As a nursing student, the Nursing Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is the final hurdle you need to jump before you can embark upon your career in nursing. For this reason, the challenge tends to unleash a huge amount of mouth-drying, heart-palpitating, armpit-wetting anxiety in just about every nurse candidate to enter the hallowed corridors of the Pearson VUE testing centers.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, the best solution for said anxiety isn’t benzodiazepines. It’s PREPARATION. It’s walking into the exam venue confident that you know your nursing content and having practiced so many NCLEX-style questions that the NCSBN could probably hire you themselves.

Since thorough preparation takes time, the question is: how long should I take to study for the NCLEX? The answer depends on whether you’re a first-time test-taker or this is your second or third (or more) time around. Either way, you’ll find the answers you seek in this Academy guide!

[Also check out '5 Keys to passing the NCLEX nursing exam!']

Hi! We’re Brainscape

We’re the brains, minds, and hearts behind the world’s smartest study app for nursing students and grads just like you. We’ve worked hand-in-hand with experienced nurse educator Justine Buick, “The NCLEX Tutor”, to curate a vast collection of flashcards that focus on the most crucial knowledge you absolutely need to know to pass the NCLEX.

Get Brainscape’s certified flashcards for the NCLEX RN (Registered Nurse).

Get Brainscape’s certified flashcards for the NCLEX PN (Practical Nurse).

These flashcards break down the latest NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN curricula and test plans into 3,000+ bite-sized facts, which you can study anytime, anywhere on any device using the most powerful and efficient cognitive methods for learning: spaced repetition, active recall, and metacognition. (Learn more about the science of Brainscape.)

Armed with your NCLEX study materials, Brainscape’s nursing flashcards, and the advice in this guide, as well as the others in our free Nursing Academy, you’ll be totally prepared to kick the NCLEX in the cojones.

Now, let’s take a look at timelines and how long you should take to study for the NCLEX depending on your unique situation…

How long should I study for the NCLEX if I’m a first-time test-taker?

If you’re fresh out of nursing school—so fresh that the knowledge you gained while studying for your final exams is still crisp and clear in your mind—it should take you between two to six weeks to study for the NCLEX.

This study would include a massive content review of everything you’ve learned, as well as dedicated question practice so that you’re ready for the specific challenge of the NCLEX, which heavily tests critical thinking and analysis skills. (Read: How to find & use NCLEX practice questions.)

Important: Don’t wait longer than three months after you’ve taken your final nursing school exam to take the NCLEX! I know you’re tired and probably desperate for a break after 2-3 years of nursing school but the longer you wait, the more that content will fade from your memory and you DO NOT want to have to start from scratch!

Pssst! Make sure you're up-to-speed with Next Generation NCLEX: the new line of exam questioning from the NCSBN.

How long should I study for the NCLEX if I’m a repeat test-taker?

If, however, you failed the NCLEX the first time around, it can take you anywhere from six weeks to six MONTHS to adequately prepare to take it again. Two to three months is the average amount of time it takes repeat test-takers.

  • Six weeks if your content knowledge is essentially strong and you have plenty of time for daily study, review, and questions practice.
  • Six months if your content knowledge is weak and you don’t have a lot of time for daily study, review, and questions practice.

Either way, you can totally pass the NCLEX, but you need to give yourself enough time to do so. Read: Common NCLEX mistakes & how to course-correct or watch this video on common reasons people fail the NCLEX:

Do NOT rush to take the NCLEX again so that you can “get it over with”. You are far more likely to pass (and pass well) if you take your time with your preparation.

How long should I spend DAILY studying for the NCLEX?

Most nursing grads preparing to take on the NCLEX have other responsibilities so our recommendation is that you devote a solid two hours per day to studying and questions practice.

If you can’t spare that, try for at least one hour per day, preferably starting even earlier than two months out.  Remember that it’s way better to devote a little time every day than to wait until the final weeks before the exam and cram 10 hours into each day. You’ll learn more efficiently and remember more if you break up your studying over a longer period of time.

What is the maximum amount of time I should spend studying daily?

If you do have a free schedule, we recommend you spend no more than five to six hours per day on preparation. Too much new information and your brain will simply forget. Plus, you don’t want to get burned out before the NCLEX.

Also, try to break your daily study plan down into different tasks, for example:

  • One hour of new content learning (and note-making)
  • One hour of older content review (using Brainscape’s NCLEX flashcards)
  • One hour of NCLEX questions
  • One hour of NCLEX questions REVIEW (really understanding what you got right and wrong and why)

If you mix it up, you’ll stay engaged for longer.

Pro Tip: Read our seminal study guide ‘How to study for the NCLEX more efficiently’ to equip yourself with the best possible methods to learn swiftly and remember all that crucial nursing content for longer!

How long should I spend studying a particular NCLEX topic?

We recommend that you dedicate about five hours of study AND practice a minimum of 100 questions from each topic (e.g. Pediatrics, Safety & Infection Control, Psych).

So if you spend 2.5 hours a day on content review and however long it takes you to practice 50+ NCLEX-style questions, you can get through a topic in 2-3 days, provided that you continue to study the adaptive flashcards over time, even after having "moved on" from the topic.

Read: How to study medications for the NCLEX

A final note on studying for the NCLEX

Young nurses in nursing school

One of the major obstacles that trip nursing grads up in their approach to preparing for the NCLEX is exam stress or anxiety. And, as I explained before, the best solution to that is proper preparation… but equally as important to daily studying is going easy on yourself. Take time for self-care, exercise, sleep, proper nutrition, and social connection.

Also, remember that fear will feel like your constant companion as you embark on your nursing journey because you’ll have an enormous amount of responsibility in your hands. But you’ll also have the knowledge and the training to do a great job. Try to remember this when you feel overwhelmed, and check out ‘How to banish your NCLEX stress’ for some useful tools for coping. We believe in you—you’ve got this!