Not everyone who finishes nursing school takes the NCLEX exam straight away.

For some, life gets in the way in the form of illness, inability to pursue nursing at that time, or other reasons.

Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many years after nursing school you’re ineligible to take the NCLEX.

Still, if you’ve been out of nursing school for 20 years, you’ll need to do some extra preparation to bring your knowledge and skills up to date to pass the NCLEX exam.

tips for Taking the NCLEX After 20 Years

To be successful in taking the NCLEX after 20 years, you should take refresher courses and attend seminars and workshops so you can get up to speed on things that have changed in nursing practice.

NCLEX Prep Academy

The only NCLEX prep you’ll need. Check out the nclex prep course that helps graduate nurses pass their state board.

What does it cover?

  • Test Taking Tips
  • Nursing Cheatsheets
  • NCLEX Topics Covered
  • Video Lessons
  • Practice Questions
  • Mobile App

Just to name a few.

1. Take an NCLEX Review Course

Nursing knowledge evolves, and evidence-based practice changes.

Since you’ve been out of touch with current trends for a long time, you will need to take a review course to help you study for the exam.

A good review course (like this one I recommend) will present information in a structured way to ensure you won’t feel lost and overwhelmed by the volume of the material.

To help you out, this is the NCLEX prep course I recommend. That prep course will do three things.

The first is that it will help you identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Secondly, it will show you where you have knowledge gaps due to changes in practice over the years.

Lastly, it will give you the confidence you’ll need by helping you bring your knowledge up to date.

2. Take an RN Refresher Course

an older nursing student

You should do a refresher course in addition to the NCLEX review course.

Refresher courses are an excellent way to brush up on your skills and ensure your practice is current.

It usually contains a didactic and a practical component.

The timeframe needed to complete the course is at most six months, but it will provide helpful updates for a nurse who has been out of the field and now wants to return.

3. Join Continuing Education Programs

One way to upskill yourself is to take on some of the available online continuing education programs.

Most licensed nurses (depending on their state) are required to complete mandatory continuing education courses to maintain their licensure.

But even if you don’t have your license yet, officially, nothing is stopping you from enrolling in some of these to brush up your knowledge and skills.

4. Join a Professional Organization like the American Nurses Association

Consider joining the American Nurses Association and your state nursing association for professional support and growth.

It can be a springboard for your nursing career by providing education and career development.

For someone who has been out of the nursing circles for a time, the association provides career networking opportunities that can prove invaluable as a way of letting people know you and growing your professional reputation.

5. Volunteer at Free Clinics and Public Health Department

If you feel you need more opportunities to work with real patients, there is no better way than to volunteer your services at clinics and public health services.

You will not be allowed to work as a nurse at these facilities.

However, working as a nursing assistant or another auxiliary position will give you experience that will be important to help you regain your confidence and get used to working with patients again.


Besides volunteering, you could get a non-nursing healthcare job.

That would give you some experience and get you a feel for working in a hospital. Check out the job board to start looking.

6. Attend Seminars and Workshops

Attending seminars and workshops will enhance your nursing knowledge and provide opportunities to get to know other registered nurses in your state.

Many of these are offered online, so it’s an easy way to sharpen your skills.

Of course, there are also opportunities to attend in person, if that is what you prefer.

7. Get a Refresher Course in Technology

New technology may be the biggest stumbling block in returning to the nursing profession full-time.

Twenty years ago, most charting and nursing communication were done on paper, but now it’s done electronically.

Recently graduated students are used to using devices and software because that is how they’re taught.

Furthermore, patient treatment devices have changed over the past 20 years, so make sure you don’t forget to upskill in this area.

8. Master Different Formats of How NCLEX Questions Are Asked

How NCLEX was presented 20 years ago is not the same as it is now.

The NCLEX review course mentioned above will introduce you to the different types of questions you can expect to see on the exam.

Make sure you take as many practice tests as possible to get used to the way questions are asked by the Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) system.

