A Comprehensive Guide to the National Council Licensure Examination

What is NCLEX

In this article...

When I was in nursing school, the NCLEX loomed over me like a dark cloud. I knew it was a critical exam that would determine my future as a nurse, but I was intimidated by its reputation as a difficult and complex test. However, as I began to prepare for the exam, I realized that with the right strategies and mindset, I could overcome my fears and pass the NCLEX with flying colors.

In this article, I’ll share with you what I learned during my own NCLEX journey and provide you with tips and insights to help you succeed on the exam as well.


The NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination, which is a standardized test that all aspiring nurses must pass to obtain a nursing license.

All prospective registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in the United States and Canada are required to pass the NCLEX in order to be granted their nursing license.

This exam is intended to evaluate your nursing knowledge, abilities, and skills as well as your readiness to start working as a nurse. But let’s first examine the history of the NCLEX before delving into the specifics of the test.

History of the NCLEX Exam

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) created the NCLEX in the late 1980s to harmonize nursing licensure exams across the country. Each state had its own nursing licensing examination prior to the creation of the NCLEX, which made it challenging for nurses to transfer from one state to another. The NCLEX was developed to make it simpler for nurses to become licensed in various states and to establish a more universal standard for nursing licensure.

Purpose of the NCLEX Exam

The NCLEX is designed to make sure that nurses have the information, skills, and capabilities necessary to give patients safe and effective care. The exam is meant to test how well you can use your nursing knowledge and skills in practical settings as well as how well you can think critically and solve problems.

Types of NCLEX Exams

The NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN are the two different NCLEX tests. For aspiring registered nurses, there is the NCLEX-RN, and for aspiring licensed practical nurses, there is the NCLEX-PN.


Your knowledge and abilities in four key areas—a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity—will be tested on the NCLEX-RN exam. This exam has a time limit of 6 hours and a minimum of 75 to a maximum of 265 questions.


our knowledge and abilities in three key areas—a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, and psychosocial integrity—will be evaluated on the NCLEX-PN exam. This test has a 5-hour time limit and a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205 questions.

NCLEX Exam Format

The NCLEX is administered via computerized adaptive testing (CAT), which means that the computer adapts the difficulty level of the questions to your individual ability level. The exam may include both multiple-choice questions and alternative item formats, such as fill-in-the-blank, drag-and-drop, and hot-spot questions.

Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT)

The CAT system selects questions for you based on your responses to previous questions. If you answer a question correctly, the next question will be slightly more difficult. If you answer a question incorrectly, the next question will be slightly easier. This system allows the computer to pinpoint your ability level with greater accuracy than a traditional paper-and-pencil exam.

Number of Questions

The number of questions on the NCLEX varies depending on your ability level. The minimum number of questions is 75 for the NCLEX-RN and 85 for the NCLEX-PN. The maximum number of questions is 265 for the NCLEX-RN and 205 for the NCLEX-PN.

Time Limits

The time limit for the NCLEX-RN is six hours, while the time limit for the NCLEX-PN is five hours. However, most test-takers do not use the entire allotted time.

How to Prepare for the NCLEX

Preparing for the NCLEX can be a daunting task, but with the right study materials and strategies, you can improve your chances of success. Here are some tips for preparing for the NCLEX:

Study Materials

There are many study materials available for the NCLEX, including review books, online courses, and practice exams. Choose materials that are reputable and up-to-date, and focus on the areas where you need the most improvement.

Practice Tests for the NCLEX exam

Taking practice tests is an excellent way to prepare for the NCLEX. Practice tests can help you identify areas where you need improvement, and can also help you get used to the format of the exam. Many online courses and review books come with practice tests, or you can find free practice tests online.

Time Management

Managing your time effectively is crucial when preparing for the NCLEX. Make a study schedule and stick to it, and take breaks when you need them. Avoid cramming at the last minute, as this can increase your anxiety and decrease your performance.

Test-Taking Strategies

Developing test-taking strategies can also help you succeed on the NCLEX. For example, read each question carefully, eliminate incorrect answers, and focus on the information that is most relevant to the question.

Tips for Passing the NCLEX exam

It takes more than just knowledge and skills to pass the NCLEX. It also calls for the capacity to control anxiety and employ efficient test-taking techniques. The following advice can help you pass the NCLEX:

Control Your Anxiety

A major barrier to passing the NCLEX can be anxiety. Use relaxation methods like deep breathing, visualization, and encouraging self-talk to manage your anxiety. To get accustomed to the pressure, you may also consider taking practice exams in a testing setting that is replicated.

Answer the Question That is Asked

Answering a question that wasn’t asked is a typical error made by test takers on the NCLEX. Make sure you thoroughly read each question and concentrate on the details that are most pertinent to it.

Eliminate Incorrect Answers

Try to rule out the responses you are aware are untrue if you are unsure of a question. This may improve your chances of choosing the right response.

Take Breaks

You can manage your nervousness and keep your focus by taking pauses during the exam. Make sure to utilize the break period.


In conclusion, the NCLEX is a critical exam for nurses seeking licensure in the United States and Canada. Understanding what the exam is, how it is structured, and how to prepare for it can help you improve your chances of success. By following the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you can approach the NCLEX with confidence and achieve your goal of becoming a licensed nurse.


What is the passing score for the NCLEX?

  • The passing score for the NCLEX is determined by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and varies depending on your ability level.

Can I retake the NCLEX if I fail?

  • Yes, you can retake the NCLEX if you fail, but you must wait a certain period of time before taking the exam again.

What happens if I run out of time during the exam?

  • If you run out of time during the exam, the computer will automatically end the exam and score the questions you have answered.

Is the NCLEX the same for all nurses?

  • No, the NCLEX varies depending on the level of licensure you are seeking (RN or PN).

Can I take the NCLEX in a language other than English?

  • No, the NCLEX is only available in English.