NCLEX: 7 Essential Facts You Need to Know About the Exam

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Study Consultant at Gradehacker

Updated March 1, 2022

So you have decided to go for an ADN or a BSN degree since you already know the difference between these two nursing programs, or maybe you decided to go for an LPN degree. Everything sounds like it is falling into place, but you hear a new term that pops out all the time while you do more research: the NCLEX. 

Before you start to freak out, you have to know the basics. The NCLEX is an exam process you need to become a nurse in the US. There is a lot of information about this exam, so much that it becomes overwhelming for someone who is just starting their journey through a nursing program.

Also, the fact that you might depend entirely on the result of a single exam can be a frightening possibility that you never asked for in the first place.

Here at Gradehacker, we are experts in helping college students, and since many of our clients follow a path in healthcare, we have developed this guide about the 7 Essential Things You Should Know About The NCLEX.

Hopefully, once you’re done reading, you will realize that this exam is a logical step you have to take once you finish your initial academic journey into nursing. The NCLEX is the last leap before you receive the prize you have been working so hard to get.

So with that clear, let’s start with the basics:

1) What does NCLEX mean? Why is it so Important?

NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. This is a standardized test that every state regulatory board uses to identify which candidates are ready to become a practical (LPN) or registered nurse (RN). It is designed to measure the nurse’s competency and skills and, most importantly, allows you to work as a nurse in the US.

NCLEX 7 Essential Questions You Need to Know About the Exam

2) What are the Prerequisites to take the NCLEX?

First of all, it is important to clarify that each nursing regulatory body (NRB) has its own eligibility requirements. So, you’ll have to contact the NRB you seek licensure/registration in to know what prerequisites they ask for.

Having said that, the most important basic requirement is having the appropriate nursing certification.

To take the NCLEX-PN Exam you need to have a licensed practical nursing (LPN) degree or licensed vocational nursing (LVN). Similarly, to take the NCLEX-RN Exam, you need an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).

Once you graduate, the NRB will declare you ready. You will receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) by email that will allow you to make an appointment to take your exam in any authorized testing center nearby you.

3) Are NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN the same thing?

No. They are not. Anyone who wants to work as a nurse is required to take and pass the NCLEX exam. However, there are two variants of the test, depending on your educational level.

Those who hold a practical nursing diploma to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) must pass the NCLEX-PN. Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree holders who wish to become a registered nurse (RN) must pass the NCLEX-RN.

The main difference between these exams is that NCLEX-RN focuses more on the management of care while the NCLEX-PN focuses on coordination. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCLEX-RN Exam had more questions than the NCLEX-PN, however, since October 2020 you get between 75 and 145 items in both exams. In addition to this, the minimum of correct answers is 60, while the maximum number of scored items is 130.

NCLEX 7 Essential Questions You Need to Know About the Exam

4) How is the NCLEX set up?

The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test. This means that you will take the exam on a computer set in a testing center of your choice. Second, according to your initial performance in the exam, the difficulty of the following questions will be determined

For example, if you miss the previous item, the next one will be a bit easier. On the other hand, if you get one correct answer, the next one will be a more difficult question. This format is created to get a more accurate result in which areas you are better at or need improvement.

Adaptive testing also affects the length of the exam. Depending on your performance, you get between 75 to 145 questions. However, you will always have 5 hours to complete the process with breaks included. About 90% of the questions are multiple-choice while the rest is divided between fill in the blank, chart reading, audio listening, or similar types of questions.

5) What Topics are covered in the NCLEX? Is it Difficult?

Areas of Practice

The NCLEX is divided into four areas of practice no matter which variant you decide to take which are the following:

NCLEX 7 Essential Questions You Need to Know About the Exam


The questions also come in three levels of difficulty:

Even though 90% of the exam is made up of level 2 and 3 questions, you will be happy to know that, based on the results from 2021, the total percentage of first-time test candidates in the US to pass was 82.48%.

With the right preparation through study, practice exams, and stress-management practices, you will ace the test without any doubt!

6) How Can You Register to Take the NCLEX Test?

The registration process depends if you take the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN Exam, but the main difference will be which one you select as an option while filling out the online registration.

