What Is the NCLEX? (and Other Common Questions)

female nursing student studying for NCLEX exam

Nursing is an ideal career field for individuals who want to make a positive impact on the lives of others. It is also ideal for people who enjoy the idea of lifelong learning and continual professional improvement.

Furthermore, effective nurses are typically those who remain calm under pressure and can think well on their feet. If this describes you, then getting your nursing degree is the first step in your journey toward a rewarding career. However, it is not the only step. After graduation, you will need to pass the NCLEX before you can be licensed to practice as a nurse.

What Is the NCLEX?

The NCLEX is the National Council Licensure Examination. All aspiring nurses must pass this exam in order to acquire licensure, which is required to work as a nursing professional. Unlike most tests, the NCLEX tests more than your nursing knowledge. It also focuses on your ability to apply critical thinking and analytical reasoning to real-world situations. In other words, it assesses your ability to make evidence-based nursing decisions.

There are two types of exams. The NCLEX-RN is taken by graduates who wish to become a registered nurse (RN). The NCLEX-PN is for those who wish to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or vocational nurses (LVNs). Generally, students who earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree will take the NCLEX-RN. The NCLEX-RN test explores patient care management and nursing leadership, whereas the NCLEX-PN covers topics related to working under the supervision of RNs.

What Is the NCLEX-RN CAT?

The NCLEX-RN CAT is a computerized adaptive testing model. All nursing degree graduates must take this form of the NCLEX. It is an interactive testing process that efficiently measures nursing competencies. All test-takers will start by answering an easy question. If they answer it correctly, the computer provides a slightly more difficult question. If the answer is incorrect, the computer provides a slightly easier question. In this manner, test-takers proceed through the NCLEX. Since each question is targeted to the test-taker’s particular ability level, it is able to measure competency more accurately.

The NCLEX-RN CAT requires nursing candidates to answer a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 145 questions. If a candidate is not quite in the passing range, they will continue to answer questions until they either do achieve a passing grade or the time runs out.

Am I Eligible to Take the NCLEX?

Eligibility is determined on a state-by-state basis. You will need to check with the nursing regulatory body (NRB) for the state in which you plan to practice. Through the NRB in your state, you will apply for an authorization to test (ATT). Once you acquire an ATT, you will be eligible to schedule your exam.

The process of getting an ATT and registering can take a little while, so be sure to do it well in advance of your preferred test date. Note that you will also need to pay a testing fee to Pearson VUE, which is subject to change from time to time. Once the NRB has grants eligibility, you will be able to schedule your exam date.

How Can I Prepare for the NCLEX?

You will definitely want to spend plenty of time preparing for the NCLEX. However, do not wait too long after graduating from your nursing degree program to take the test. You are best advised to take the test while your nursing knowledge is still fresh in your mind. It is also helpful to have a general idea of the subject categories covered by the test. They are as follows:

  • Management of care
  • Safety and infection control
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiological integrity

Spend some time each day reviewing topics in each category. For example, under “management of care,” you will want to review topics such as advance directives, continuity of care, case management and ethical practices. Under “safety and infection control,” you should review topics such as dealing with infectious materials, preventing accidents and injuries, using equipment safely and reporting incidents.

It is a good idea to take a few NCLEX-RN practice exams. You can take practice exams online at the website of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). In addition, practice exams are available from various test preparation companies.

What Should I Expect on Exam day?

You will take the exam at a Pearson Professional Center near you. Plan to arrive 30 minutes early. Be sure to bring your identification. You will not be allowed to bring any pens or notepaper into the exam room. Instead, the test administrators will provide an erasable note board and marker. There is an onscreen calculator that you can use as well. Note that once you submit an answer, you cannot return to it later.

Each test-taker is allotted five hours to complete the exam, although you may finish early. There are two scheduled optional breaks. The first is scheduled for the 2-hour mark, and the second is at the 3.5-hour mark. You are able to take non-scheduled breaks as often as you need. It is advisable to take breaks based on your needs to remain fresh throughout the entire exam.

At Grand Canyon University, we are proud of the high first-time NCLEX pass rates of our nursing students. Aspiring nurses are invited to apply for our nursing degree programs, which include the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) program. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore your future at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.