Check out this article to learn how the NCLEX is scored. You can also check out this article to learn what score you need to pass the NCLEX.

9. Before Registering for NCLEX, You Need Proper Credentials From the State Regulatory Body

Before booking your NCLEX date, reach out to your state regulatory body to determine if your credentials are in order.

There is no time limit on when you should take your NCLEX after finishing nursing school, but some state boards may find your 20-year-old nursing qualification too old.

They may want you to pass a nursing refresher course before attempting your NCLEX to ensure you have all the skills and knowledge to return to the profession.

10. Take the NCLEX

Once you have completed some of the above ideas, you now need to actually study for and take the NCLEX.

I know it might seem daunting, but remember that even if you fail the NCLEX, it’s not the end of the world. There are options available to you.

The goal is to hopefully not have you wait or be delayed another 20 years.

NCLEX Prep Academy
Check out the comprehensive NCLEX prep review that I recommend. Don’t bother with other NCLEX preps that overpromise and underdeliver. Did I mention they have a 99.86% NCLEX pass rate?

Key Takeaways

It’s not easy to take and pass the NCLEX 20 years after graduating from a nursing program, but it’s not impossible.

As long as you’re prepared to put in the work to bring your skills up to today’s standards and network to gain valuable contacts within the profession, there’s no reason why you would not succeed.

Related Articles

Frequently Asked Questions

Some states put time limits on when you have to take and pass the NCLEX after graduating from nursing school.

Depending on your jurisdiction, some state boards of nursing may require you to take a refresher course if you wait 10 years to take the NCLEX. Contact your BON to be sure.

Depending on your jurisdiction, some state boards of nursing may require you to take a refresher course if you wait 7 years to take the NCLEX. Contact your BON to be sure.


  1. thank you for your article. I gave up hope because I read ” within 3 years”. you gave me new hope. I have been working as an lpn for 35 years. graduated with BSN 2011. never took nclex. I graduated in WVU , i had some health issues, a year later school was closed. wv was holding my papers. I live in Maryland. Maryland wants a letter from the dean stating that I graduated from an accredited university. I was in the last accredited class. now the school is gone. wv says that I have to take my boards in the state I reside. Still don’t know exactly what to do but I AM starting an nclex review class TODAY because of your article. Again: THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME HOPE and for renewing my dream and ambition.

      1. Hey what states do not have a time limit? I have a friend who graduated in 2010.

        1. Hey Dave, I don’t know what the updated list is. I thought I had an idea but than some of that changed. For situations like this it’s best to reach out to the board of nursing of the state you want to get licensure in.

  2. I graduated in 2014 took the NCLEX twice then had a lot happen and didn’t take it again. May will be 9 years and I’m so worried my nursing career is over. I have been a nurse tech for the entire time since graduating but do you think I would still be able to take the NCLEX?

    1. Hey Patrick, most likely. I would contact your state board of nursing to see what they say about it. They may require that you take a remedial class, but either way, contacting them means you’ll know your options.

      As I’m sure you’ve seen from the title of this article, she was able to take the NCLEX and pass after 20 years…yours is only 9.

      Best of luck to you.

      Fyi. I have resources on this site to help you prepare for the NCLEX. For instance, check out this nclex prep course to help you prepare for the NCLEX.

  3. This article has given me hope. I graduated from a LPN school in Delaware in 2011. I took the nclex twice and failed in 2012. Because of the fear of failing again, I’ve not attempted to take the nclex since. And also, one can not take the boards in Delaware after 5 years ( please correct me if I’m wrong).
    Just reading the comments give hope to try again.
    Any information to helped move forward is appreciated.
    Thanks Thomas for all that you do to help people like keep hope alive.

  4. I graduated from RN school in 2002. I took my rn nclex and failed around 2005. Now that it’s 2023 can I still retake rn nclex. What do I need to do in Pennsylvania to retake my RN Nclex Exam

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