About six to eight weeks before you graduate, you will receive two applications: one for licensure and one to take the NCLEX exam. After you complete these applications and submit them to your nursing school, you will receive the ATT (Authorization To Test). Once you get the authorization and only after you get the authorization, can you register to take the exam at the NCLEX candidate website and create an account.

The test has a cost of $200, and you can schedule an exam appointment to take it online through the NCLEX candidate website or by calling the Pearson VUE Testing Centers directly.

7) How Will the Day of Your NCLEX Exam Be?

After you make your exam appointment, you will arrive at the Pearson VUE Testing Center of your choice. Once you’re there, you will be greeted by a receptionist, and you will have to fill out the check-in paperwork. It is advised to arrive 30 minutes earlier so you can do this process calmly.

You will then be asked which variant of the test you will be taking, and you will get a sheet with information. Once you are done with that, you will be asked to provide a Government Issued ID that includes a photo, a signature in a digital pad, fingerprint, and palm vein scanning, which sounds threatening but it is just a way to check that you are, in fact, you. Then a digital photo will be taken, and you’ll be ready to go!

You can put your personal items in a locker (since phones and other devices are not allowed). You will meet your test administrator and undergo another quick identification process; they’ll give you a calculator if you need it, and an erasable note board. You will be escorted to your testing station with a computer and your exam available. Remember that these tests are proctored so your audio and video will be recorded.

When you need breaks, or when you are done, you can signal to the administrator by raising your hand so they can go help you. All centers are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, so whatever assistance you need will be provided.

NCLEX Exam highlights and tips

Just in case you forgot something, let’s review once more the main aspects of the NCLEX

  • NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination.

    It is a test that will allow you to work as a nurse in the USA.

  • The NCLEX has two variants

    The NCLEX-RN Exam, which you can access after completing an ADN or BSN degree, and the NCLEX-PN Exam, which you can take after completing a licensed practical nurse or vocational nurse degree.

  • The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test.

    Meaning that you will get slightly easier or difficult questions according to your performance.

  • The most common question types in the NCLEX are multiple-choice, but other formats are involved, such as audio listening, chart interpretation, etc.

    The questions have three levels of difficulty: Level 1, general knowledge, Level 2 analysis and application, and Level 3, academic knowledge.

  • The total percentage of approval for this exam was 82.48%

    In 2021 for first-time candidates.

  • There are 4 topics involved in the NCLEX:

    Effective care, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

  • To register to take the exam, you will receive an ATT (Authorization to Test).

    Once you get that, you can register to take the exam at the NCLEX candidate website, create an account, and make an appointment at your closest Pearson VUE Testing Centers.

  • On the day of the exam

    You will have to bring an acceptable identification that includes a photo. You’ll also need to sign digitally, register your fingerprint, do a palm vein scan and have your photo taken. An administrator will show you the way to your computer with the exam ready to be started. No phones, watches, purses, or wallets are allowed in this room.

NCLEX 7 Essential Questions You Need to Know About the Exam

Usually, people think the NCLEX exams are quite stressful because they have to prepare themselves to take it and may feel overwhelmed with all the information they find online about the exam itself and the online comments from other test-takers.

However, always think about this as a culmination of your career. You won’t just be thrown to the lions, your classes and experiences along with studying will be your best tools for overcoming this stage.

We hope that this guide provided you with better insight into how this last step into your future is nothing to be afraid of if you have the right information.

While you are going through the academic journey that will lead you to get your nursing license and eventually take the NCLEX, you can check how Gradehacker can help you better understand your nursing academic journey with this article about what BSN and ADN degrees are. Good luck with your test in advance!

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega is a Study Consultant and Content Creator for Gradehacker. She has a degree in Education and Literature and is currently working on getting a master’s degree in Linguistics. Even though words, languages, and books are her thing, science and psychology were her hidden passion for many years. Luckily, Gradehacker has allowed her to use all that knowledge by helping many clients with everything they need. Javiera considers herself a proud nerd who likes to learn and read about everything she can find. From movies and comics to microbiology and genetics, every topic is interesting for her. Her curiosity has no limits. Find her on LinkedIn