NCLEX - National Council Licensure Examination for Nurses

Examination Required for Nurse Licensure in the US and Canada

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NCLEX is an exam required to get licensed to legally practice as a nurse in the United States and Canada. NCLEX is an acronym that stands for National Council Licensure Examination.

After successful completion of an accredited nursing school, a prospective nurse must pass one of two versions of the NCLEX to obtain a license to practice. The NCLEX-RN is required to become a Registered Nurse (RN), and the NCLEX-PN is required to practice as a Practical Nurse (LPN or LVN).

Successful passing of the NCLEX is required by the state boards of nursing in the United States and 10 provincial/territorial boards of nursing in Canada. The pass rates for those taking the NCLEX-RN for the first time was 82 percent in 2016 for those educated in the US. The overall pass rate 72.5 percent in 2016.

Registering for the NCLEX Test

You must first complete all of the requirements for a nursing license in the state where you wish to get your initial nursing license. For example, if you want a license for Oregon, you will take the NCLEX in Oregon and must meet Oregon's requirements, no matter in which state you completed your nursing degree.

You will register for the NCLEX with Pearson VUE, the official testing company, with forms provided by your nursing school. You'll receive a registration acknowledgment by email and then you can register for an exam date, time, and location. You must pay the current fee for the exam.

Format of the NCLEX Examination

The NCLEX examinations are administered at a Pearson Professional Center testing location using computerized adaptive testing (CAT). The test takes a maximum of six hours, with 75 to 265 questions. There are pre-programmed optional breaks at two hours and 3.5 hours.

You must show government identification and cannot bring electronics or watches into the exam room.

You may share the exam room with people who are taking other professional examinations. You are assigned a computer. Each person taking the NCLEX will be presented different questions in different orders.

The number of questions is variable because they are presented depending on your answers to previous questions. The test will stop at the point the examination has determined you have passed or failed, or if all of the questions or done or the six-hour time limit is reached.

The questions are mostly multiple choice questions. New format questions have been introduced including those with multiple responses, fill in the blank, hot spot, and ordered response questions.

Categories of the NCLEX

The four categories of questions on the NCLEX for both RN and Practical Nurses are Safe and Effective Care Management, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity. Study programs and guides are available for those who want to practice for the test.

Passing and Failing the NCLEX

The NCLEX is pass/fail with no numerical scores. You will not know whether you have passed or failed until you receive a notice from your State Board of Nursing approximately two to six weeks after the test date.

If you fail the exam, you will receive a diagnostic profile that shows your test performance and allows you to see where you are weaker and stronger. You can take the exam again 45 to 90 days after your last examination.