6 Frequently Asked Questions About The NCLEX

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Whether you are just starting nursing school or are preparing to graduate, there’s one thing all nursing students should have a basic understanding of – the NCLEX exam. Yes, we mean that big test nursing school is helping you prepare for. So what do you need to know? We break down some of the frequently asked questions we hear from students looking for a general idea of what the exam is, how it works, and how long you’ll wait to receive your results.

What is the NCLEX?

We will try and make this one simple. The National Council Licensure Examination, also known as the NCLEX exam, is designed to do one key thing, determine whether or not a candidate is prepared to begin working as an entry-level nurse. This exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). However, not just any nursing student can take the exam. Prior to taking the NCLEX exam, there are a few requirements set in place.

What is required to take the NCLEX?

Before a candidate is allowed to take the NCLEX exam they will need to check a few things off of their list. The first is to apply to take the exam with their state board of nursing. Once the candidate is deemed eligible by the state board they will receive an Authorization to Test email that serves as an invitation to schedule an appointment to take the exam. At this point, it is highly recommended that students set up a review plan or service to help prepare.

Check out step-by-step instructions on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s website to get started with the signup process.

How does the NCLEX work?

The NCLEX exam is a computer adaptive test that features alternate item questions. Let us explain:

Computer adaptive testing selects questions for you to answer based on your response to similar questions earlier in the test. For example, if you miss a question on pharmacology, you may be presented with a similar question later in the exam. If you answer the question correctly, you may not be asked about it again.

Alternate item questions, on the other hand, are questions that follow a format other than a standard multiple choice question. These types of formats include ordered response items, fill-in-the blank item, multiple-response items, hot spot items, chart format items, graphic option items, and audio item.

Related read: NCSBN explains why they chose to use computer adaptive testing and more of how it works here.

What is the NCLEX test plan?

Every three years the National Council of State Boards of Nursing updates the NCLEX test plan. This plan is designed to help candidates prepare for the exam. The good news? The NCSBN does not keep the test plans a secret. They publish them on their website and can be downloaded and printed out. This test plan provides an overview of the test’s content distribution by including a list of topics that will be covered on the exam. Take a look at the current test plan here.

How long does it take for my results to be processed?

The answer to this question varies by each state board of nursing. Some states participate in the NCLEX’s Quick Results Service that allows candidates to receive an unofficial score within 48 business hours after the exam. Official results, however, are only available through the state board. These results will be sent six weeks following the exam because each exam is graded twice. This is for quality control purposes and is done once by a computer and once by Pearson VUE, the providers of the NCLEX exam.

Can I retake the exam if I do not pass?

The short answer to this question is yes, however, there’s one catch, a candidate must wait 45 days to retake the exam. Those 45 days plus a six-week waiting period for official results will set a candidate back a little more than three months before they can begin their career as a nurse. Three months may not sound like a lot, however, when you’re missing out on job experience and paychecks it adds up quickly.

When it comes to retaking your NCLEX exam, it’s important to note the following statistics that confirm the first chance is the best chance:

  • 84.53% of candidates who took the RN exam in 2015 passed on their first try
  • 44.52% of candidates who were repeat 2015 RN test takers passed on their second try
  • 81.39% of candidates who took the PN exam in 2015 passed on their first try
  • 34.35% of candidates who were repeat 2015 PN test takers passed on their second try

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