Getting good grades in nursing school and passing clinicals can be a good indicator of a student’s ability to perform in the field.

These measures alone are not used as the absolute measure of their skills. What is used as the absolute measure is the NCLEX.

The NCLEX is the one exam every nursing student will eventually have to take, but what exactly is the NCLEX?

*Disclosure: This article on what is the nclex may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. For more info, please see my disclaimer.

What is the NCLEX?

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is the licensure exam nursing students must pass if they wish to become an LPN, LVN, or RN. This licensure exam is designed to see if the new nurse meets the minimum standards to practice safely as a nurse.

NCLEX Prep Academy

Check out the comprehensive NCLEX prep review that I recommend. Don’t bother with other NCLEX preps that over promise and under deliver. Did I mention they have a 99.86% NCLEX pass rate?

What Does the NCLEX Test?

The NCLEX is designed to test various skills in newly graduated nurses. These include:

a list of the main content areas covered on the NCLEX
These are the main content areas covered on the NCLEX licensure exam.
  • Safe and effective care: this includes issues such as advanced directives, continuity of care, patient’s rights, and advocacy.
  • Infection control and procedures: this includes how to minimize the risk of disease spread and includes topics such as safe use of equipment, emergency response plans, and accident prevention.
  • Health promotion and maintenance: which includes questions about self-care, postpartum, stages of life, health behaviors, etc.
  • Psychosocial integrity: this includes questions such as mental health and behavioral health treatment, family dynamics, chemical dependency, crisis intervention, etc.
  • Physiological integrity: this includes four concepts of basic care and comfort of a patient, pharmacological and parental therapies (such as chemotherapy and medication administration), reduction of risk potential, and physiological adaptation.

Who Administers the NCLEX Exam?

The NCLEX exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. This is an independent, non-profit organization that oversees the development of licensure testing for licensed nurses.

They also counsel together on issues dealing with public health, safety, and welfare of patients.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is a separate entity from the American Nurses Association, which represents professional nurses (not future nurses testing their competency skills).

In addition to administering the NCLEX exam, the NCSBN also administers exams such as the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program and the Medical Aide Certification Exam.

The NCSBN provides regulatory services to all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories. 

Related: What Do I Need to Wear to Take the NCLEX?

Who Has to Take the NCLEX?

The NCLEX must be taken by any person who has graduated from an approved nursing program and wishes to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), or a registered nurse (RN).

Fortunately, if you have already taken the NCLEX and obtained your license in one state, you do not have to retake the NCLEX exam.

Instead, you should receive an endorsement from your existing state to transfer your RN license to another state. Your scores for the NCLEX do not expire

In addition, people who have failed the NCLEX must also retake the examination to obtain their RN license in a particular state.

Only people that have passed the NCLEX after completing an accredited course in nursing can apply to take the exam.

This includes completing an associate of science degree in nursing (AS in Nursing) or a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN).

Here’s how often you can retake the NCLEX: If you have not passed the NCLEX, you can take it up to 8 times in one year as long as it’s at least 45 days from your last retake.

Where Can You Take the NCLEX Exam?

Test sites for the NCLEX exam vary depending on where you’re seeking to obtain your RN licensure.

If you’re looking to obtain a license in the United States or Australia, you can choose from test centers located in:

  • The United States
  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

Pearson Vue is the testing center where you’ll take the NCLEX. They have facilities pretty much everywhere.

If you want to obtain an RN license in Canada, you will only be able to utilize test sites located in Canada.

However, suppose you do want to obtain your licensure and test at an international test center (outside of the United States or Canada).

In that case, you can do so by paying an international testing fee and requesting this service through your profile on the NCSBN website.

Before You Can Even Schedule For the NCLEX
Before registering for the NCLEX PN or NCLEX RN exam, you need to register and wait for your authorization to test. This is also known as your ATT.

Once you have that, then you can schedule a test day.

