Here’s everything you need to know about the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
When Peggy Farrell, RN, MSN, NE-BC, first took the NCLEX exam after nursing school, she said paper and pencil were two of the most important tools needed.
Now, she helps future nurses navigate today’s computer-adaptive test in her roles as the Director of Quality and Safety at Ascension Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois and an adjunct nursing instructor at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.
“Our patients are getting sicker in the hospital and more critical,” Farrell said. “The test is going to be different to address the types of patients we are seeing now. They have to look at the patient as a whole and then look at all the different factors that affect that patient. It’s like a puzzle.”
After more than a decade of research, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) unveiled the Next Generation NCLEX on April 1, 2023. The new exam now contains a mix of questions that includes patient scenarios that examine a candidate’s clinical judgment skills.
“We really wanted to go back to the drawing board to make sure that the examination was keeping pace with today’s profession. That was one of the primary goals,” said Nicole Williams, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, NE-BC and Associate Director of Examinations at NCSBN.
What else do test takers need to know about taking and passing the NCLEX? The following 20 questions will give you plenty of insight as you enter the final step to becoming a nurse:
1.What is required to take the NCLEX, and do requirements vary by state?
To become eligible for the exam, you must first contact your local nursing regulatory body, known as an NRB. There are currently 59 in the United States (some states have two), and contact information is available on the NCSBN website. Requirements can vary based on the individual NRB.
2.How many times can you take the test?
Currently, the NCLEX can be taken up to eight times in one year.
3. What is the current NCLEX passing standard?
Through March 31, 2026, NCSBN has set the standard at 0.00 logits for the NCLEX-RN and -0.18 logits for the NCLEX-PN. Since the NCLEX is a pass/fail exam, logits are a unit of measurement used to determine the difference between a student’s nursing ability and the difficulty of questions.
4. How long does it take to receive results after taking the test?
Official test results will be sent from your NRB within six weeks of each test date. If results take longer, you should contact your NRB. If you want “unofficial” results sooner, you can learn those results within two days if your NRB participates in the Quick Results Service. This service, however, does not authorize candidates to serve as licensed/registered nurses.
5. How long after passing the NCLEX does it take to receive your license?
Receiving your license after passing the NCLEX is determined by each state’s board of nursing. A few examples include licensure being posted in five business days (North Carolina), seven to 10 days (Florida), or 24 to 48 hours (Colorado).
6. What are some popular study tips and strategies?
“The big thing is you have to be prepared,” said Farrell, who took two different courses to prepare for the NCLEX after nursing school. Consider consuming lessons in various ways — reading, writing, and listening. This approach can help with retention for the exam. For example, you could listen to a podcast or watch YouTube videos that focus on NCLEX prep or create a study group dedicated to studying for the NCLEX.
And don’t forget to brush up on your critical-thinking skills, as some questions require you to use these skills to determine the appropriate answer. “[Test takers] have to look at the patient as a whole — not just one vital sign, not just one lab report,” she said. “Think of everything together.”
7. Which national organization oversees the NCLEX, and when was it introduced?
The NCSBN oversees the test, which began in 1994 and has been delivered to approximately 6 million candidates.
8. What can test takers do to alleviate pre-test stress and nerves?
Farrell, who has 39 years of nursing experience, regularly talks to nurses and students about self-care. For those preparing to take the NCLEX, she said, “Sleep is the number one thing.” She added that limiting caffeine intake and staying hydrated are also very important.
“Do some meditation if that works for you. And get some sort of exercise,” Farrell said. “Even walking does so much for your body.” She also suggested eating a healthy diet prior to the exam.
9. What is a common mistake to avoid?
“Don’t read into questions,” Farrell said. That means avoid second-guessing an answer and creating doubt. “If [candidates have] gotten to this point, they should succeed if they are prepared. They’ve been through a very grueling nursing program. They have the knowledge.”
10. Does the NCLEX have a time limit, and are breaks allowed?
NCSBN provides a five-hour time limit for the test. Scheduled breaks are planned after two hours and three-and-a-half hours. However, the clock will not stop for any scheduled or unscheduled breaks during the exam.
11. If you don’t pass the first time, how quickly can you retest?
If you do not pass the NCLEX, you must wait 45 days before taking it again.
12. How do you apply and register for the NCLEX?
This is a multistep process. First, you must contact the NRB in your area to ensure you meet its requirements. Once you meet the initial requirements, you then complete an application. This is required to take the exam.
Next, you register for the exam with Pearson VUE, which handles payment of the required fee and scheduling for the NCLEX. A list of registration fees can be found on NCLEX.com. After registration, your NRB will then declare you eligible and registered through Pearson VUE. You will then receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) email. When you have confirmation via the ATT email, you can then find a testing location and schedule an exam date and time.
13. What documents or forms of ID are needed at a test center?
One form of ID is required at a test center, which must be valid, in physical form (non-digital), not expired, and government issued. Identification should also include your first and last name (matching the name in the Pearson VUE system), a recent photograph, and a signature. U.S. testing centers consider accepted IDs to be passport books or cards, a driver’s license, a state or provincial/territorial ID, permanent residence card, or a military ID.
14. Can you skip questions or leave them unanswered?
Because the NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, you cannot skip or leave a question unanswered before moving onto the next. If you get stuck on a question, Farrell suggests taking a deep breath and reading it again. It’s also important to note that once you have answered a question, you will be unable to go back to it.
15. What’s new about the NCLEX?
As of April 1, 2023, NSCBN has launched the Next Generation NCLEX. “I would describe it as partially changed,” Williams said. The new test’s mix of questions includes traditional ones along with some that focus on clinical judgment. Details and resources about the new format are available at the NCLEX website.
16. Is the NCLEX passing standard evaluated and changed?
Yes. Every three years, the passing standard is reviewed and, in some cases, adjusted.
17. Is there a separate NCLEX test for international students?
Currently, the NCLEX is only available in English, and for certain Canadian provinces, in French.
18. Will students have exams that focus on specific nursing specialties?
According to NCLEX.com, entire exams are not focused on specific specialties. However, the test is computer adaptive, and questions are selected based on each candidate’s ability. NCBSN encourages candidates to review its test plan online. The test plan guides you in preparing for the exam, informs you on question development, and facilitates classification of questions on the exam.
19. Is there a common list of medications that test takers should know?
Many schools will recommend one of several published guides that list and explain thousands of different medications (which also includes access to the publisher’s website), said Farrell. For students interested in pediatrics, Farrell said they should become familiar with the vaccination schedule.
20. Is it possible to take the NCLEX in one state but receive your license in another state?
According to NurseCompact.com, you should take the NCLEX in the state in which you legally intend to reside and/or practice. Test results will be directed to the NRB where you applied for authorization to test. As of March 2023, a group of 39 states are part of the Nursing Licensure Compact, which allows RNs to work in multiple states with one license.
The idea of taking and passing the NCLEX can be intimidating. But understanding what to expect and effective test prep can make your NCLEX experience a smooth process.
After you start your nursing career, look to Nurse.com for your continuing education needs.