NCLEX Nursing Test - How To Pass the NCLEX

What is the NCLEX exam?

The National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, is a professional licensure exam for graduates of nursing schools, developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBC). The NCLEX-RN exam is for graduates of registered nursing programs, and the NCLEX-PN exam is for practical and vocational nursing graduates. Although each state regulates the practice of nursing within that state, the licensing exams are the same all across the United States. The NCLEX exam has one purpose, which is to determine whether it's safe for you to begin practicing as an entry-level nurse.

What to know about the NCLEX exam

You get up to 5 hours to complete the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN exam, including the short tutorial and 2 optional breaks. The test utilizes CAT or computer adaptive testing, which means the test length can vary between 85 and 150 questions. The test ends when the testing algorithm is 95% confident that you passed or failed.

NCLEX exam subjects

For the NCLEX-RN, the test is organized along four major client needs categories.

Safe and Effective Care Environment

  • Management of Care accounts for 15-21% of questions.
  • Safety and Infection Control accounts for 10-16% of questions.

Health Promotion and Maintenance

  • Accounts for 6-12% of questions

Psychosocial Integrity

  • Accounts for 6-12% of questions

Physiological Integrity

  • Basic Care and Comfort (6-12%)
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies (13-19%)
  • Reduction of Risk Potential (9-15%)
  • Physiological Adaptation (11-17%)

Next Generation NCLEX (NGN)

The Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) launched on April 1, 2023. Cathy explains what has and has not changed with the NGN below.

What has changed?

  • Number of items. Before COVID, there was a minimum of 75 questions, and a maximum of 265 questions. Now there is a minimum of 85 and a maximum of 150 questions.
  • Time limit. The time limit was previously 6 hours. It is now 5 hours.
  • Expected lab value ranges are now included. You still need to understand the significance of higher or low lab values for a patient!
  • Scoring. For some of the question types, scoring has not changed. However, for other questions types, you now get partial credit.
  • Types of questions. There are several new question types, which include case studies, that are designed to test your ability to recognize cues, analyze data, and prioritize interventions. So with these new question types, higher-level thinking is required and your critical thinking and problem solving skills are being evaluated. These new question types only make up about approximately 25% of the exam. The other 75% includes question types that you are likely more familiar with, such as multiple choice and select-all-that-applies.
  • Out of the minimum of 85 questions:
  • 52 of the 85 questions are non-case study type items. They mostly include multiple choice and select-all-that-applies questions, but there are some new question types included as well.
  • 18 of the 85 questions involve 3 case studies with 6 questions (or items) for each case study.
  • 15 of the 85 questions are unscored items being tested for potential use in future versions of the NCLEX.

What hasn't changed?

  • Fundamental content. You still need the same base knowledge to be able to answer the new item types, and you are still being tested on the same categories of information. At Level Up RN, all of our resources are focused on helping you master that core information so you can be well prepared and confident when you take the NCLEX.
  • Computerized adaptive testing. This means each exam is unique. So, the category and difficulty level of questions or items given to the test taker is based on how the candidate is performing. When the candidate answers an item, the test then decides what the next item should be based on the estimated ability of the candidate.
  • The passing standard.
  • Your test will end at 85 questions if the software determines with a 95% confidence level that you’re clearly above (or clearly below) the passing standard.
  • If you get all 150 questions and you’re at or above the passing standard, you pass. If you’re below the passing standard, you do not pass. 
  • The test ends after 5 hours. At that time, if you have not completed the minimum amount of items (85), then you do not pass. If you answered the minimum amount of items, then you will be evaluated against the passing standard for the items that were answered. 
  • Testing accommodations. Accommodations are made for those who have a documented need.


Eligibility to take the NCLEX exam depends on the rules of the Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB) where you wish to practice. Each NRB has its own eligibility requirements.

Exam Costs

The cost to take the NCLEX for US residents is $200, when you apply at Pearson VUE.

