What is the NCLEX exam?

The National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, is a professional licensure exam for graduates of nursing schools, developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBC). The NCLEX-RN exam is for graduates of registered nursing programs, and the NCLEX-PN exam is for practical and vocational nursing graduates. Although each state regulates the practice of nursing within that state, the licensing exams are the same all across the United States. The NCLEX exam has one purpose, which is to determine whether it's safe for you to begin practicing as an entry-level nurse.

What to know about the NCLEX exam

You get up to 6 hours to complete the NCLEX-RN exam and 5 hours for the NCLEX-PN exam, including the short tutorial and 2 optional breaks. The test utilizes CAT or computer adaptive testing, which means the test length can vary between 75 and 265 questions. The test ends when the testing algorithm is 95% confident that you passed or failed.

NCLEX exam subjects

For the NCLEX-RN, the test is organized along four major client needs categories.

  1. Safe and Effective Care Environment
    • Management of Care accounts for 17-23% of questions.
    • Safety and Infection Control accounts for 9-15% of questions.
  2. Health Promotion and Maintenance
    • Accounts for 6-12% of questions
  3. Psychosocial Integrity
    • Accounts for 6-12% of questions
  4. Physiological Integrity
    • Basic Care and Comfort (6-12%)
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies (12-18%)
    • Reduction of Risk Potential (9-15%)
    • Physiological Adaptation (11-17%)

Both RNs and LPNs need to have the same basic understanding of nursing practice and knowledge, however the emphasis on each section will be different, because RNs and LPNs have different responsibilities depending on their scope of practice.

Average Percent NCLEX Questions by Category

NCLEX question types and number of questions

The majority of the exam questions are multiple-choice (many of which are "check all that apply"!) with four possible answer choices. The minimum number of questions for the NCLEX-RN test is 75 and the maximum number is 265, while the minimum number for the NCLEX-PN is 85 and the maximum is 205. The exam includes 15 experimental questions that do not count for, or against you. The test administrators use them to test for future questions on the exam.

How is the NCLEX Scored?

Each time you answer a question, the computer adaptive test (CAT) re-estimates your abilities, based on all the previous answers. The CAT then selects the next question that it estimates you’ll have a 50% chance of answering correctly. That way, the exam is not too easy or too hard. The more questions you answer, the better the CAT estimates your abilities with a high degree of precision. When the CAT is 95% confident of your abilities (pass or fail), the test ends. However the test can also end if time has expired or you’ve answered the maximum number of questions.

NCLEX-RN By the numbers

Retaking the NCLEX after failure

Candidates who have applied for licensure and registration with a participating NRB will be permitted to take the NCLEX up to eight times a year. There must be 45 test-free days between each examination. If you didn't pass the exam, you'll receive a NCLEX Candidate Performance Report (CPR). The CPR is an individualized document that shows how a candidate performed in each of the test plan content areas. The CPR is useful as a guide to prepare you to retake the exam. If you wish to retake the exam, you must notify your NRB and once authorized, pay the fees with Pearson VUE.

How to prepare for the NCLEX exam

Hopefully, you’ve just graduated nursing school and are getting ready to take the NCLEX exam. In nursing school you probably took predictor or exit exams to graduate, but it’s important to note that the NCLEX exam is different, so adequate time and preparation is essential.

Tips on how to study for the NCLEX exam

  1. Don’t wait too long after graduating nursing school, to take the NCLEX exam.
  2. On the other hand, give yourself 4-8 weeks of time to study for the NCLEX.
  3. Make sure you understand the format and method of the exam. Download and review 2019 NCLEX-RN test Plan, the latest test plan published by the NCSBN.
  4. Make a study plan. Allot specific time on specific days and set goals before each study session that you aim to accomplish. Use Cathy's FREE planner to get started.
  5. Use your existing study guides, tests and other materials from nursing school.
  6. Invest in additional test prep resources.
  7. Take practice exams.

NCLEX Practice Tests

  1. Uworld.com
  2. My Nursing Mastery
  3. NCSBN.org

Flashcards to help you study for the NCLEX

Videos to help you study for the NCLEX

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What is the pass rate for NCLEX?

For first time test takers with a U.S. nursing degree, the pass rate is 88.85%. Repeat test takers in the U.S. average a 45.08% pass rate.

Can I take the NCLEX without a nursing degree?

Not likely. Eligibility to take the NCLEX are determined by the local nursing regulatory body (NRB) in the jurisdiction that you wish to practice. If you are interested in finding out specifics in your jurisdiction, contact your local NRB.

Can you fail the NCLEX in 75 questions?

Yes. If the computer adaptive test determines you will fail the test with a 95% confidence level, it will terminate as soon as 75 questions are answered. On the other hand, it can also determine you will pass the test and can end as soon as 75 questions are answered.

How long after taking NCLEX do you get results?

Even though the exam is graded as you progress, scores are further verified by Pearson VUE and your score will not be available at the test center. If your nursing regulatory body (NRB) participates in the Quick Results Service, you can purchase your ‘unofficial’ test scores for $7.95 on the Pearson VUE NCLEX website. Official results will be sent by your NRB in about 6 weeks.

Is the NCLEX multiple choice?

The majority of the questions on the NCLEX are multiple choice (many of which are "check all that apply," with 4 possible answers. However there are alternate questions (e.g., fill-in-the-blank items, check all the apply, ordered response items).

How many hours is the NCLEX exam?

The NCLEX-RN is up to 6 hours and the NCLEX-PN is up to 5 hours. Both exams can end early if the computer adaptive test determines a pass or fail with a 95% confidence level.

How many times can you fail the NCLEX?

Your NRB will typically allow authorized test takers to take the exam up to 8 times, although it varies by state so check with your state. A minimum of 45 days between test dates is required.

NCLEX™, NCLEX-RN™, and NCLEX-PN™ are registered trademarks of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc., which is unaffiliated, not a sponsor, or associated with Cathy Parkes or this website.