6 Things to Know About the Current NCLEX Exam


What is The NCLEX Exam?

Aspiring nurses must pass the NCLEX exam before applying for licensure. Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), this complex test evaluates nursing candidates’ foundational knowledge and ensures they are qualified to work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

This page introduces six things to consider before taking the NCLEX exam. You may also be interested in a full nursing study guide to the NCLEX exam and information about nursing entrance exams.

1. There Are Two Types of NCLEX Examinations

The NCLEX comes in two different forms. The NCLEX-PN evaluates aspiring practical nurses (also known as licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses). The NCLEX-RN tests registered nursing candidates.

The two tests are similar in some regards, but they come with key differences. The RN exam emphasizes care management and assesses registered nurses’ advanced scope of practice. The PN exam includes more questions about care coordination.

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2. NCLEX Exam Focuses on Four Areas

The NCLEX exam is divided into four main areas of focus: providing a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. Those main categories break further down into specific topics. For instance, the safe and effective care category addresses clients’ rights and responsibilities.

3. NCLEX Exam Offers Questions in Different Formats

The NCLEX follows a variable question format. This means that the computer adapts the questions based on test takers’ performance, so the NCLEX-RN could consist of anywhere from 74-145 questions. This includes 15 pre-test questions that do not count toward test takers’ scores. The NCLEX-PN could deliver 85-205 questions, including 25 non-scored questions. Both exams come with a five-hour time limit.

The test offers questions in different formats, which you can learn how to master with our NCLEX study guide. These formats include multiple choice, fill in the blank, ordered response, and/or hot spot questions. About 80-90% are multiple choice questions.

4. NCLEX Uses a Pass-Fail Scoring System

Instead of offering a percentage-based grade, the NCLEX uses a pass-fail system. However, that system isn’t quite as simple as it might sound.

Not only does the NCLEX exam’s computerized adaptive testing tailor questions to test takers’ aptitudes, but it also determines the scoring process. The test uses questions to estimate candidates’ perceived abilities, then asks additional questions to test whether candidates meet that estimate. Candidates stop receiving questions when the computer analysis system reaches 95% certainty that test-takers pass or fail.

Keep in mind that the length of the exam does not indicate the likelihood of pass or fail results.

5. COVID-19 Impacts NCLEX Procedures

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCSBN introduced changes in 2020 to make testing as safe as possible. By September, some of those changes — like the elimination of 15 practice questions — had expired.

However, others are still being upheld. All candidates must wear masks to the testing facilities and keep them on while taking the exam. Some testing centers have closed, and all must comply with social distancing guidelines. Since fewer testing spots are available, candidates may need to wait a longer time to schedule their exam.

These standards may continue indefinitely; perhaps until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

6. NCLEX Registration Varies by State

In order to register for the NCLEX, candidates must first apply for the proper nursing credential from their state boards of licensure and registration. Since each state sets its own licensure requirements, you should check with your state regulatory board before applying.

Candidates need to take the NCLEX within one year after registering for the exam. Test-takers must pay a $200 fee to take either the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN, which they can do online or over the phone.

Note: The NCLEX exam is expected to change in 2023. Learn more about what means for nursing students.

The NCLEX exam is currently a computer-adaptive test (CAT). After answering one question, the computer adjusts the difficulty level for the next one.

This helps assess your ability more accurately, increasing the efficiency of the exam and decreasing the amount of questions required to pass.

1. The test is computer-adaptive

Adaptive tests are designed to adjust their question difficulty based on a test taker’s performance, making them more fair and accurate tests as each person receives different questions based on their performance. So if you’re having trouble with certain types of questions, the test will automatically give you easier ones; on the other hand, if you’re doing exceptionally well in one subject area, the adaptive system will offer harder questions accordingly.

Many adaptive tests also use a time limit. This makes them more efficient, as there will be fewer questions, saving the candidate valuable time.

This protects the test from cheating, as it’s highly unlikely that two candidates will see identical questions. Adaptive tests utilize question banks with hundreds of unique questions which make them difficult to reuse.

Another advantage of adaptive tests is their capacity as formative assessment tools. This means teachers and trainers can offer candidates more precise feedback on their performances, pinpointing areas where improvement is necessary.

However, for summative assessments it is essential to use equal-difficulty test forms so all candidates can pass the assessment. Doing this ensures accuracy in results and prevents candidates from becoming confused by questions of easy or hard difficulty.

Adaptive tests are not perfect, but they offer a useful way to assess the abilities of different individuals. They can also be utilized in many other ways such as improving formative assessment and providing more precise feedback to trainers. Ultimately, adaptive tests offer invaluable opportunities for learning and teaching, so it is important that they be implemented across as many environments as possible.

