What is the NCLEX? 9 Things Aspiring Nurses Need to Know

What is the NCLEX 9 Things Aspiring Nurses Need to Know

Perhaps you are thinking of becoming a nurse… or maybe you’re enrolled in a nursing program already. 

If so, you probably know by now that graduating from a nursing program is NOT the end of the road. 

You still have to overcome another BIG challenge before you can work as a nurse – the NCLEX. 

It’s inescapable… 

If you want to be a licensed nurse, you NEED to take and pass this licensure exam. 

But just the thought of a big exam can make you anxious, and that’s probably why you’re here! 

You want to know everything there is to know so that you can prepare yourself for what’s ahead. 

And, well, that’s why we are here as well!

We want to give you a comprehensive guide to the NCLEX by answering important questions, such as:

  • What is the NCLEX?
  • Do I need to take the NCLEX?
  • What can I expect from the NCLEX?
  • What is the difference between the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN?
  • How is the NCLEX administered?
  • What are the requirements to take the NCLEX?
  • How do I prepare for the NCLEX?
  • What happens after I take the NCLEX?
  • What should I do if I fail the NCLEX?

Hopefully, after answering these questions, you will have a deeper knowledge of the NCLEX and will be able to prepare yourself more fully. 

So, if you’re ready to start, let’s dive in!

What is the NCLEX?

NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. 

This exam exists to ensure that all nurses in the US or Canada have the knowledge and skills required of every nurse. 

There are two types of NCLEX exams – the NCLEX-RN for Registered Nurses, and the NCLEX-PN for Licensed Practical (or Vocational) Nurses. 

Do I need to take the NCLEX?

Yes! Anyone who wants to become an RN or an LPN in the US or Canada has to take the NCLEX.

Each state may have different requirements when it comes to applying for a license… but the NCLEX is non-negotiable in every state!

And don’t you think that’s reasonable? 

Just put yourself in your patient’s shoes… Wouldn’t you also want to make sure that the nurses who are taking care of your health have been evaluated to ensure they know what they’re doing? 

What can I expect from the NCLEX? 

The NCLEX will test both basic nursing facts, as well as higher cognitive thinking. 

The exam consists of different types of questions including multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, hot-spot, multiple responses, and ordered response items. 

You will need to exercise critical thinking when answering the questions, because the choices may all seem right… You will simply need to find the BEST answer. 

This will test your decision-making skills in a given scenario, and whether you can choose the best and most efficient action within your scope of practice.

Both the RN and the PN exams have 4 major categories with their sub-categories. These are:

  • Safe and effective care environment 
  • Health promotion and maintenance 
  • Psychosocial integrity 
  • Physiological integrity

The RN exam has a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265. The PN exam, on the other hand, has a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205. 

You will also be given 15 additional questions which are not included in your final score. It is simply used as experimental questions by the test administrators to help them plan for future NCLEX exams. 

What is the difference between the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN?

The NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN are very similar in terms of the format, the type of questions, and the major categories of the exam. 

However, since RNs are expected to perform more advanced nursing procedures and take some management positions, the exact content of the exams will differ. 

The RN exam has questions that include management scenarios, whereas the LPN exam focuses more on the coordination of care with other healthcare professionals. 

The RN exam also includes questions on the administration of Total Parenteral Nutrition, blood, and blood products. 

Aside from that, the minimum and the maximum number of test questions for both exams differ.

How is the NCLEX administered?

The NCLEX is administered through a Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) method. 

This means that the computer re-evaluates what questions to give to you based on how you answered the previous questions. It is a responsive format. 

If you answered the first question correctly, then you will be given a slightly harder question. 

If you answered wrongly, then a slightly easier question will be given to you. 

This makes sure the test is not too hard or too easy for anyone and can measure your competency as a nurse. 

The number of questions you will be given depends on how well you perform. 

If you perform very well or very poorly within the minimum number of questions (75 for RNs and 85 for LPNs), then you will not be given further questions.

