February 15, 2024

Everything to Know About the NCLEX-RN Exam Before You Take it

A nurse sits at a desk thinking as she holds a pen and looks at her laptop screen.

Nursing graduates gearing up for the next phase of their careers must navigate the formidable hurdle of the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). The NCLEX-RN is a required step for anyone wishing to become a registered nurse. Here's a comprehensive guide to help you understand the crucial aspects of this pivotal exam.

Table of contents

What is the NCLEX-RN?

The NCLEX-RN is the standardized examination developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to assess the competency of registered nurse candidates. It serves as a crucial step in the licensure process, ensuring that nurses possess the knowledge and skills necessary for safe and effective practice.

What does NCLEX-RN stand for?

NCLEX stands for the National Council Licensure Examination, and RN signifies Registered Nurse.

General questions you may have before you take the exam

How hard is the NCLEX-RN?

The difficulty of the NCLEX-RN varies from individual to individual. The exam uses computerized adaptive testing, adjusting the difficulty of questions based on your performance. While the adaptive nature can make it challenging, adequate preparation and a strong understanding of nursing fundamentals can contribute to success. The NCLEX-RN pass rate in 2023 was around 68%. 

What is the passing score for NCLEX-RN?

The passing standard for the NCLEX-RN is determined by the NCSBN through a rigorous process, and it reflects the ability needed to practice competently as an entry-level nurse. This passing standard is reassessed every three years to keep up with the evolution of nursing practice. The passing standard through March 31, 2026, is 0.00 logits. 

How long is the NCLEX-RN exam?

The NCLEX-RN is a variable-length exam, with a minimum of 70 questions and a maximum of 135. The exam continues until the testing algorithm determines with a 95% confidence level that your ability is either above or below the passing standard. Test-takers have five hours to complete the exam (including breaks).

How many questions are on the NCLEX-RN?

The number of questions on the NCLEX-RN can vary, as mentioned earlier, but all test-takers will answer a minimum of 70 questions. The adaptive nature of the test tailors the difficulty based on your responses, aiming to precisely assess your competency. You can expect to answer between 70-135 scored questions. There are also 15 pre-test questions that are unscored.

How many times can you take the NCLEX-RN?

The number of attempts allowed for the NCLEX-RN varies by state. The NCSBN allows up to eight retakes of the exam each year, but certain states may have stricter limits. Most states permit candidates to take the exam multiple times, but specific regulations and waiting periods between attempts may apply. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state's policies.

When does the new NCLEX-RN come out?

In April 2023, the Next Generation (NGN) NCLEX exam went into effect. This new exam places more emphasis on clinical judgment and helps gauge nurses’ ability to think critically. 

Studying for and passing your nurse licensing exam

How to study for the NCLEX-RN

Effective preparation is key to success. Here are some tips to prepare for the exam:

  • Understand the Exam Format: Familiarize yourself with the structure of the NCLEX-RN exam, including the number of questions, types of questions (multiple-choice, select all that apply, etc.), and time constraints.
  • Create a Study Schedule: Develop a realistic and organized study schedule that covers all the content areas tested on the NCLEX-RN. Allocate specific time for each subject and stick to your schedule.
  • Use Reliable Study Materials: Invest in reputable NCLEX-RN review books, online resources, and practice exams. Make sure the materials are up-to-date and aligned with the latest test plan.
  • Focus on Weak Areas: Identify your weak areas and prioritize studying those topics. Allocate more time to subjects where you need additional reinforcement.
  • Practice Time Management: Practice answering questions within the allotted time frame. Time management is crucial during the exam, so simulate exam conditions during your practice sessions.
  • Take Practice Exams: Utilize practice exams to familiarize yourself with the question format and assess your readiness. Review both correct and incorrect answers to understand the rationale behind each.
  • Utilize NCLEX-RN Review Courses: Consider enrolling in a comprehensive NCLEX-RN review course. These courses often provide structured content review, practice exams, and valuable insights into the exam format.
  • Incorporate Different Learning Styles: Use a variety of study methods, such as reading, watching videos, listening to lectures, and hands-on practice, to cater to different learning styles.
  • Create Flashcards: Summarize key concepts and information on flashcards. This can be a helpful tool for quick reviews and reinforcing important facts.
  • Join Study Groups: Collaborate with peers in study groups to share knowledge, discuss challenging topics, and gain different perspectives. Teaching others can enhance your understanding of the material.
  • Review Pharmacology: Pharmacology is a significant component of the NCLEX-RN. Devote extra attention to understanding drug classes, side effects, and interactions.
  • Practice Critical Thinking: The NCLEX-RN assesses not only your knowledge but also your ability to think critically. Practice analyzing questions, prioritizing patient care, and making decisions under pressure.
  • Stay Positive and Manage Stress: Maintain a positive mindset, and manage stress through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness. Confidence can positively impact your performance.
  • Review Test-Taking Strategies: Learn and practice effective test-taking strategies, such as eliminating obviously incorrect choices, using the process of elimination, and answering all questions.

How to pass the NCLEX-RN

To increase your chances of success, practice critical thinking and decision-making skills. Familiarize yourself with the exam format, time management, and the computerized adaptive testing system. Prioritize understanding nursing concepts rather than memorization. Consider joining study groups or seeking guidance from experienced educators. On the exam day, stay calm, pace yourself, and trust in your preparation.

As you embark on your NCLEX-RN journey, remember that preparation and confidence go hand in hand. Understand the logistics of the exam, study diligently, and approach the test day with a focused mindset. You've got this!

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