2. The test is a multiple-choice exam

Multiple-choice exams are a staple of many subjects. Teachers prefer them because they’re easier to grade than tests requiring written responses, but there are some drawbacks as well.

One of the most prevalent problems with multiple-choice exams is their potential for cheating. Answers can easily be memorized, and many are similar to each other.

Another issue with multiple-choice exams is their absence of formative feedback loops. Many pedagogists believe these tests are “inciting bad habits” in students by focusing solely on right or wrong answers instead of providing a deeper analysis of different responses, which ultimately limits student learning potential (Ramirez, 2013).

To enhance the quality of multiple-choice questions, examiners should create more complex items with detailed explanations and steer clear of distractors such as implausible answers. Ideally, each multiple-choice item should include both a stem and at least three alternative answers.

Examiners should ensure a question is written clearly and precisely, using words or phrases which may be difficult to decipher or interpret, such as “unless,” “never,” or “always.”

For instance, when asked a question about energy, explore potential energy (the stored energy by an object) instead of simply motion energy. Doing this helps students better comprehend the problem at hand and how it must be solved.

When taking a multiple-choice exam, it is essential to know how much time you have left to finish the test. This will enable you to divide your time into segments so that all questions can be completed within the allocated time.

3. The test is a short test

Taking the NCLEX Exam can be intimidating for nursing students, particularly if they are unfamiliar with its format and type of questions. But with proper planning and preparation, your chances for passing and earning your license are much greater.

One of the primary ways to prepare for the NCLEX is by attending an accredited nursing program, which will equip you with all of the knowledge and skills required to pass. Furthermore, study guides and practice tests can help you comprehend material better.

Another way to prepare for the NCLEX is by joining a study group that can offer you support and real-time feedback. Everyone learns differently, so tailor your study style according to what works best for you.

The NCLEX exam has a time limit, so it’s essential that you give each question your full focus. If you don’t answer a question within the allotted time, you won’t be allowed to move forward.

Though the time limit might seem like an inconvenience, it actually serves a beneficial purpose. This is because it helps test takers focus on each question and answer it as accurately as possible, thus increasing their chances of passing the exam.

Additionally, the NCLEX is computer adaptive – that is, it can adjust each question’s difficulty based on past answers. This provides candidates with a more precise assessment of their nursing aptitude.

There is a distinct distinction between the NCLEX and other standardized tests, like the ACT. On other exams, when you find a question difficult to answer, you can leave it and come back later; however, this is not possible on the NCLEX; therefore, give each question your full attention and attempt as many questions as possible.

4. The test is a multiple-choice exam

Multiple-choice exams are assessments in which you are given a question and list of possible answers. They’re frequently found in school and university courses, and can be challenging to take. But there are ways you can prepare yourself so that these tests go smoothly for you – no matter the difficulty level! With these tips in place, chances are good that you’ll pass your multiple choice exam with flying colors!

First and foremost, multiple-choice exams are not meant to trick or mislead students; rather, they serve only to assess their knowledge and abilities.

Second, a well written multiple-choice question avoids obvious wrong or implausible distractors. For instance, if the answer to a question is “Detroit”, there should be at least one other city that would be suitable.

Third, questions must be grammatically correct and have a consistent stem. For instance, if the question asks which artist painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?, then the correct answer would be “Saint Thomas Aquinas” instead of “Detroit”.

If you are uncertain how to answer a multiple-choice question, read it aloud and make sure all options fit grammatically. Doing this will help you comprehend the question better and make selecting an accurate response much simpler.

Finally, it is essential to remember that the multiple-choice section of the test only counts points if you choose the correct answer for each question. This could prove challenging for some students who may feel compelled to give all questions a random response in order to increase their chances of getting some right.

5. The test is a multiple-choice exam with a time limit

Multiple-choice exams are tests in which you are presented with a question and asked to choose the correct answer from among a list of possible responses. You will then be instructed to circle or fill in this answer on a bubble sheet.

On the NCLEX exam, you will have a list of 4-5 answers for each question. Each response carries a weighted percentage and your final score on the test will depend on how many correct answers you select.

One major advantage of multiple-choice exams is their efficiency; they take less time to administer than tests requiring written responses, however they can also be more vulnerable to cheating.

When studying for the NCLEX, it’s essential to remember that never answer a question without knowing its correct answer. Take your time reading through choices so you can ensure you understand each question thoroughly and correctly. This will guarantee an accurate score on test day!

When taking a multiple-choice exam, always select the most accurate option. It may seem like your initial choice is best, but make sure you consider all options before making a choice.

Particularly with more complex questions than the typical multiple-choice exam, it is wise to study its definition and how it applies to your chosen response.