Keys To Taking – And Passing – The NCLEX Exam


According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), an overwhelming majority of students who take the NCLEX exams pass the test on the first try. NCSBN’s stat sheet for 2008 shows that, nationally, 87.3% of the U.S. education students passed the RN test for registered nurse certification (the results were about the same for bachelor’s, associate’s and “diploma” level nursing degree holders taking the test). About 86.5% who took the PN or practical nurse test passed on the first try.

First Try Is Important
That should calm your nerves a bit if you’re about to take one of your home state’s NCLEX tests, but it doesn’t mean you can take too much of a break from your studies. Although you are allowed to take the NCLEX as many times as you wish, NCSBN’s statistics also show that difficulties do emerge for nursing candidates who don’t pass the test on their first try. Of those hopeful nurses who fail it once, just 53.4% of U.S. educated students succeed on passing when they take the NCLEX again, and the success rate is even lower for repeat test takers who are educated outside the U.S. The PN test results follow a similar pattern; with just 44% of U.S. educated students who fail the test once managing to succeed on their second try, and only 22.9% of foreign educated candidates who failed the first time around passing the test on their repeat try. (More of NCSBN’s current test statistics available here)

Starting The Process
So what’s the key to passing the NCLEX test and getting your nursing license? Getting your training in nursing from a good school and preparing properly are your two keys.

To get started toward your goal, you must apply to your state board of nursing for a nursing license. The board will determine of you are eligible to take the test, based primarily on your education and clinical experience. If you’re deemed eligible, you’ll be mailed an Authorization to Take the Test (ATT) as well as information on how you can schedule your appointment to take the test. NCLEX tests are administered by computer through a company called Pearson VUE. The current fee to take the test is $200. Information on registering online, by phone or through the mail here. Additional information on contacting state boards is available here.

On the day of the test, it’s advisable to arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled test time (obviously, you want to get a good night’s sleep beforehand). You are given up to 5 hours to complete the test, including a tutorial to show you how to use the computer and two breaks. The NCLEX test uses extremely sophisticated “adaptive” technology. That means that whether you answer a question correctly or incorrectly can determine what the following questions will be. If you miss a test on pharmacology, for example, the computer you’re using could automatically give you additional questions in that area.

Don’t Let That Smart Computer Upset You
Additionally, the computer can end your test more quickly if you do either very well or very poorly. After answering 75 questions on an RN test (85 on the lpn test), the computer assesses how you are performing compared to the standard passing student. If you are doing far better than standard, the computer can pass you. If you’re too far below standard, it can fail you. From there on, the computer can continue serving you questions to assess your competence up to a total of 265 questions if you’re taking the RN test, or 205 if you’re taking the LPN test. It all means that the total length of your test is a bit unpredictable. It’s important to keep in mind that you should not get discouraged if the test feels hard – it’s designed that way. Because the computer program keeps serving you questions you will find challenging based on the answers you give, most people cannot get more than 50% of the total answers correct. An excellent summation of what happens on NCLEX testing day is available here.

About a month after taking the test, you will get your result from the state board of nursing. If you fail, you’ll get information on which areas of knowledge you did well on and which you did not. You can take the test as many times as you want, but most state nursing boards require a 90 day waiting period between tests. A complete list of fees and requirements for licensing for nurses (through 2007) is available in a pdf here.

Sample Tests & Preparation Aids
Many nursing sites feature sample tests or questions, though most charge a fee:

Top Online Programs In Nursing

Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon is a private school founded in 1949 that has over 40,000 students, both online and at it's Phoenix, AZ main campus. It's recognized by Fortune Magazine a top-five online school for entrepreneurs. Degrees are offered across many different subject areas, including health care and nursing:
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Kaplan University
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Colorado Technical University
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- RN to BSN Completion
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