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Frequently Asked Questions

As graduation approaches, you may be filled with anticipation and fear about what lies ahead: new jobs, changing roles, and unknown possibilities. You face the additional challenge of the NCLEX-RN examination, and you may fear failure, which can be particularly overwhelming.

Compounding these fears are rumors and misconceptions regarding the NCLEX-RN. We provide information to nursing students and educators in an effort to dispel misconceptions and to answer some of the more frequently asked questions from candidates regarding the exam. Following are questions by students about the exam and replies from the authors.

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses is designed to test essential knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for safe and effective practice of nursing at the entry level. Entry into the practice of nursing in the United States and its territories is regulated by the licensing authorities within each jurisdiction. To ensure public protection, each jurisdiction requires a candidate for licensure to pass an examination that measures the competencies needed to perform safely and effectively as a newly licensed, entry-level registered nurse. The exam is developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and is the same no matter which state you are in or where you plan to work.
The NCLEX-RN exam is in a computerized adaptive testing format. Each test is tailored to the examinee. Every time the examinee answers a question, the computer re-estimates the examinee's ability. With every additional answer, the ability estimate gets more precise. Based upon the most recent, revised ability estimate, the computer selects the next item to be presented, such that the examinee will find it challenging (not too hard, not too easy).This way an adaptive test presents the examinee with the items that will be the most informative for measuring ability. It also reduces the number of easy items that high-ability examinees receive and reduces the number of difficult items that low-ability people receive.
This is an individual matter. You may have as few as 75 or as many as 265 questions on the exam, depending on how you are answering the items. The computer will shut off when you have either passed or failed. You will not know at that point how you have done. You have a maximum of six hours to complete the exam
The NCLEX item selection algorithm is designed for maximum efficiency. Items are chosen based on candidate's ability estimate, so candidates have about a 50% chance of answering each item correctly. Therefore, a candidate should not take the NCLEX with the expectation that they will be able to answer every item correctly. When candidates see an item they do not know, they should consider the item carefully and answer the best they can. The computer will not allow a candidate to proceed to the next item without answering the previous one.
Candidates should maintain a reasonable pace when answering items, perhaps one item every minute or two. As mentioned above, only about 2% of candidates who have taken the NCLEX ran out of time. Candidates should take time to read each item carefully before answering.
As a candidate takes the exam, items are selected based on the candidate's response to previous items. The exam ends when it can be determined that a candidate's performance is either above or below the passing standard, regardless of the number of items answered or the amount of testing time elapsed.
For quality control purposes, every computerized NCLEX examination is scored twice; once by the computer at the test center and then the result is verified after the examination record has been transmitted to Pearson VUE. Although the examination is scored as the candidate completes each item, NO RESULTS are released at the test center. In fact, test center staff do not have access to the examination results. Examination results are available ONLY from a candidate's board of nursing and will be mailed to candidates approximately one month after taking the examination. DO NOT CALL the board of nursing, NCLEX Candidate Services, the Pearson Professional Centers or NCSBN for examination results. In most cases, you can check the Board of Nursing website and find out if you passed within two or three days. In N.C., go to and enter your name. If you passed, you should show as having a license. You can also use the NCLEX "Quick Results Service" available through NCSBN; you will get results in 48 hours using this service (cost is around $10).
In all but 4 states, students are allowed to retake NCLEX after 45 days if they did not successfully pass their first attempt. Each state has its own policy about the number of times a student may take NCLEX and at what point additional education is needed before being allowed to retest.
Every candidate's examination conforms to the NCLEX-RN which controls inclusion of important nursing content. The test plan serves as a blueprint in the construction of the examination. All examinations, regardless of their length, have the required proportion of questions or items from each area (category) of the NCLEX Test Plan. These areas include: Safe and Effective Care Environment; Health Promotion and Maintenance; Psychosocial Integrity; and Physiological Integrity. The content represented in the test plan is based on the results of a job analysis that is repeated every three years. Nurses who have been on the job for just six months report to the National Council the type of tasks for which they are responsible, how often the tasks are performed, and the priority of these tasks. These data are combined into an importance weighting for each task. The tasks are combined into content areas, and their importance weights summed. The National Council reviews the resulting content area weights, adjusts them based on a professional assessment of current nursing practice and individual state licensure, and those become the test plan weights. The National Council's Delegate Assembly (an annual meeting of the 61 licensing jurisdictions in the United States and its territories) votes on the final test plan

The NCLEX-RN examination questions are written by masters or doctorally prepared nursing experts who work with RNs or teach RN students. The nurses who write the questions are called "item writers." In order to participate on an item writer panel, nurses must currently work with nurses who have graduated from nursing programs within the last twelve months, or they must teach nursing students.