How to register for the NCLEX exam

  1. Submit an application to the NRB where you wish to practice.
  2. Register to take the NCLEX at Pearson VUE.
  3. Wait for your Acknowledgement of Receipt of Registration and Authorization to Test (ATT).
  4. Schedule your exam with Pearson VUE.

Retaking the NCLEX after failure

Candidates who have applied for licensure and registration with a participating NRB will be permitted to take the NCLEX up to eight times a year. There must be 45 test-free days between each examination. If you didn't pass the exam, you'll receive a NCLEX Candidate Performance Report (CPR). The CPR is an individualized document that shows how a candidate performed in each of the test plan content areas. The CPR is useful as a guide to prepare you to retake the exam. If you wish to retake the exam, you must notify your NRB and once authorized, pay the fees with Pearson VUE.

How to prepare for the NCLEX exam

Hopefully, you’ve just graduated nursing school and are getting ready to take the NCLEX exam. In nursing school you probably took predictor or exit exams to graduate, but it’s important to note that the NCLEX exam is different, so adequate time and preparation is essential.

Tips on how to study for the NCLEX exam

  1. Don’t wait too long after graduating nursing school, to take the NCLEX exam.
  2. On the other hand, give yourself 4-8 weeks of time to study for the NCLEX.
  3. Make sure you understand the format and method of the exam. Download and review the 2023 Next Generation NCLEX-RN Test Plan or Next Generation NCLEX-PN Test Plan. In addition, the 2023 NCLEX Examination Candidate Bulletin provides helpful information.
  4. Make a study plan. Allot specific time on specific days and set goals before each study session that you aim to accomplish. Check out the Level Up RN Membership, complete with hundreds of study videos, cram courses, and and NCLEX prep course.
  5. Use your existing study guides, tests and other materials from nursing school.
  6. Invest in additional test prep resources.
  7. Take practice exams.

NCLEX Practice Tests

  2. My Nursing Mastery

NCLEX Success Stories

Additional FAQ about the NCLEX exam

What is the pass rate for NCLEX?

For first time test takers with a U.S. nursing degree, the pass rate is 88.85%. Repeat test takers in the U.S. average a 45.08% pass rate.

Can I take the NCLEX without a nursing degree?

Not likely. Eligibility to take the NCLEX are determined by the local nursing regulatory body (NRB) in the jurisdiction that you wish to practice. If you are interested in finding out specifics in your jurisdiction, contact your local NRB.

Can you fail the NCLEX in 75 questions?

Yes. If the computer adaptive test determines you will fail the test with a 95% confidence level, it will terminate as soon as 75 questions are answered. On the other hand, it can also determine you will pass the test and can end as soon as 75 questions are answered.

How long after taking NCLEX do you get results?

Even though the exam is graded as you progress, scores are further verified by Pearson VUE and your score will not be available at the test center. If your nursing regulatory body (NRB) participates in the Quick Results Service, you can purchase your ‘unofficial’ test scores for $7.95 on the Pearson VUE NCLEX website. Official results will be sent by your NRB in about 6 weeks.

Is the NCLEX multiple choice?

The majority of the questions on the NCLEX are multiple choice (many of which are "check all that apply," with 4 possible answers. However there are alternate questions (e.g., fill-in-the-blank items, check all the apply, ordered response items).

How many hours is the NCLEX exam?

The NCLEX-RN is up to 6 hours and the NCLEX-PN is up to 5 hours. Both exams can end early if the computer adaptive test determines a pass or fail with a 95% confidence level.

How many times can you fail the NCLEX?

Your NRB will typically allow authorized test takers to take the exam up to 8 times, although it varies by state so check with your state. A minimum of 45 days between test dates is required.

NCLEX™, NCLEX-RN™, and NCLEX-PN™ are registered trademarks of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc., which is unaffiliated, not a sponsor, or associated with Cathy Parkes or this website.