How Long Is the NCLEX-RN® Exam?

A student preparing for the NCLEX RN exam

The NCLEX duration is a challenging factor for candidates hoping to find success on their NCLEX-RN® exams. The length of the exam is something that many candidates aren’t prepared for because they haven’t practiced under exam-like conditions.  

It’s important to know how long the exam is, what type of questions are on the exam, and how to best prepare for the exam because you have to pass the NCLEX exam in order to gain licensure and become a practicing nurse clinician. The more you know about the NCLEX-RN in advance, the better equipped you will be to pass this high-stakes exam.

There will be extensive changes to the NCLEX exam when the NCSBN® launches the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) in April of 2023. But in this post, we’ll discuss the length of the current exam and some other helpful information for students who are beginning to prepare for the NCLEX nursing exam by answering some frequently asked questions about the NCLEX-RN in its current state.

How Long Is the NCLEX-RN Exam?

When you take the NCLEX-RN, you will face a minimum of 75 items and a maximum of 145 items. 15 of these items are pretest items and are not scored. You will be allowed up to five hours to complete the exam. 

Your exam is considered complete when one of the three following things happens:

  1. The computer stops administering NCLEX exam questions when it has determined with a 95% certainty that you are above or below the passing standard. This is known as the 95% Confidence Interval Rule. This rule can go into effect at the minimum number of items (75) or at any number after that, up to 145.
  2. If the computer has not determined at a 95% rate of certainty your competency in relation to the passing standard when you reach the maximum number of items (145), the computer will ascertain a “pass” or “fail” judgment.
  3. The last scenario is that you run out of time. If you’ve yet to show with a 95% certainty that you are above or below the passing standard, and if you haven’t answered all 145 questions when you get to the five-hour mark, the computer will evaluate the last 60 ability estimates to determined if your answers were consistently above or below the passing threshold.

How Much Time Per NCLEX-RN Question Am I Allowed?

Unlike other exams that have time limits per question or per section, you can spend as much time on the NCLEX exam questions as you want to; there is no time limit. However, remember that the test will end after five hours, so be aware of your pacing as you take the exam.

Are There Any Breaks During the NCLEX-RN Exam?

There are two “scheduled” breaks during the NCLEX exam that are optional. The first break is after the first two hours of testing, and the second break is after three-and-a-half hours of testing. 

A few things to know about your scheduled breaks:

  • The clock doesn’t stop. Both breaks count against your overall testing time of five hours.
  • All candidates choosing to take their scheduled break must leave the testing room.
  • Any personal item you access during your break (e.g., wallets or purses) may be inspected by the test administrator (TA).
  • You will be required to provide a palm vein scan both before your break and after your break.

If you need to take an unscheduled break for any reason during your exam, raise your hand and request a break from the TA. But remember, the clock doesn’t stop for scheduled or unscheduled breaks. 

Some test candidates decide not to take their scheduled breaks because they are worried about their time allotment. When making this decision, keep in mind the effect testing fatigue can have as you move through the exam. Breaks can be a good way to relax, refresh, and regroup in order to perform your best on the items still to come.

What Types of Questions Are Asked in the NCLEX-RN Exam?

NCSBN will be integrating new item types with the launch of the Next Generation NCLEX in April 2023, but current candidates can expect to see these item types . . .

  • Single best response items (radio button)
  • Multiple-response items that require a candidate to select all correct responses (Only ONE option or up to ALL options may be correct)
  • Fill-in-the-blank items that require a candidate to type in number(s) in a calculation item (text box)
  • Hot spot items that ask a candidate to identify one or more area(s) on a picture or graphic (image coordinates based)
  • Ordered response items that require a candidate to rank order or move options to provide the correct answer (sorting)
  • Chart/exhibit format in which candidates will be presented with a problem and will need to read the information in the chart/exhibit to answer the problem
  • Audio/video item format with the candidate presented with audio/video clip and headphones to listen/view and select the option that applies
  • Graphic options instead of text for the answer options that require selection of a graphic as an appropriate answer
  • Any item formats, including standard multiple-choice items, may include multimedia, charts, tables, or graphic images

So, Let’s Review . . . 

The NCLEX-RN exam has 75–145 items and you are permitted up to five hours to complete the exam. There are no time constraints per question, but be aware of your overall time. You have the option to take two scheduled breaks during the exam. And there are several different item types you will face on exam day.

Good luck on your NCLEX-RN exam!

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COVID-19 Impact to NCLEX Candidates, NCSBN. Retrieved 5/9/2022 from

2019 NCLEX-RN Test Plan, NCSBN. Retrieved November 2021 from

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