After the questions are written, they are reviewed by a second panel called "item reviewers." This is an all RN panel for NCLEX-RN examination items. An advanced degree is not required for the item review panel. The National Council tries to get a wide representation of nurses to participate on the item review panels. The United States and its surrounding territories are divided by the National Council into four geographic areas. It is important that each item development panel is composed of nurses representing each region, a variety of practice areas, and minority populations. The entire item development process ensures that the NCLEX-RN examination represents current nursing knowledge, skills and abilities, and is the best assessment of an individual's competence to practice entry-level nursing.

As you progress through your nursing career, consider the opportunities provided by the National Council that are available for you and your nursing colleagues.

The six hour time limit for the examination starts when you sit down at the computer workstation and begin the tutorial. A ten-minute rest break must be taken after two hours of testing. Candidates have the option of an additional ten-minute break following three and one-half hours of testing. The computer notifies the candidate when it is time for these two scheduled breaks. All break time (both scheduled and unscheduled) is included in the maximum five hours allowed for the examination. Candidates may take as many breaks as needed. However, testing time continues to run during each break that is taken.

If your examination ends because your five hours expired, the computer did not have sufficient evidence to make a clear pass or fail decision (or it would have already stopped administering questions). Candidates whose competence is either far above or far below the passing standard are identified quickly, and their examinations end after the minimum number of items have been administered. Candidates whose competence is closer to the passing standard (neither extremely high nor low) need to provide more information (by answering more questions) before a confident decision can be made. By using Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) methodology, the NCLEX examination is capable of producing as precise a measurement using the maximum number of items (only 265), as was done using the paper and pencil format.

However, when a candidate runs out of time before taking the maximum number of questions, the computer reviews the candidate's responses to the last 60 questions to determine a pass or fail result. If each of the last 60 competence levels that were calculated are above the passing standard, then the candidate will pass the examination. This does NOT mean a candidate needs to answer all of the last 60 questions correctly, but enough of them correctly so that one's competence level stays above the passing standard. Therefore, if a candidate's performance has been consistently above passing, the candidate will pass, despite having run out of time.

Candidates should plan to keep a steady pace when taking the NCLEX-RN examination, averaging about one minute per item, on the assumption they may need to take the maximum number of questions.

It is false that some candidates randomly receive a maximum length examination. The length of an NCLEX-RN examination is based on the individual performance of the candidate on the examination.

Each examination is designed to meet all requirements of the NCLEX test plan. The examination is constructed to recognize that each candidate has strengths and weaknesses in particular subject areas. It is not designed to administer a rephrased question for questions answered incorrectly by candidates.

There are several reasons candidates may receive questions that appear to cover similar content areas. Candidates may have received "tryout" questions (questions that are imbedded in the examination which do not count, but are used in future exams as real questions), or questions in which the content was similar but the question covered a different "Client Needs" category.

All states accept the National Council recommended passing standard for the NCLEX-RN examination or NCLEX-PN examination to be eligible for nursing licensure. California and New York do NOT require a different passing standard on the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN examinations for initial nurse licensure by examination.
Candidates do not receive NCLEX-RN examination results at the testing site. After a candidate's results are reviewed and analyzed, they are mailed to boards of nursing within 48 hours after the exam is completed. Results are then forwarded on to the candidate by the board of nursing where the candidate requested licensure. The specific method for the processing and distribution of candidate results is different for each individual board of nursing, so the exact time for receiving results is different from state to state. The board of nursing, not the National Council, is responsible for releasing examination results to candidates. Generally, candidates receive pass or fail results in approximately four weeks.
National NCLEX examination passing statistics can be accessed through the National Council's web site. Look under NCLEX Examination Info for the percentage of candidates who passed. Result statistics are divided by either RN or LPN/VN examinations.