NCLEX Facts and FAQ

Some general info from the NCSBN website about the NCLEX related to common questions seen on allnurses. Nursing Students NCLEX Article


NCLEX Facts and FAQ

Post your NCLEX related questions on this thread.

NCLEX-RN test plan:



NCLEX-PN test plan:



Pass/Fail Rules (Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) | NCSBN)

The computer decides whether you passed or failed the NCLEX using one of three rules:

  1. 95% Confidence Interval Rule
  2. Maximum-Length Exam Rule
  3. Run-out-of-time (R.O.O.T.) Rule

See the links for helpful videos...the number questions you had does not determine whether you passed or failed.

Question: Is it true that candidates who receive the minimum number of items and the last item is "easy" will fail the examination?

Candidates cannot reliably identify which items are easy and which are difficult with regard to the NCLEX scale. At the end of an examination, a candidate is usually receiving items that they have approximately a 50% chance of answering correctly. Typically, candidates regard items that they can answer correctly only half the time as difficult. The candidate's sense of what is easy and what is difficult is relative to their ability. Because the examination is adaptive, both high and low ability candidates will think the items at the end of the exam are challenging.

Question: If a candidate fails with 75 items, does this mean they did very poorly?

This means that it took only the minimum number of items for the scoring algorithm to determine with 95% certainty that the candidate's nursing ability was below the passing standard.

Question: If a student runs out of time, why are only the last 60 items looked at?

To ensure adequate content coverage, candidates must answer at least 60 operational items to pass the NCLEX. To be consistent with the minimum number of items required to pass the NCLEX, the run-out-of-time stopping rule reviews candidate's ability estimates on the last 60 operational items answered.

Question: Is it possible for the LPN/VN examination to end before 85 items or the RN to end before 75 items?

No, this is not possible. The LPN/VN examination length ranges from 85-205 items. The RN examination length ranges from 75-265. It is possible, however, for a candidate to be administered fewer than the minimum amount of items and to run out of time. In that case the candidate would not pass because they did not receive a complete examination.

Question: Are candidates randomly selected to receive maximum length examinations?

Items are administered following the principles of CAT. Candidates are NOT randomly selected to receive a designated number of examination items. As a candidate takes the examination, items are selected based on the candidate's response to previous items. The exam ends when it can be determined with 95% confidence that a candidate's performance is either above or below the passing standard, regardless of the number of items answered or the amount of testing time elapsed (six-hour maximum time period for the NCLEX-RN examination and five hour maximum time period for the NCLEX-PN examination).

Question: Do candidates have to know and answer all items in a test plan category correctly?

Candidates do not need to answer all items in a particular test plan category correctly to pass the NCLEX. The NCLEX is a prelicensure assessment used to identify candidates that can demonstrate sufficient nursing ability to practice entry-level nursing. Pass/fail decisions on the NCLEX are based on global entry-level nursing competence, not by subtest areas.

Question: On the Candidate Performance Report (CPR), what does "Near the Passing Standard" mean statistically?

"Near the Passing Standard" means that the scoring algorithm is not able to determine with 95% certainty whether a particular candidate's ability estimate is clearly above or clearly below the passing standard in a content area. In other words, the candidate's 95% confidence interval for his/her ability estimate encompasses the passing standard.

Source: How the NCLEX Works | NCSBN

Question: What are the cognitive levels of the test items on the 2013 NCLEX-RN® Test Plan?

Since the practice of nursing requires the application of knowledge, skills and abilities, the majority of items on the examination are written at the application or higher levels of cognitive ability using Bloom's taxonomy and revised taxonomy (Bloom, 1956; Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). These "higher level" items require more complex thought processing and problem solving. For example, a pediatric client undergoing a medical procedure may additionally have a mental illness and therefore all factors must be considered in order to prepare the client for the procedure and to correctly answer the item.

Question: What percentage of test items are allocated for nursing practice specialty areas such as Pediatric Nursing?

The framework for the test plan is based on "Clients Needs"; therefore, it is not possible to specify the percentage of test items that address a particular nursing specialty such as Pediatric Nursing. Nursing content related to this nursing practice specialty can be found in many areas of the test plan. At first glance, it may seem as though the only test plan category to assess Pediatric Nursing competencies is the "Health Promotion and Maintenance" category where age-related activities are specified; however, a more detailed analysis reveals that many test plan areas address the care competencies required for Pediatric Nursing. It should be noted that there are similar analogies for other nursing practice specialties and sub-specialties such as Psychiatric Nursing and Geriatric Nursing.

Source: Preparing Students for the NCLEX | NCSBN

Question: When will I get my results?

