nursing School and Pass the NCLEX Exam
Have you considered a career in nursing? Many prospective nurses are attracted to a nursing career because they’re looking for a role where they can help patients as they recover from illness or injury. In fact, nurses are often the ones who spend the most one-to-one time with patients.
When evaluating your nursing career options, you can choose between a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program (more on that later). Either way, entering the nursing field can lead to a gratifying career.
The first step is to learn how to prepare for nursing school—including how to choose one, what to expect, and how to study to pass the corresponding NCLEX exam. That all starts with finding the right accredited school and program.
This guide provides you with essential tips, steps, and resources to confidently choose a nursing program—and school.
Why Become a Nurse?
Would you enjoy working closely with physicians and other healthcare specialists to help monitor, assess, care for, and educate patients about their health? Your career goals may fit perfectly with the work nurses perform daily.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics BLS reports that registered nurses typically perform duties including:
- Assess patients’ conditions and record medical histories and symptoms
- Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
- Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute information to existing plans
- Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
- Explain what to do at home after treatment
A licensed practical nurse also assists in the care of patients. Their duties include clinical tasks like checking vital signs, changing bandages, collecting samples, and helping patients stay comfortable or performing tasks they may not be able to accomplish independently.
Both of these nursing careers show up on our list of Best Entry-Level Medical Jobs. For more details on these careers, read our articles on How to Become a Registered Nurse or How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse.
The need for Registered Nurses over the next decade is projected to grow by 6 percent, translating to over 200,000 new openings each year. The financial benefits are great, too. The BLS reports that the average RN salary* nationwide is around $77,000.
Job growth for Licensed Practical Nurses is also projected to grow 6 percent over the next decade. LPNs make an average salary* of about $50,000, according to the BLS.
Find the Right Nursing Program for You
If nursing sounds like a career you want to pursue, it’s time to learn how to prepare for nursing school. There are several types of nursing school degrees—and even more programs—so you’ll want to do your research. Also, some students may be attracted to large universities, while others may prefer a smaller college’s more personal setting.
You’ll also want to decide what kind of nurse you want to be. You can become an RN by pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which usually takes about four years to complete. Another option is to become an RN by completing an associate degree, which can be done in about two years.
Why Choose to Earn Your BSN?
Students with the goal to eventually work in management often choose the BSN option since RNs with a BSN can qualify for more advanced roles, including managerial and educational teaching positions. The Journal of Nursing Regulation also found that BSN nurses make more yearly than those with an associate degree. ShiftMed reports that BSN programs can cost anywhere from $40–$200,000.
Although many BSN programs can take a full four years, the accelerated BSN program at Brookline College can be completed in as few as 32 months.
Why Choose to Earn an LPN?
If you are not interested in management—or some of the other advanced options that may be available to you by earning your BSN and becoming an RN—a nursing career as an LPN may be for you. This usually means enrolling in an LPN diploma program, which can take about a year to complete.
Pursuing an LPN diploma may be the right choice, especially if your goal is to start working as a nurse as soon as possible. ShiftMed reports that LPN programs can cost anywhere from $10–$15,000. The LPN program at Brookline College can be completed in less than a year, about 48 weeks.
How to Get Into Nursing School
Applying for a nursing program such as a BSN program or LPN program will vary from one school to another, but the process is similar to applying for admission to most colleges. Forbes reports that the most typical BSN nursing school requirements for admission include the following:
- Official transcripts
- Completed prerequisite courses (usually in biology, anatomy, and chemistry)
- Acceptable SAT or ACT scores
- Recommendation letters
- Application fee (or proof of payment)
- Valid RN license (if you’re already a registered nurse)
Generally, it will take a couple of months to apply and hear back with an acceptance or rejection. Once accepted, you’ll prepare to start your program at the next available start date (Brookline enrolls students three times a year into their BSN program). Once you are accepted, it may be a few weeks or months before you start your program.
If you don’t get accepted the first time, don’t worry. You can apply again at the following program deadline or consider applying for other nursing programs.
What Are the Nursing School Prerequisites?
As we mentioned above, some of the requirements for applying to nursing school are prerequisites. This means you must have taken specific classes, usually at the college level, before getting accepted into your nursing program. Although many prerequisites are similar between programs, they vary by school and whether you’re applying for a BSN program or an LPN program.
When deciding what to study before nursing school, you should generally expect to take biology, anatomy, and chemistry classes. If you already know which program you intend to apply for, you can make sure you take courses that will fulfill all of the prerequisite nursing requirements. If you’re unsure about which classes you will need to take, you can talk to a program advisor or admissions counselor at the school.
Some programs may require you to take an entrance assessment exam or require an interview. For example, Brookline College requires that prospective students pass the ATI-TEAS assessment examination. TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) is a comprehensive exam school use to determine the readiness of students for nursing school.
The TEAS exam tests students in four subject areas: Reading, Math, Science, and English/Language Usage. More challenging questions are given more weight, but the score needed to pass varies by school.
Finally, you’ll need to ensure you’re up to date on your immunizations. Typically, this means you’ve completed your Hepatitis B, MMR, Meningitis, IGRA blood test, Tdap, Varicella, and Influenza.
Is Nursing School Hard?
How hard is nursing school compared to other degrees? Like most programs, nursing school requires a commitment to attend classes, study, and take exams. Nursing school also requires you to spend time in the lab and complete hands-on experiences in hospitals or other settings. So, when you consider how difficult nursing school can be, the answer is that it is challenging and requires commitment.