If you perform well enough but need further evaluation, you will be given more questions. 

There are different scenarios for your exam to end… It will end if you prove to be competent after answering more questions, if you finish up the allotted time, or if you finish the maximum number of questions. 

You have 5 hours to complete the NCLEX-PN exam and 6 hours to complete the NCLEX-RN exam. There is no time limit for one question, as long as you can finish the overall exam within the allotted time frame.

These exams are usually administered in approved testing sites around the country, and around your state. 

You may be asked to present your valid ID. Acceptable valid IDs include passport books and cards, driver’s licenses, state identification cards, permanent residence cards, and military identification cards. 

What are the requirements to take the NCLEX?

The requirements to be able to take the NCLEX may differ from state to state.

But here, we will be giving you the most common requirements.  

First of all, you will have to pass from approved nursing education program. 

For LPNS, you need to enroll in an approved LPN or LVN program. For RNs, you can choose between an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). 

Right before or soon after graduating from your nursing program, you will need to send an application to your state’s board of nursing. 

The application process and requirements may differ slightly, but you may look at this article to see the specific requirements for your state. 

Usually, you will be asked to submit an application form, your transcript of records, a criminal background fee, and an application fee. 

If you pass the board’s screening, you can expect to receive the NCLEX Examination Candidate Bulletin in the mail, which includes an Authorization to Take the Test (ATT), a list of testing centers, and instructions on how to register for your exam.

Once your state’s board of nursing regards your application as eligible, you can register for the NCLEX through Pearson Vue (the testing vendor). You will need to pay the exam fee of $200. 

You should schedule your exam within 90 days of receiving your ATT. Otherwise, it will expire and you will need to register and pay the fees all over again. 

How do I prepare for the NCLEX?

If you are enrolled in an approved nursing education program, then chances are that your nursing program will be preparing you for the NCLEX even before you graduate. 

A good school will already be teaching you the necessary information and skills to be a nurse. 

So, if you’re still in school at this point, take note of all the advice you are given and study hard in all your classes as early as now. This is the best way to prepare for the exam. 

After graduation, however, you will need to review and collate what you learned over the past year/s. 

You have the option to self-review or enroll in a formal review center. 

Joining a formal review may help you have a more structured and organized preparation. It can also help to boost your confidence if you’re feeling anxious and scared. 

However, doing a self-review may also work for you, if you prefer to study alone. There are many tools and applications online that you can use to help you go through the review. 

Make sure to take a lot of practice tests and analyze your results after. This will help you see where you went wrong, show you what areas you are weak in, and what topics you need to look into more. 

What happens after I take the NCLEX?

After you take the exam, you may need to wait a few weeks before you can get your results. 

Your results will be emailed or mailed to you by your state’s board of nursing. 

If you pass… CONGRATULATIONS! It’s time to celebrate. You’ve gone a long road to reach this point. 

You should also expect to receive your official RN or LPN license… and you can finally start looking for work. 

But if you fail to pass the exam, you shouldn’t give up! You can always try again. You’ll be a little more experienced during your next exam. 

What should I do if I fail the NCLEX?

If you fail to pass, you should consider re-testing. 

Some states limit how many times you can retake the exam, but others allow you to retest as early as 45 days after your first try. 

The good thing is that you will be mailed a diagnosis or evaluation of your test performance. It gives you a report on your problem areas and gives you a better idea of where you may have gone wrong in the exam. 

You should study the diagnostic report and use it to help you prepare for your next test! 

You can consider a more effective way of doing your review. 


And there you have it! Everything you need to know about the NCLEX. 

We know that taking the NCLEX is inescapable for every aspiring RN or LPN. 

However, you don’t have to feel so overwhelmed, especially if you already know what you can expect and how to go about the exam. 

We hope this guide will help you feel more prepared to take on the challenge!

We wish you all the best in your endeavor! 

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