How to Study For The NCLEX: A”Secret” Nobody Seems To Talk About

Need more help? Failed the NCLEX before? If you live in Illinois, I am extending a special NCLEX offer. Take a look!

Yes, the title of this post seems gimmicky.

But it really feels as if there’s some big secret, because nobody seems to ever talk about this!

Here’s the deal:

The NCSBN tells you exactly what to study in order to be able to answer almost any question on the NCLEX.

Yes, they publicly release a cheatsheet, basically, for the NCLEX.

Where to find it?

Right here: the NCSBN lists all its detailed test plans.

Wait though – you might have heard of the NCLEX test plans before, but it goes deeper:

The NCLEX test plan actually divides the NCLEX into three “layers” of categories. I’ll be using the NCLEX-RN Test Plan from here on out for the examples – but the same principles apply for the NCLEX-PN Test Plan.

So here are the three “layers” of categories that the NCSBN uses.

  1. Subcategories: These are the 8 subcategories of the NCLEX – management of care, safety and infection control, health promotion and maintenence, psychosocial integrity, basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential, and physiological adaptation.
  2. Related Content: Out of those 8 subcategories, each has a set of related content areas. There are a total of 83 related content areas across the 8 subcategories.
  3. Task Statements: Here’s the most important part: out of those 83 related content areas, the NCSBN gives you 523 tasks that any competent nurse (AKA: any nurse that can pass the NCLEX) should be able to complete.

Here’s a simple visual I made using screenshots from the detailed test plan, homing in on the Health Promotion and Maintenence subcategory, its related content areas, and one set of task statements.

Here Are Two Ways Task Statements Can Help You Pass the NCLEX:


Use Task Statements to Prepare for Almost ANY NCLEX Question

Do you know why the NCSBN uses task statements?

They use them to help write NCLEX questions!

Take a look at the instructions written in the educator’s version of the Detailed Test Plan:

Step 1 through 4 is the important part.

The people who write NCLEX questions target one specific concept, or task statement, and write the whole rest of the question around it!

The NCSBN presents an example too:

So that’s it. They literally copied the task statement “Evaluate infection control precautions implemented by staff members” and wrote the whole NCLEX question based on it.

Here’s the end result:

I hope you can see why I put so much emphasis on this.

This is an inside look into all the NCLEX questions on the exam!

Every NCLEX question is a closely guarded secret – but this is a key to knowing exactly how to beat them.


Use Task Statements To Guide Your Study

Some task statements are so specific! They’re actually study-able (if that’s a word)!

For example, here are the first three task statements on the test plan:

To me, that sounds like something I can actually target for studying.

I just need to look into my nursing school materials, textbooks, or even online to find out just exactly what I need know about Advanced Directives.

This changes the way I would look at studying for the NCLEX completely.

So many students are steered on the wrong path, and ultimately fail the NCLEX because of that.

So let’s talk about ways students often make mistakes when studying for the NCLEX.

Here Are Two Things You Shouldn’t Do:


Don’t completely rely on NCLEX practice questions.

A lot of students think the more practice questions they do, the better their chances on the NCLEX.

That’s partially true, but no matter how many practice questions you do and rationales you read, you won’t cover everything that’s listed on these task statements.

To truly prepare for the NCLEX, you HAVE to know what the NCLEX wants you to know – and it’s all listed on the test plan.


Don’t rely on a big content review or reviewing nursing school materials.

99% of nursing school materials and review books try to teach nursing content by dividing into body systems, populations, or disease topics – for example: respiratory, cardiac, pediatric, neurologic.

But the problem is, most of the time there’s just too much to learn. You can get really overwhelmed with all the content there is to learn.

I’m talking about hundreds of hours’ worth of video, or books with over a thousand pages!

Just look at some of these bigger books:

Here’s What You SHOULD DO

My recommendation is to use this test plan to guide your study.

If you don’t, you’re potentially leaving a huge gap in your NCLEX preparation.


Find a good source of nursing content, but don’t go through it cover to cover.

For example, if you get one of the comprehensive NCLEX books (some have over 1000 pages), don’t go through line by line learning everything. That is overwhelming.

Or, if you decide to sign up for an online prep course, or a video library, don’t watch every single video on there. It’d take you forever! 

Review the test plan, then use your NCLEX book or library, or even your nursing school textbooks, to study the information the task statements point to.

If you do this with all 523 task statements, can you imagine how ready you’ll be for the NCLEX?


Focus on Improving Your Judgment

Another word for judgment is critical thinking.

It’s a phrase that gets thrown around in nursing school – a LOT.

Here’s what you need to know about critical thinking:

The NCLEX is 100% about testing whether you are able to do it. It doesn’t care what you know, it only cares about how you can apply it.

None of these task statements are just about learning facts and knowledge. They’re wanting to make sure a nurse can make judgments about these things.

Remember how I said some of those task statements above are really study-able?

Well, I left something out:

SOME of them aren’t…

Take a look at these:

These are vague – how do you study for them?

You don’t. You have to improve your critical thinking and your grasp of nursing principles.

That’s why I so strongly recommend books and courses that focus on critical thinking or Q&A books that really focus on judgment.

Key Takeaway:

Use the NCSBN’s task statements to guide your study. Don’t overwhelm yourself with content and endless, untargeted practice. Instead, focus your critical thinking skills on the topics that matter.

If you decide to buy an NCLEX-prep program, make sure it’s not just a limited time study program! You want something you can go back to again and again to find the information you need. 

That’s why all the NCLEX books and NCLEX websites I recommend either follow the test plan, improve your critical judgment, or is a good reference source to use as you follow the test plan.

I Hope This Helps!

Let me know what you think below in the comments.

Need more help? Failed the NCLEX before? If you live in Illinois, I am extending a special NCLEX offer. Take a look!


  • Angela B says:

    Thanks for the information. My biggest struggle is I’m already and nurse who has been in the field for more than 25+ years, so I am motivated to use what you have recommended. A few days ago after failing my RN Boards, I have gained my confidence back.

    Thanks again

  • ALB says:

    Hi Kevin! Thank you. Now I found a better way to study, this time targeted. I will be taking my exam this September. Please keep your fingers crossed for me

  • KAY says:

    Dearest Kevin, thanks a million for this simply beautiful study guide. I wish I had known these strategies all along, will apply them and trusting God it will help me succeed. It’s a journey that must end well. Passing the NCLEX. THE WORST IS OVER, GETTING THROUGH NURSING SCHOOL. Thank you so much again Kevin.

  • I’m preparing for nclex n I’m really confused thanks for the help

  • rrfishr says:

    Спасибо за информацию!!!!!

  • Andrea Leder says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I am a Canadian Nurse who graduated more than 20 yrs ago and have been out of practice for more than 5 yrs. I am really appreciating your book and program reviews and am definitely one of those people who has to essentially re-do my nursing education on my own. What would be, in your opinion, the best combination of tools and a realistic timeline? I know I’ll need the Saunders book as it’s the most comprehensive review but I will likely also need some good exam practice. I don’t want to apply for registration and an ATT only to discover I need more time than what Pearson Vue allows.

  • YES team says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I read through your site and found a few really helpful tips. I have a problem that I know the material but i can’t seem to figure out how to answer questions. My common sense seems different then NCLEX.I try to clinical think but Its not working. Do you have any tips to help me pass?

  • Trina Wong says:

    Very informative!

    Thank you for sharing this very useful information.

  • Balusync says:

    I’m positive :

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