On the other hand, if you fail an exam or fall short on an assignment, you can still rebound and complete your program. The key to success is being consistent in studying, actively asking questions, and speaking up if you need help. Your fellow nursing students are in the same boat—everyone struggles sometimes. Following are a few tips that will help you find success.
Nursing School Study Tips
You’ll feel more confident about surviving nursing school if you make a success roadmap. Your plan can include the following:
- Researching and choosing the right school for your needs.
- Getting familiar with the school’s program format.
- Creating a study plan.
Following are seven tips on how to study for nursing school.
1. Do What Works for You
Everyone studies differently. Some people pick up information quickly by reading and reviewing materials and textbooks. Other students learn best when listening to lectures and participating in group discussions. Some may remember the most while doing hands-on work in a lab or hospital setting. With nursing school, you’ll use all of these types of learning. Early on, try to find the tools that work best for you. It could be studying with others, using flashcards, watching videos, or using an app.
2. Get Familiar with the NCLEX Exam Study Guide
NCLEX is the exam you’ll take after you finish your program to start working as a nurse. The NCLEX Study Guide is provided for your exam (RN or PN), which details exactly what you will be tested on when you finish your program. Reviewing this guide while still in school is a great way to ensure you’re studying the materials that will best help you prepare to take the exam.
3. Create a Study Group
You can start a study group with just one other person, but ideally, 3-5 students in a study group might be the most effective. Studying as a group helps you gain insights from others that you may not have found on your own. It also allows you to talk through assignments and compare notes from class. On top of that, studying as a group can make your homework more productive and more fun to do.
4. Talk to Your Professors
Be sure to ask questions when you need more clarification about or are unclear about an assignment. Speaking with or emailing your professor right away can prevent you from missing a concept or going down the wrong path. Regular communication with your professors and their assistants will keep you progressing through your program with confidence.
5. Dive Into Your Clinical Work
Your clinical work is just as important as your classroom work. Don’t miss out on any opportunities to learn in this environment. Arrive prepared by studying what you will be working on beforehand. Be eager to learn, pay attention to the details, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Afterward, make time to review what you’ve learned.
6. Use All of Your Resources
Your school will provide you with many resources, including access to faculty, textbooks, online resources, and study aids—use all of them. You’ll also have the opportunity to join nursing associations, download mobile apps to help you review concepts, identify medications, or visit websites like NurseZone.com or AllNurses.com that provide communities and information for nurses and nursing students..
7. Put Yourself First
You’ll be asked to do a lot when you’re a nursing student. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re burning the candle at both ends. Even though you’ll have a full schedule, ensure you eat healthily and get enough sleep. Take time for yourself by building time to take a break or do some physical exercise. Find ways to relieve stress and do a few activities outside of studying.
What Is the NCLEX Exam?
NCLEX is the abbreviation for National Council Licensure Examination. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. (NCSBN) administers the nurse licensure and certification exam. Entry-level nurses must pass the exam before working in the field of nursing.
The unique format of the exam tests candidates on the choices they would make—and how they would prioritize them—when presented with real-world circumstances. There are two versions of the exam:
- NCLEX-RN is the exam a candidate takes to become a Registered Nurse
- NCLEX-PN is the exam a candidate takes to become a Licensed Practical Nurse
Each exam includes questions for the Client Needs categories and subcategories outlined in the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN Test Plans. Note that the percentage of questions from each category and subcategory can vary.
Because of the computer adaptive testing (CAT) format, the exam length can range from 75-145 items. The time limit for taking the exam is five hours, regardless of how many questions are administered during the exam.
How to Study for the NCLEX Exam
The best way to prepare for the NCLEX exam is to create a personalized plan. Decide your focus each day or week, and determine which topic(s) or study you will review. Identify the blocks of time when you will study each day, and stick to that plan. Below are some ideas that will help you learn how to pass nursing school exams the first time.
Get Familiar with The Exam Structure
Use the NCLEX Candidate Tutorial to help get yourself familiar with the Pearson VUE exam software. The tutorial will show you the types of questions you may encounter, also called “item types.” The examples are interactive, and you’ll be guided on how to interact and respond to each type of problem.
Read Through the NCLEX-RN Test Plan
The NCLEX-RN plans provide a solid foundation for how the exam is structured. As you review it, you’ll understand the content of the exam and details on how it is administered. It also includes writing exercises you can complete for multiple case scenarios. To learn more, go to the Test Plans page and select the RN or PN Test Plan.
Use Additional Study Resources
This step is optional. But if you need more help mastering some of the topics that appear on the test, an online or in-person prep course is a great help. Additionally, several NCLEX study helps, and practice tests are available as apps for your smartphone or tablet. Using these apps can help you review essential topics of study and practice with test questions like the actual exam format.
Take the NCLEX Practice Exams
Taking the NCLEX Practice Exam is perhaps the best way to prepare for test day. That’s because it’s put together from previously used exam questions. Plus, it gives you a good idea of the exam’s format—which is composed of 125 questions that you have five continuous hours to complete. Two practice exams are available, so you can take both of them within 45 days of your purchase date.
Get Started on Your Nursing School Search Today
If, after reading this guide, you have a better idea of which nursing career you’d like to pursue, you may be ready to start looking for a nursing school. The tips and resources mentioned in this article will reinforce your preferences as you review potential schools and types of nursing programs.