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What Is The NCLEX? Everything You Need To Know

October 11, 2022
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What Is The NCLEX Exam?NCLEX-RN Vs. NCLEX-PNWhat Is On The NCLEX Exam?NCLEX Exam ScoringHow To Register For The NCLEXHow Much Is The NCLEXHow To Prepare For The NCLEXFAQs: NCLEX Exam


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/13/22

Are you a current or aspiring nursing student that wants to know more about the NCLEX exam? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the NCLEX!

Nurses, often considered the backbone of healthcare, are essential medical professionals whose roles continuously grow to meet the diverse health needs of the world. 

With so many patients' lives in the hands of these in-demand professionals, becoming a nurse is an extensive process! Aside from attending rigorous programs and gaining clinical experience to become qualified to practice, nurses must also write their NCLEX. 

This guide will go over what’s on the NCLEX, how much it costs, and how to prepare for it.

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What Is The NCLEX Exam?

Before delving into the specifics of the exam, let’s go over the basics! What is the NCLEX? The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) is an exam graduate nursing students must pass in order to become licensed to legally practice nursing. 

The NCLEX gauges graduate nurses’ competency and determines if they’re able to meet national healthcare standards to begin treating real patients.

The exam is five-hours long and contains 75-145 questions. We will discuss this range in further detail later in this guide!

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Depending on the type of nursing degree you complete, you’ll either want to become a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practicing Nurse (LPN). As there are differences in the types of roles RNs and LPNs have, they are held to different expectations.

Accordingly, they have to write different NCLEX exams! Aspiring RNs must write the NCLEX-RN and LPNs must write the NCLEX-PN. 

In comparison, the NCLEX-RN is typically more extensive than the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX-RN tests on management of care and a wider range of knowledge than the NCLEX-PN.

What Is On The NCLEX Exam?

Now that you know what the NCLEX is, it’s important to know what’s on it. The NCLEX tests a range of skills, abilities, knowledge, and competencies necessary for nurses to safely and effectively care for patients. 

Types Of Questions

You’ll mainly see questions on the NCLEX that test your thought process, critical skills, and knowledge on specific aspects of healthcare. Many questions will be scenario-based. 

For instance, you may be asked to interpret health information, give a patient a diagnosis, identify which safety procedures are required in common nursing situations, how to properly assess a patient with a certain illness or symptoms, and the best way to address patient conflicts.

Categories On The NCLEX

There are four major client care categories on the NCLEX.

1. Safe And Effective Care Environment

The NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN differ the most in this category of content. The NCLEX-Rn tests on management of care.

Management of care is a nurse’s ability to provide direct care that enhances the healthcare delivery setting to protect the patient and personnel. After all, as a nurse, you’ll be expected to create a safe space for all of your patients.

Instead of management of care, the NCLEX-PN tests on coordinated care, which focuses on how the LPN collaborates with other healthcare members to facilitate effective patient care. 

Both exams also test on safety and infection control which includes knowledge such as how to prevent accidents and injury, how to apply infection controls, and how to practice safety in healthcare settings.

2. Health Promotion And Maintenance

This part of the NCLEX tests nurses’ knowledge on expected growth and development and how to appropriately integrate this into client care, the prevention and early detection of health problems, and strategies to achieve optimal health. 

3. Psychological Illness

Nurses aren’t only responsible for patching up cuts and bruises! They must also take care of and advocate for their patients’ mental health.

As such, the NCLEX tests a nurse’s ability to promote and support the emotional, mental, and social well-being of their patients. It will also test the correct ways to treat acute or chronic mental illnesses.

4. Physiological Integrity

You’ll be tested on your ability to provide patients with care and comfort, reduce client risk potential, and manage health alterations. In this section, you’ll be expected to not only know how to care for living patients, but also those that have passed away. You will be asked about correct postmortem care. 

You’ll also be tested on your knowledge of pharmacological and parenteral therapies. Expect to be asked how to administer certain medication, how much to administer, and the potential adverse reactions to medicine. 

NCLEX Exam Format

We’ve answered the question “what is the NCLEX”, but you may also be wondering what the NCLEX looks like.

The NCLEX typically only has multiple-choice answers on it. However, you may see other formats as well. These formats include multiple responses, fill-in-the blank calculations, hot spot questions where you’re required to click on the correct area on the screen, and ordered responses.

