National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)

The NCLEX is a nationally recognized examination required to become either a registered nurse (NCLEX-RN) or a licensed practical nurse (NCLEX-PN). The examinations are developed and maintained by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). State boards of nursing, which ultimately will issue or deny a candidate’s nursing license, consider the results of the NCLEX when deciding whether or not to issue a nursing license.

According to NCLEX’s fact sheet, from January through June 2021, 82.74% of RN candidates for the NCLEX-RN and 79.06% of practical nurse candidates for the NCLEX-PN were taking their respective exams for the first time. First-time international educated candidates came from the Philippines, India, Puerto Rico, Kenya, Nepal and other countries.

NCLEX Pass Rates

The NCLEX pass rates for all RN candidates in the first six months of 2021 was 72.94%, with the highest pass rate for RNs with bachelor’s degrees. The practical nurse pass rate for the NCLEX was 66.3% with the highest pass rate for first-time examinees educated in the United States at 79.33%. Some universities boast high pass rates as a possible indication of the value of their program.

NCLEX Application and Registration

To take your NCLEX, you must submit an application for licensure/registration to the nursing regulatory board in the state of your practice, register for the NCLEX and pay the applicable fee. NCLEX needs to receive notice of eligibility from your nursing regulatory board within 365 days to proceed with examination. You may register for the NCLEX online or by phone.

NCLEX Fees and Payments

When registering for the NCLEX, you will also submit a registration fee of $200 for U.S. licensure, $360 CAD for Canadian licensure or $200 for Australian licensure.

There are additional fees for international scheduling, changing your nurse regulatory board after registration, changing examination type (RN/PN) after registration, changing exam language and your state’s nursing regulatory board fees.

Taking the NCLEX

The NCLEX is offered at test centers domestically and internationally. You must schedule an appointment online or by phone through Pearson VUE, after you’ve received an authorization to test (ATT).

NCLEX-RN

The NCLEX-RN is composed of questions (PDF, 688KB) on:

  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Management of Care
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential

The NCLEX-RN questions can range from 75 to 265 items. Fifteen of these are pretest items that are not scored. Total time allotment for the NCLEX-RN is six hours, which includes the tutorial, sample items and optional breaks.

NCLEX-PN

The NCLEX-PN is composed of questions (PDF, 590KB)  on:

  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Coordinated Care
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential

NCLEX-PN candidates must answer a minimum of 85 items out of 205 within the allotted five hours. The time includes tutorial, sample questions and all breaks.

How to Prepare for the NCLEX

Since taking—and passing—the NCLEX is an important step in becoming a nurse, some tips on how to pass the NCLEX may be helpful. Study methods may help you prepare for the exam and gain a better score. Everyone’s best study method is individual to them, so while some of these tips may be helpful, they don’t guarantee success. If you’re wondering how to study for the NCLEX, here are some ideas:

  1. Take Time to Recharge. If you’re ready to take the NCLEX, it means you’ve completed a nursing program. If you are able, schedule your exam a bit farther ahead and budget for a week or so of relaxing and decompressing after school. A concept known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law suggests stress can improve performance, but only up to a point. If you are experiencing too much stress, it stops being helpful and instead can make tasks more difficult. 
  2. Practice Sample Exams. One way to help study for the NCLEX is to take a practice exam in a casual setting. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) offers NCLEX practice exams (NPEs) for the RN and the PN exams. These must be completed within five continuous hours and can only be completed once. For self-paced learning before you dive into an official practice exam, there are books that offer hundreds of sample questions, often pulled from previous tests. One example is Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN® Examination.
  3. Invest in a Study Guide or Prep Course. While flashcards from school may be useful, there is an entire industry devoted to helping nurses pass the NCLEX. Test-prep companies such as Kaplan, as well as the NCSBN, offer weeks-long study courses that may help with test-taking strategy. There are also a number of study guides with practice questions and reviews of key portions of the exam available for purchase. 
  4. Study With a Partner. While some may prefer hitting the books alone, others appreciate studying with peers who are taking the exam. Studying with a partner or group may be helpful because not only does it provide accountability and camaraderie, but explaining a concept  is an effective way to make sure you understand the material. Study partners can also help decipher questions and find solutions much more collaboratively than a book. 
  5. Manage Your Time. Preparing for a major licensing exam like the NCLEX should be more like a marathon than a sprint. Research suggests cramming long periods of study and repetition into a short time can improve scores in the short term, but little information is retained long-term (PDF 340 KB). Studying for shorter periods consistently over a long time may help students retain information better.  
  6. Understand Your Unique Study Style. Not every study method works for everyone. Some people thrive in an interactive or instructor-led study group, while others work best on their own with a workbook. It’s important to evaluate your own academic performance and use study methods that fit your learning style. 

Information on NCLEX fees, questions and other information found on this page was last retrieved as of September 2021. For the most up-to-date information please refer to the NCLEX website.