What Should I Know about NCLEX?

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NCLEX is a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), meaning that it is customized to each candidate taking it. The test will have 75 to 265 questions. Fifteen pretest questions are included, which mean that they do not count toward your score. The test is called adaptive because when you answer a question correctly, the following question will be at a higher level. Therefore a candidate who passes NCLEX-RN with 75 questions is able to answer high-level questions correctly and remain above the passing standard set by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN, 2009) for safe practice.


If the candidate answers a question incorrectly, a question is provided that is at the same level or a lower level. A candidate must stay above the passing standard to be successful. The test ends when the candidate has a score that is clearly above or clearly below the passing standard.

The candidate will be allowed up to 6 hours to complete the test. If the candidate runs out of time, the “rule of 60” applies. This means that the candidate will be successful if the competency level for the last 60 questions was above the passing standard. Some candidates have failed the NCLEX because of “rapid guessing.” Therefore it is important to take your time in reading and answering questions.

To summarize, the test is complete when one of the three following situations has occurred:


  1. I t is determined that the candidate is above or below the passing standard with 95% confidence.
  2. A total of 265 questions have been completed.
  3. The 6 hours provided to complete the test have passed.

The questions in the NCLEX test bank are divided into client needs categories. These categories reflect the percentages effective April 2010:

  1. Safe and effective care environment
  • Management of care (16%–22%)
  • Safety and infection control (8%–14%)
  1. Health promotion and maintenance (6%–12%)
  2. Psychosocial integrity (6%–12%)
  3. Physiologic integrity
  • Basic care and comfort (6%–12%)
  • Pharmacological and parenteral therapy (13%–19%)
  • Reduction of risk potential (10%–16%)
  • Physiological adaptation (11%–17%)

Your test will be designed so that you are asked the specific percentage of questions for each category.

Scheduling the Test

  1. The applicant’s credentials are submitted to the state board of nursing for approval to test.
  2. Test fees must be paid.
  3. The applicant is provided with an Authorization to Test (ATT) code number.
  4. The candidate is responsible for scheduling an appointment to test. First-time candidates are given an appointment within 30 days.

Schedule a time that is best for you. Do you feel more alert in the morning or would a late-afternoon appointment be better for you?

Prior to Test Day  

Go to the site so you know exactly where it is and how long it will take you to get there on time.

Test Day

Arrive at the site early; you may forfeit your appointment if you are 30 minutes late.

Preparation for Exam Day

“The Night before Testing”

Once the big day approaches, you should stop studying early in the day and spend time relaxing by doing something you enjoy, such as visiting a friend, going out to eat, or watching a movie. Participating in a physical activity is a good idea because it will help you get a good night’s sleep. However, before you go to bed, organize everything you need and   set two alarms so that you have plenty of time in the morning and arrive at the testing site slightly early, without rushing.   Most importantly, go to bed early.

“The Day of Testing”

Start your day as you always do but make sure you eat good, nutritious meals. Make sure you know where the testing site is and plan two different routes. Dress comfortably, in layers to accommodate variations in room temperature. Have your ID handy and, most importantly, think positively!

What to Bring

  • Valid ID
  • Authorization to test (ATT)

Last-Minute Test Tips

  1. Improve your score by:
  • Reading the question and all answer choices before making a selection
  • Making sure you understand what the question is asking
  • Taking your time to be sure you have answered all questions as best as you can
  1. Be in charge of how you use your time by:
  • Pacing you—avoid rapid guessing or spending too much time on any one question
  • Doing your best and then moving on
  • Wearing a watch and keeping track of your time
  1. Wear earplugs if you become distracted easily.
  2. Do not change your answers unless you are uncertain about your first answer choice.
  3. Answer every question. If you do not know the answer, make the most intelligent guess you can.
  4. As you answer the questions, eliminate choices that you know are incorrect.
  5. If you can eliminate two wrong answers, your chance of choosing the correct answer has improved.
  6. Find key words or phrases in the question that will help you choose the correct answer.
  7. Be sure you are responding to the question that is being asked.
  8. In using scratch paper or eraser board for a math question, make sure you copy the answer correctly.
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