Candidates whose board of nursing participates in the Quick Results Service* can receive their 'unofficial' results 48 hours after their exam date and time (a fee is required). Official exam results are available only from the boards of nursing/regulatory bodies (BONs/RBs) and will be mailed to candidates approximately six weeks after taking the exam. Pearson VUE and NCSBN do not provide exam results. *only applies to candidates seeking licensure in the U.S.

Links to all BON/RB websites and contact information are available on the Contact a BON/RB page.

For more information about getting NCLEX results, visit the Results Reporting section.

Question: If I fail the NCLEX, when can I take it again?

Candidates must wait a minimum of 45 days between each exam. This length of time is determined by the board of nursing/regulatory body (BON/RB)s validity dates. The NCSBN retake policy allows candidates to retake their exam 45 days after administration of their exam. Candidates who have applied for licensure/registration with a participating BON/RBday period, unless limited to fewer retakes by the desired jurisdiction of licensure/registration. Candidates are encouraged to contact the BONs/RBs for their policy on NCLEX retakes.

Once you reregister for the NCLEX, the length of time determined by the BON/RB will be reflected in the new ATT's validity dates.

Question: How many times can I take the NCLEX?

NCSBN does not limit the number of times a candidate may attempt the NCLEX. Based on its policy or law, individual boards of nursing/regulatory bodies may have additional restrictions on this basic requirement, such as longer wait time between retests and limitation on number of exam attempts. Candidates should contact their board of nursing/regulatory body for exam retake rules specific to that jurisdiction.

Question: Have any studies been done on how long a candidate waits after completing a nursing program and the chances of passing/failing the exam?

See the research study on NCLEX Pass Rates: An Investigation Into the Effect of Lag Time and Retake Attempts.

Question: What is the average number of items tested per candidate?

In 2012, the average number of items (questions) administered per candidate was around 119 on the NCLEX-RN and 117 on the NCLEX-PN.

Question: What is the average length of candidate exam?

Currently, an average RN exam lasts for 2.5 hours and an average PN exam lasts for 2.3 hours.

Question: How many candidates run out of time?

Currently, about 2% of NCLEX candidates run out of time on their exams. This percentage has been consistent since 2005. The run out of time rates are similar for the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN.

Find more information about how CAT determines a pass or fail result when a candidate runs out of time.

Question: How many candidates receive the maximum number of items

About 20% candidates receive the maximum number of items: 265 items for the NCLEX-RN exam and 205 items for the NCLEX-PN exam.

Question: What are the current statistics of the likelihood to pass the NCLEX on 2nd, 3rd and 4th attempts?

A research study addressing the relationship between retake attempts and NCLEX performance was published in JONA: Healthcare, Law, Ethics and Regulations. Bibliography of this study is as follows:

Woo, A., Wendt, A., & Liu, W. (2009). NCLEX pass rates: An investigation into effect of lag time and retake attempts. Journal of Nursing Administration: Healthcare, Law, Ethics, and Regulation, 11(1), 23-26.


Question: Is it true that the screen just stops without specific indications that the exam is completed?

No. There is a message that appears on the candidate's computer screen, which states "Examination is ended."


Question: What is an alternate item format?

An alternate item format (previously known as an innovative item format) is an exam item, or question, that uses a format other than standard, four-option, multiple-choice items to assess candidate ability. Alternate item formats may include:

  • Multiple-response items that require a candidate to select two or more responses
  • Fill-in-the-blank items that require a candidate to type in number(s) in a calculation item
  • Hot spot items that ask a candidate to identify one or more area (s) on a picture or graphic
  • Chart/exhibit format where candidates will be presented with a problem and will need to read the information in the chart/exhibit to answer the problem
  • Ordered Response items that require a candidate to rank order or move options to provide the correct answer
  • Audio item format where the candidate is presented an audio clip and uses headphones to listen and select the option that applies
  • Graphic Options that present the candidate with graphics instead of text for the answer options and they will be required to select the appropriate graphic answer

Any item formats, including standard multiple-choice items, may include multimedia, charts, tables or graphic images.

Question: Is there a certain percentage of alternate items on the NCLEX examinations?

There is no established percentage of items with alternate formats that will be administered to candidates. The NCLEX examination is computer adaptive and items are based on the candidate's ability. There are alternate item types in all areas of the test plan, across all difficulty levels.

Question: Is it true that if a candidate misses any medication calculation questions they will automatically fail the NCLEX?

It is NOT true that if a candidate misses a calculation item they will automatically fail the NCLEX examination. All items "count" the same.

Question:Do multiple response items have less than 3 correct responses?

Multiple response items are described as having five or six options with a minimum of two correct (key) options. Items contain the statement "Select all that apply". At this time, NCSBN requires the candidate to utilize their comprehensive knowledge to determine the appropriate amount of applicable maximum correct answers to each item. In short, we disclose how many, at a minimum can be correct; however, we do not disclose how many at a maximum may/may not be correct.


I hope this is helpful.

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