Things to Know About the NCLEX-RN® Exam

Things to Know About the NCLEX-RN® Exam

Congratulations! You’ve earned (or are working towards earning) your nursing degree and you’re preparing for a long, fruitful, and rewarding career in healthcare. But for you, it’s more than a career, it’s a calling. And you’re almost there!

The last step in preparation for being a registered nurse is taking and passing the NCLEX-RN. No doubt, this isn’t news to you; the NCLEX-RN exam has probably been on your radar all through school. It’s possible that you’ve heard stories from friends, other students, or online forums, but the exam isn’t something to be afraid of. If you’ve prepared thoroughly, be confident that you are going to succeed on test day.

Here is some information about the exam that will be helpful for you as you get ready to launch into the world of a licensed RN:

1. The NCLEX-RN is a Computer Adaptive Examination

Unlike exams that are graded on a scale of 0–100%, the NCLEX-RN is a pass/fail exam graded through an algorithm designed for maximum efficiency. As a candidate takes the exam, items are selected based on the candidate’s response to previous items. The exam ends when it can be determined that the test-taker is responding in a way that is either above or below the passing standard. This means that different test-takers may answer a different number of items and have varying lengths of testing time.

2. You’re Going to Get Some Items Wrong

Because this is a computer adaptive examination, don’t be disappointed when you face items you haven’t seen before (beyond your level of education or experience). Test items are chosen based on an estimate of the candidate’s ability; therefore, candidates have about a 50% chance of answering each item correctly.

Your first question may be rather easy. Assuming you answer it correctly, the algorithm selects an item that is slightly more difficult. If you answer that incorrectly, you will then be asked a question slightly less difficult. The algorithm will continue to push to higher levels to determine competency. This means you will undoubtedly face items to which you will not know the answer.

3. How Long is the NCLEX-RN?

The length of the test varies. It all depends on your responses. The minimum number of questions is 75 and the maximum number is 265. Candidates are allowed up to 6 hours to complete the exam with two optional breaks. Currently, the average NCLEX-RN exam lasts two-and-a-half hours.

[Click here to see adjustments to the exam due to the COVID-19 pandemic]

4. Content on the NCLEX-RN

There are four basic content areas on the NCLEX-RN: Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity.

The majority of questions will be multiple choice with four possible answer choices. However, not all questions are multiple-choice. You will also see alternate types of questions like fill-in-the-blank, chart/exhibits, ordered response questions, and hot spot items that ask a candidate to identify one or more area(s) on a picture or graphic, and graphic options.

5. What Percentage of Candidates Pass the Exam on the First Attempt

In 2018, the pass rate for first-time candidates was 88%. The pass rate for repeat test-takers was only 43%.

Need more detailed information? Learn more about the distribution of content for the NCLEX-RN exam


If you’re preparing to take the NCLEX-RN exam, preparation is key. Check out UWorld Nursing and see why we are the industry standard for NCLEX-RN test prep. With questions that mimic the exam and detailed rationales for correct and incorrect answers, UWorld will have you well prepared to succeed on test day and join the next generation of registered nurses.

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