Once someone obtains their ATT, they can search for the nearest test site and call the test center to schedule an examination appointment. 

NCLEX Prep Academy

Check out the comprehensive NCLEX prep review that I recommend. Don’t bother with other NCLEX preps that over promise and under deliver. Did I mention they have a 99.86% NCLEX pass rate?

What is the NCLEX Test Format?

The NCLEX is administered using a method known as computerized adaptive testing, or CAT.

CAT is a revolutionary way of test-taking that the NCSBN implemented for use in the NCLEX in 1994.

CAT works because it adapts to how you’re doing on the NCLEX. As you answer questions correctly, you’ll get more challenging questions. As you answer questions incorrectly, you’ll get easier questions.

This process continues until the computer can determine that you’ll stay above the predetermined passing line if it keeps asking you questions indefinitely.

The exam will end at that point, and you’ll PASS.

On the underhand, if the computer determines you’ll stay below the passing line if it keeps asking you questions, you’ll FAIL the NCLEX.

This determination happens after you’ve answered at least the minimum number of questions on the NCLEX.

How the NCLEX is Scored
There’s more definitely that goes into how the computer determines the score you need to pass the NCLEX. I go into more detail in the article about how the NCLEX is scored.

What is the NCLEX Question Format?

nursing school multiple choice answers
The above image shows how hard nursing school multiple-choice questions are.

The questions on the NCLEX are primarily multiple-choice, scenario-based (critical thinking style) questions.

For instance, a question might ask what the right treatment plan would be for a patient that has undergone cardiac arrest.

There will be various scenarios and choices to choose from.

Candidates must choose the best answer from four possible choices (A, B, C, or D).

Although other viable options might be available, only the MOST correct choice will be the one scored on the NCLEX exam.

Test questions are based on surveys conducted by the NCSBN annually.

The NCSBN asks new nurses what skills are necessary to perform their duties and determines which of these to include on the NCLEX.


There are types of nurses (not just registered nurses, RNs), including licensed vocational nurses or licensed practical nurses, known as LVNs and LPNs respectively.

These nurses must also take the NCLEX exam that’s based on their scope of practice, which isn’t as robust as an RN but still involves life-saving medical care.

This exam is known as the NCLEX-PN and must be taken in order to obtain state licensure to practice as an LVN or LPN.

LPNs and LVNs will be tested on similar subjects as RNs, including health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, physiological integrity, safe and effective care environment, and safety infection control.

Related: What Do I Need to Bring When Taking the NCLEX?

Key Takeaways

The current pass rate of the NCLEX exam is around 85%. This makes it a somewhat difficult yet passable test that is essential for the career of a future RN.

By attending the right nursing program, you can increase your chances of passing the NCLEX and being one step close to working as a nurse!

Check out our school board to see which schools can help you pass the NCLEX and guide you toward becoming a registered nurse.

NCLEX Prep Academy

Check out the comprehensive NCLEX prep review that I recommend. Don’t bother with other NCLEX preps that over promise and under deliver. Did I mention they have a 99.86% NCLEX pass rate?

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is the NCLEX hard to pass?

    The NCLEX is a hard exam to pass. Because it’s such an important exam, most students prepare a lot for it. Because of that, the pass rate is around 85% for first-time NCLEX test takers.

  2. Is there math on the NCLEX?

    There is math on the NCLEX. Because you only get between 75 and 145 questions, math will most likely be a small percentage of the questions you receive (if you even get any).

  3. How long does it take to do the NCLEX?

    You’re given up to 5 hours to complete the NCLEX RN or the NCLEX PN licensure exams. This time includes the intro screen, the built-in breaks, and any unscheduled breaks you may take.

  4. What does the NCLEX stand for?

    The NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination.

  5. What does the NCLEX-RN stand for?

    The NCLEX-RN stands for National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

  6. What does the NCLEX-LPN stand for?

    The NCLEX-PN stands for National Council Licensure Examination for Licensed Practical Nurses.

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