The NCLEX® Exam

Learn about the NCLEX subject matter, eligibility, scoring, studying, and more.

nclex exam

The NCLEX exam, also known as the National Council Licensure Examination, is a standardized exam that each state board of nursing uses to determine whether or not a candidate is prepared for entry-level nursing practice.

But your first step is to successfully complete an accredited nursing degree.

NCLEX Eligibility & Registration

In order to take the NCLEX examination, you must apply for nursing license from your state board of nursing. That board will determine whether or not you meet its criteria for NCLEX examination-eligibility. You must then register to take the exam.

Once you've applied for a license from your state board of nursing, you will receive an NCLEX Examination Candidate Bulletin in the mail. You may then register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing's testing service by phone, or by filling out a mail-in registration form.

Once your state board of nursing has verified your eligibility to take the NCLEX examination, you will receive an Authorization to Take the Test (ATT), along with a list of testing centers and instructions for how to schedule an appointment to take the examination.

The cost to take the NCLEX is $200.

NCLEX Examination Subject Matter

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX examination covers the following "categories of client needs":

Safe, Effective Care Environment Psychosocial Integrity
  • Management of Care
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Coping and Adaptation
  • Psychosocial Adaptation
Health Promotion and Maintenance Physiological Integrity
  • Growth and Development Through the Life Span
  • Prevention and Early Detection of Disease
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaptation

NCLEX Test Preparation

Many companies offer online NCLEX examination test preparation for a fee. Some of these companies are:

You can also purchase review books and sample tests in book form, some of which are listed in answer to the previous question. Finally, you may take NCLEX examination prep courses in the traditional classroom setting. Some of the companies offering these courses are:

Many Web sites feature free sample tests or questions. For example:

You can also purchase sample tests in book form, such as:

  • Mosby's Review Questions for NCLEX-RN
  • Kaplan NCLEX-RN
  • Lippincott's Review for NCLEX-RN
  • Saunders Comprehensive Review for NCLEX-RN
  • The Princeton Review: Cracking the NCLEX-RN with Sample Test on CD-ROM
  • Saunders Comprehensive Review for NCLEX-PN
  • Successful Problem Solving and Test Taking for the Nursing and NCLEX-PN Exams
  • Mosby's Questions and Answers for NCLEX-PN

The Length of the NCLEX Test

The NCLEX examination is a multiple choice exam which uses an interactive system called Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) to gauge your level of competence. RN candidates will answer a minimum of 75 questions, LPN candidates a minimum of 85 questions. After you have answered the minimum number of questions, the computer will attempt to access your level of competence.

If you are clearly above the passing standard at this time, you will pass; likewise, if you are clearly below the standard you will fail. If you are too close to the standard to allow a definitive result to be determined, you will continue to answer questions until a final assessment can be made. RN candidates may take a maximum of 265 questions, LPN candidates a maximum of 205.

You will have 5 hours in which to complete the exam. This includes the time set aside for the introductory computer tutorial and for two 10-minute breaks.

NCLEX Examination Scoring

The NCLEX examination is scored once by the computer on which you are taking it, and a second time by the National Council's testing service.

It will take about a month for your state board of nursing to mail you the results of your exam.

Not Passing the NCLEX Test – What Happens Next?

If you fail the test, your state board of nursing will mail you a diagnostic profile that will outline both the areas of knowledge in which your performance was satisfactory and the areas in which it was not.

Yes, you may retake the test as many times as you need to. The National Council's policy dictates that you wait at least 91 days before retaking the test. Individual state boards may impose other, stricter requirements.

NCLEX is a registered trademark and/or servicemark of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.