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The Best NCLEX Study Guides - 2023

Article by Jane Newsom. Last Updated: Saturday, Sep 23, 2023.

Overview Of The NCLEX Exam

The National Council Licensure Examination (a.k.a NCLEX-RN) is the gateway to starting your career as a nurse. Unlike the majority of exams you will take in your program, the NCLEX is not a knowledge-based tests, and instead tests your ability to apply what you’ve learned to real life situations. The exam is quite difficult due to the breadth of materials covered, and has a relatively high cost. There are a number of great study guides out there that can help make sure you pass on the first try.

We’ll cover the exam in detail, and give you our picks for the best NCLEX study guides, review guides, and practice tests for test year 2020 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:

NCLEX Exam Details

The NCLEX Exam is composed of 4 major categories and 8 sub-categories. The questions are primarily 4 option multiple choice (one answer per question), but there are some alternate format including fill in the bank, drag and drop, etc.

The test format is different than most tests, and has 4 possible exit criteria:

  • A student has used the maximum 6 hour time allotted.
  • A student has taken the maximum of 265 questions.
  • A student has demonstrated a lack of required skills and answered at least 75 questions.
  • A student has demonstrated the required skills and answered at least 75 questions.

All students take 15 ‘pilot’ questions that are being evaluated for use in future tests and don’t apply to your overall assessment. You won’t know which questions these are ahead of time, so treat all questions with the same care.

While it’s possible that you won’t need to take the full 6 hours and 265 questions, it’s strongly recommended to go in expecting to and not worry how long it takes you. There are optional breaks allowed 2 hours and 3.5 hours into the exam.

Exam Sections

Safe and Effective Care Environment

This section includes 2 sub-categories:

  • Safety and Infection Control - comprises 13% of all exam questions.
  • Management of Care - comprises around 20% of all exam questions.

Topics include Ethical Practice, Informed Consent, Continuity of Care, Error Prevention, Hazardous Materials, Standard Precautions, etc.

Health Promotion and Maintenance

This category comprises 10% of all exam questions. Topics include things like Infant Care, Health Promotion Programs, Self Care, Lifestyle Choices, and Health Screening.

Psychosocial Integrity

This category comprises 10% of all exam questions. Topics include things like Chemical Dependencies, End of Life Care, Support Systems, and Stress Management.

Physiological Integrity

This section includes 4 sub-categories:

  • Basic Care and Comfort - comprises around 10% of all exam questions.
  • Physiological Adaptation - comprises around 15% of all exam questions.
  • Reduction of Risk Potential - comprises around 12% of all exam questions.
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies - comprises around 15% of all exam questions.

Topics include Nutrition and Hydration, Personal Hygiene, Medical Emergencies, Diagnostic Tests, Dosage Calculations, and Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance.

Exam Scoring

The scoring for the NCLEX is done pass / fail, and students are notified of the result 2-4 weeks after taking the exam. While there isn’t a numerical score provided, if you do fail, a full report breaking down where you need to focus your studying is provided. Many students fail the exam on their first try, so definitely don’t despair if it happens to you.

Registering For The Exam

In order to register to take the exam, students must submit an application to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The application can be done over the phone or in writing, and must be accompanied by a $200 exam fee. Once your application has been approved, you will receive authorization to register for the exam.

Best NCLEX Study Guides

Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination

Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination
7th Edition
by Linda Anne Silvestri

Pros: Complete and comprehensive review of all exam topics.
Cons: None of note. Some people had issues with online access code.
Our Rating: 5.0 / 5

Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination is our hands down pick for top study guide for the NCLEX. It has an insane number if practice questions, and provides a full review of all major exam concepts and categories. The full list of features include:

  • Over 5100 practice questions.
  • 85 question practice exam.
  • Detailed test-taking strategies and rationale for each question.
  • Access to online test resources.

There are a number of great study guides on this list, but the pick for top honors was an easy one. This book is exactly what it says - a comprehensive review, and everything you need to succeed. If you only plan to pick up one resource to help you study, make sure it’s this one.

HESI Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination

HESI Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination
6th Edition

Pros: Strong, logical layout is easy to digest.
Cons: Some typographical and other errors.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

HESI Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination is our second choice for students preparing for the NCLEX exam, and is named almost identically to our top pick. It’s another solid resource with tons of practice questions and other valuable materials you need to succeed. The full list of features include:

  • Over 700 practice questions.
  • Organized by clinical area for ease of use.
  • Critical thinking study questions reinforce key concepts.

