What is the NCLEX? 6 Top FAQs from Nursing Students Like You

Ready to finally chat about what’s on every nursing student’s mind? That’s right, I’m talking about the NCLEX!

The NCLEX is the test that has us asking our new graduate nursing friends “What was it like?” and “When did you find out your score?” The NCLEX is the finish line, it’s the test of tests, and I know it’s something you’ll totally pass! 

But, I’m also sure you have some questions about it. So in this post I’m going to answer six FAQs about the NCLEX to help you get you ready for exam day. 

Let’s dive in!

What is the NCLEX? 6 Top FAQs from Nursing Students (Like You!)

1. What is the NCLEX, exactly?

The NCLEX, or the National Council Licensure Examination, is a standardized exam nursing graduates must pass to become licensed in the United States and Canada.

You’ll be taking the Next Generation NCLEX, which launched in 2023. It’s the only version of the NCLEX now available.

If you’re feeling curious about what makes it different from the previous NCLEX, have no fear. Check out our other post, What’s New in the Next-Generation NCLEX? for a full breakdown of the NGN!

2. What’s the format of the NCLEX? 

You’ll be asked to answer a minimum of 85 questions, and up to a maximum of 150 questions, during the allotted five-hour period.

Since the NCLEX is an “adaptive” test, the length of the exam and the items presented are determined by your responses. The majority of the questions (also known as “items”) you’re going to see will be broken down into four “client needs” categories. 

And you can expect to see a mixture of new and old item formats on the Next Gen NCLEX. So, prepare to see stand-alone items, case studies, and alternatively formatted items! You can access the Next Gen NCLEX test plan here!

3. How do you get authorization to take the NCLEX and register for the exam? 

With so much going on between clinical rotations, graduation, and becoming a real-deal nurse, I’m sure the last thing you need to worry about is registering for the NCLEX!

Luckily, you can register online, but it does require a few steps. If you head to the NCLEX site, you’ll find the 8 steps that will help you successfully register for the NCLEX. 

To start, you’ll have to apply for licensure with a nursing regulatory body in the state you plan to practice in. Then, you’ll register to test with Pearson VUE NCLEX, where you’ll pay the NCLEX exam fee ($200 for candidates in the United States) online or by phone. 

After registering with your nursing regulatory body and Pearson VUE, you’ll want to check your email for a couple of acknowledgements. The acknowledgements you’ll receive include: a receipt of registration for the NCLEX with Pearson VUE, eligibility by the nursing regulatory body in the Pearson VUE system, and an authorization to test (ATT) email from Pearson VUE. 

This flowchart lays out the process for you: 

After receiving your ATT, you can schedule your NCLEX! 

I know it seems like a lot to go through to get an ATT and register for the exam, but you’ve got this! Again, your state nursing regulatory board, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), and the NCLEX all have resources to walk you through the process.

For a full breakdown of exam day FAQs, check out our other post: NCLEX Exam Day FAQs: Scheduling, What to Bring, & More!

4. How do you pass the NCLEX?

Alright, this is all well and good, but how does one actually pass the NCLEX? Well, the scoring and passing of the NCLEX is unique because of its adaptive nature and the new Next-Gen NCLEX items.

There are actually three ways to pass the exam! Here they are below:

95% Confidence Interval Rule

The first scenario is the 95% confidence interval rule. With this scenario, the computer will shut off the exam if you’re testing clearly above or clearly below the passing standard. 

Maximum-Length Exam

The second scenario is the maximum-length exam. If you’re hovering around the 95% confidence interval by the time you reach the maximum number of items, the computer estimates whether you’re at or above the passing standard. If you’re estimated to be at or above the passing standard, then they pass. 

Run-Out-of-Time Rule

Finally, the third scenario is the run-out-of-time rule. If you’ve answered the minimum number of items, then the computer will estimate if you’re at or above the passing standard. Just as with the last scenario, the computer will determine that you’ve passed with an estimation, instead of the 95% confidence interval.

In summary, you either pass by the 95% confidence interval or (in cases of maximum length or running out of time) an estimation that you’re either at or above the passing standard.

5. How long do you have to wait to receive your results? 

There are two ways you can find out your NCLEX results. The first option is to receive official NCLEX results through the nursing regulatory body you registered with. 

These results can take up to six weeks and the time varies with each regulatory body. So, don’t worry if your friend who tested in another state received their results before you! 

The second option is to pay a fee of $7.95 to Pearson VUE to receive your unofficial results 48 hours after taking the NCLEX.

If you’ve completed the exam but still have questions, please check out this brochure! It answers questions people usually have after they’ve taken the NCLEX.

6. What happens if you fail the NCLEX?

I know, the fear of failing is looming over many heads. But, trust me, you will be a real-deal nurse in no time! It’s just good to know what the next steps are in the (very) unlikely event you don’t pass. 

Candidates that fail the NCLEX will receive a candidate performance report (CPR) that reviews their strengths and weaknesses in the given content areas of the NCLEX exam. After receiving their results, they can attempt to retake the NCLEX examination.

There’s a minimum 45-day waiting period between each examination as determined by your nursing regulatory body and the NCSBN. A candidate can retake the NCLEX up to eight times a year. Anyone that wishes to take the NCLEX again should reach out to their nursing regulatory body to confirm the waiting period and the maximum number of attempts, since each regulatory body may have stricter limits in place.

For more information about retaking the NCLEX, check out our other post, How Many Times Can You Take the NCLEX?

Final Thoughts on the NCLEX

The NCLEX is something that we can’t consume enough information about! As we said, it’s the nursing test of all nursing tests. 

I hope answering these six FAQs about it helped put your mind at ease. Keep this post in your back pocket for when graduation is creeping closer and NCLEX time is approaching. Until then, take a deep breath and know that you’re on your way to becoming a registered nurse!

Looking for more (free!) content to help you pass the NCLEX-RN? Check out these other posts on the Blueprint Nursing blog!

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