The questions may include multimedia such as charts, tables, graphics, and audio.

NCLEX Exam Scoring

As previously mentioned, you can expect to see 75-145 questions on your exam. The reason there is such a large range is that the NCLEX uses Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) to administer the exam.

CAT increases the efficiency of the NCLEX exam because after each answer, the computer re-estimates the student’s ability based on previous answers. This way, the next question won’t be too hard or too easy to fairly assess each candidate.

Students will have to do a minimum of 75 questions in order to successfully complete the exam. By the 75th question, the computer can be 95% sure whether most students’ ability is above or well below the standard, and will stop giving them questions.

If the candidate does not demonstrate a clear ability or inability by this point, the computer will administer a full-length exam of 145 questions to determine their competency.

If a candidate runs out of time before answering all the questions, a final ability estimate is used to determine if they have passed or failed.

How To Register For The NCLEX

There are a few steps to take to register for the NCLEX:

Each ATT is only valid for 90 days, so you must test within this time period. Additionally, any changes to your test date or location must be made at least one full business day (24 hours) before your test day.

How Much Is The NCLEX

Registering for the NCLEX costs $200. There are additional fees if you’re an international applicant or would like to change the nursing regulatory or exam type (RN/PN) after registration.

How To Prepare For The NCLEX

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed after going over the test content and format, here are some tips to help you prepare for the NCLEX.

1. Go Over The Test Content

NCSBN, the administrators of the NCLEX, have uploaded detailed test plans of both types of NCLEX exams that go over the type of content you’ll see on the exam, the format, and some sample questions. Before you begin studying, you should look over these plans to become more familiar with the exam.

2. Take A Practice Test

NCSBN also has two practice exams based on previous NCLEX questions that students can take to gauge their base knowledge level before studying. These exams simulate real test conditions, so you’ll have five continuous hours to complete each test.

At the end of the test, you’ll get a score report indicating the percentage of answers you got correct. While you won’t have access to the correct answers, these exams are useful tools to help familiarize you with the types of questions you’ll see on test day and help you build a better study schedule based on your initial performance.

3. Give Yourself Enough Time To Study

Since the majority of the exam is knowledge-based, you can expect to memorize quite a lot of information for your NCLEX. However, you should also focus on developing your critical skills, so you know how to apply the concepts you learn.

To do this, you need to give yourself enough time to study and not rush the process! 

4. Work Smarter Not Harder

Relying on your own course notes or research to study for the NCLEX is time-consuming and may not be the most effective study method.

Instead, you should use trusted resources that can give you the right materials to study and support to succeed! For instance, Inspira has 99th percentile tutors that know exactly how to target your weaknesses and help you ace the NCLEX!

5. Keep Practicing

Test anxiety can get the best of us! To reduce the stress you feel on test day, you should continue taking practice tests under similar test conditions throughout the weeks or months you study. Not only will you be able to track your improvement, but you’ll also become comfortable with the test conditions.


If you have any more questions about the NCLEX exam, read on to find your answers!

1. What Is The Purpose Of The NCLEX?

The NCLEX is a licensing exam that is required to be written by graduate nurses so they can begin practicing. 

2. Does Passing The NCLEX Make You An RN?

Yes, if you complete your BSN and write and pass the NCLEX-RN, you will become a licensed Registered Nurse.

3. Is The NCLEX Hard To Pass?

With adequate studying, the NCLEX isn’t difficult to pass. In fact, the 2021 test statistics show that between 71.92% to 85.69% of first-time test takers passed the exam.

4. What Does The NCLEX Exam Do?

The NCLEX exam tests graduate nurses on the skills, knowledge, competency, and abilities required for nurses to practice safely and effectively at an entry-level.

5. How Many Times Can You Take The NCLEX?

Students can take the NCLEX up to 8 times a year.

6. Is The NCLEX An In-Person Exam?

Yes! You must choose a designated test location to write your exam. The test will be administered on a computer at this testing center. Ensure you arrive 30 minutes early, bring valid ID, and be prepared to have your veins scanned! 

As a high-tech identification method, you’ll be expected to scan your palm veins so that the test center can confirm your identification throughout the exam.

Final Thoughts

As you begin studying for your NCLEX, ensure you first congratulate yourself! You’ve finished the hardest part – getting through nursing school. Relish in the fact that the NCLEX is the very last step you must complete before you officially become one of the most important members of the healthcare system!

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