As with all of our recommendations, this guide does a great job of covering the core exam materials you need to know. It does have a few mistakes in answer keys, etc, so if you find this to be particularly annoying you might want to go with our top pick.

Lippincott Q&A Review for NCLEX-RN

Lippincott Q&A Review for NCLEX-RN
12th Edition
by Diane Billings

Pros: Huge number of practice questions and exams.
Cons: Not as comprehensive as other resources on this list.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

Lippincott Q&A Review for NCLEX-RN is another great choice for students preparing to take the NCLEX. It’s not a full in-depth review like our first and second choice study guides, but it still has tremendous value. Features include:

  • Over 6000 practice questions.
  • Includes 6 full length exams.
  • Coverage of all the subjects over which you will be tested.
  • Detailed rationale for correct and incorrect answers.

This book is a great choice for students who just want to drill on example questions, or as a compliment to one of the first 2 picks. A wide variety of example questions can be a tremendous help when you’re preparing, and this book is chalk-full of them. On the other hand, if you want a more in-depth textbook style guide, this may not be your best bet.

Quick Facts for NCLEX

Quick Facts for NCLEX
1st Edition
by Regina Callion

Pros: Abbreviated review of important exam concepts.
Cons: Not a full-fledged review with tons of practice questions, etc.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

Quick Facts for NCLEX aims to be a no-frills study guide to help you analyze your areas of strength and weakness. It cuts out all the fluff and packs a ton of content in a small number of pages. Features include:

  • Core content arranged in a simple structured fashion.
  • Great for students who have been out of school for some time.

While it’s not as comprehensive as some of the other books on this list, it does have a role to play for students who are short on time or looking for a quick review. Depending on your learning style, you may enjoy how short and sweet this guide is.

Best NCLEX Flashcards

In addition to the excellent books mentioned above, nursing students will see significant benefits in prepping for the exam using flashcards. Our top picks for Best NCLEX Flashcards are outlined below.

Saunders Q&A Review Cards

Saunders Q&A Review Cards
2nd Edition
by Linda Anne Silvestri

Pros: Comprehensive list of terms covering major exam topics.
Cons: Cards are relatively dense and contain a lot of info.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

Saunders Q&A Review Cards is our top pick for flashcards to help you prepare for the NCLEX exam. It has over 700 cards and 1200 questions containing significant amounts of information across all test topics. Key features include:

  • Over 700 flashcards.
  • Covers all major topics and themes covered by the exam.

Flashcards have a tremendous benefit for students who elect to use them in their test preparation. Repetitive drilling on major topics is a good way to help in the days leading up to the exam. If you plan to pick up flashcards to help in your studies, these are your best bet!

Mosby’s Review Cards

Mosby's Review Cards
3rd Edition
by Martin Manno

Pros: Comprehensive list of questions covering major exam topics.
Cons: Book format, not actually cards.
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5

Mosby’s Review Cards are another solid choice for best NCLEX flashcards. They didn’t quite take our top spot, but are totally useful if you enjoy learning with flashcards. Key features include:

  • Over 750 NCLEX review cards.
  • Organized by body system.
  • Rationale for correct and incorrect items provided.

The organization is extremely helpful and well laid out for focusing your study time. There are tons and tons of questions in this card set, and they are great for drilling in the days leading up to the exam.

Wrapping Up

For nursing students, the NCLEX is one of the most important exams you need to prepare for. Study manuals, flashcards, and practice tests are a huge help to many people, and if you’ve read this far you’re probably one of them.

We’ve rounded up the top NCLEX study guides and flashcards and presented them above. To recap our recommendations:

Top Study Guide RecommendationSaunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination
Top Flashcard RecommendationSaunders Q&A Review Cards

Our top pick for best NCLEX Study Guide is Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination. It’s the most comprehensive and accurate guide on our list, and is the single best resource available.

For top flashcard pick, we recommend Saunders Q&A Review Cards. It’s got over 700 highly relevant cards covering all topics from the exam.

Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best NCLEX resources available. Good luck, and study hard!

Sources and Further Reading

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