What is the NCLEX

What is the NCLEX?

In this series of blog posts, we will help you master what is needed to pass the NCLEX. At first, the test seems like a giant standing in your way to becoming a professional licensed nurse. Trust us, we had the same feeling.

But it’s now what it seems like. But what, exactly, is the NCLEX exam?

  • The NCLEX, also known as the National Council Licensure Examination, is a standardized test.
  • That helps every state’s regulatory board determine whether a candidate is ready to become a licensed nurse.
  • The NCLEX is used to figure out if it’s safe for you to begin practicing as an entry-level nurse.

It is substantially different from an exam in nursing school. Nursing school exams test your knowledge; the NCLEX tests your ability to apply and analyze using the nursing knowledge you acquired in school.

In the NCLEX, you use critical thinking to make nursing judgments with one sole purpose in mind: to determine if it’s safe for you to practice entry-level nursing.

Exam Format

The NCLEX exam is a computerized test made up of multiple-choice questions that must be answered in multiple formats: “one correct multiple-choice answer”, “select all that apply”, “fill in the blank”, “drag and drop”, “landmarking”, and “auditory sound recognition”.

All the content you learned in your nursing program is fair game. You will have a maximum of 6 hours to complete the test. Keep in mind that there is also a tutorial at the beginning that shows you how to take the test.

NCLEX-RN: A minimum of 75 questions, with a max of 265. You will also be given 15 experimental questions that do not count for or against you. They are simple test questions for future exam questions.


The NCLEX is scored using logits, which are units of measurement that evaluate the relative difference between a candidate’s estimated ability and the difficulty of the questions they answered. The passing standard for the NCLEX-RN is 0.00 logits, while the PN is -0.21.

The exams are first evaluated using the 95% Confidence Interval Rule. After you’ve answered the minimum number of questions, the computer will assess whether or not it’s at least 95% certain that your ability is above or below the passing standard.

The test continues until the computer reaches at least 95% confidence in your result.¹ However, if you end up answering the maximum number of questions, then you’ll pass or fail

Based on the final estimate of your ability, regardless of whether the computer is at 95%. This alternative method is used if you run out of time and have answered at least the minimum number of questions.

You automatically fail if you run out of time and haven’t answered the minimum number of questions.¹ The passing rates vary each year and by each state. In 2018,

the pass rate for 1st-time test-takers with a Bachelor’s degree was about 92%, compared to an 85% pass rate for those with an Associate’s degree.

This sounds like a lot of information. But you won’t need to worry, because you’ve studied for four years for this. This will be the icing on the cake. Remember, think, and you’ll become.

You also need an awesome study guide to prepare you with the knowledge you need to pass the NCLEX. Check out our NCLEX study guide here.

Client Needs & Expectations of the NCLEX

The NCLEX is broken down into four (4) major categories, which are broken down by percentages.

1. Safe and effective care environment

  • Management of Care: 17-23% of the NCLEX.
    • Some of the nursing actions are Advanced Directives, Advocacy, Case Management, Client Rights, Concepts of Management, Confidentiality, Continuity of Care, Quality Improvement, Delegation, Establishing Priorities, Ethical Practice, Informed Consent, Legal Responsibilities, Referrals, and Supervision.
  • Safety and Infection Control: 9-15% of the NCLEX.
    • Nursing actions include Accident Prevention, Error Prevention, Hazardous Materials, Surgical Asepsis, Standard Precautions, and Use of Restraints.

2. Health promotion

  • 6-12% of the NCLEX.
  • Nursing actions tested include the Aging Process, Ante/Intra/Postpartum and Newborn Care, Developmental Stages and Transitions, Disease Prevention, Health Screening, Lifestyle Choices, Physical Assessment Techniques, Health Promotion Programs, High-Risk Behaviors, and Self-Care.

3. Psychosocial Integrity

  • 6-12% of the NCLEX.
  • Nursing actions include Coping Mechanisms, Grief and Loss, Mental Health Concepts, Spiritual Influence on Health, Sensory/Perceptual Alterations, Stress Management, Support Systems, Therapeutic Communication, Chemical Dependency, Behavioral Interventions, Crisis Intervention, Coping Mechanisms, End of Life Care, and Family Dynamics.

4. Physiological integrity

  • Basic Care and Comfort: 6-12% of the NCLEX
    • Nursing actions included in this subcategory are Assistive Devices, Elimination, Mobility, Non-Pharmacological Comfort Interventions, Nutrition, Oral Hydration, Personal Hygiene, as well as Rest and Sleep.
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies: 12-18% of the NCLEX
    • Nursing actions include Adverse Effects, Contraindications, Blood and Blood Products, Central Venous Access Devices, Chemotherapy, Expected Effects, Intravenous Therapy, Medication Administration, Pharmacological Pain Management, Total Parenteral Nutrition, and Dosage Calculation.
  • Reduction of Risk Potential: 9-15% of the NCLEX
    • Nursing actions include Diagnostic Tests, Laboratory Values, Potential for Complications from Surgical Procedures and Health Alterations, as well as Therapeutic Procedures.
  • Physiological Adaptation: 11-17% of the NCLEX
    • Nursing actions include Alterations in the Body Systems, Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances, Hemodynamics, Medical Emergencies, Pathophysiology, and Unexpected Response to Therapies.


How to Register for the NCLEX

If you’d like to sit for the NCLEX, the first thing you need to do is complete the registration process. You’ll need to apply through your state board of nursing. That board will authorize you to register.

Once you’ve been authorized, you can register to take the NCLEX. Usually, this is done through Pearson testing services. You’ll be required to pay for all registration fees. It also costs $200 to take the exam.


What if I fail the NCLEX?

We all have that “what if” feeling about certain situations, fears, and new things. That’s okay. If you fail the exam, take another shot at it and pass it on your next try. Check the official NCLEX website for the number of days permitted before a retake.

If you fail, you’ll receive a report outlining your test performance. Draw up a schedule for yourself and study your problem areas. Focus on your weaknesses – and then rock the NCLEX!

Looking for more student resources? Check out these helpful links!

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