The Dreaded NCLEX

Completion of the NCLEX (NCLEX-RN specifically) is required to practice as a Registered Nurse in the United States. This exam is tough, but it should be. You will have people's lives in your hands everyday so preparing for this is important!

A primary goal in school is to prepare to pass this test. You may be the best student in the world, but that means nothing in the workforce if you don't pass the this test. I am not trying to scare you. I just wish someone would have explained to me what this "big nursing exam" or "nursing boards" was early in nursing school. I would hear the term thrown around, but somehow didn’t really get it until my senior year. This nursing exam is like the Golden Ticket in Willy Wonka—obtainable if you are persistent (with your studying and preparing that is).

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing regulates this exam. If you are getting an associates or bachelors degree, then you will take the NCLEX-RN. If you are studying to become a licensed practical nurse, then you will take the NCLEX-PN. The two tests differ only in the content and number of questions. Everything else is the same.

The tests are computerized adaptive tests. A tutorial tells you how to take the test before you begin on test day, however because you are on this website, you should find it pretty self explanatory. For the RN test you will have up to six hours to complete the test. For the PN test you will have up to 5 hours to complete the test. The NCBSN reports that more than half of all test takers finish in 2.5 hours. You are allowed breaks (bathroom, etc.) throughout the tests, however extra time is NOT added for these breaks.


The number of questions you get on the exam is always a big question for nursing students. Every RN can get 75 to 265 questions (15 are pretest and don't count). Every LPN can get between 85 and 205 questions (25 being pretest). I do not recommend dwelling on these numbers. If you study adequately and don’t panic, you have a very reasonable chance of passing. If you are curious as to the scoring goes for passing the NCLEX click here.

Not anyone can become a nurse and therefore not just anyone can go in and take the test to become a nurse. You must apply to take the test to the NCSBN and pay the $200 fee (as of May, 2013). This fee may be more in certain states, but will never be less. Applying is pretty easy, but I recommend doing it as soon as you finish school so you don’t have to wait too long to take the test. When you have been approved you will receive an ATT (Authorization to Test). Register for your exam immediately to make sure you get a spot! Re-scheduling must happen 24 hours before your test date. 

The day of your test can be daunting (don't forget your printed ATT and one form of identification). The week before the test can make you want to tear your hair out--all of it! Click here for some tips on getting through the test week.

Once you have finished taking the test, you should get the results within 1-2 weeks. Some states are as quick as 2 business days. Officially, you can't get upset about not getting your score until 4 long weeks have passed per the NCSBN Candidate Bulletin. There is an option of getting "unofficial" scores in 48 hours if your will pay about $8.

Check with your states nursing board for exactly how you will receive your results. Some states do letters via snail mail. Others have phone lines and online sites to check your results.

If you fail the test…DO NOT PANIC. You can take the NCLEX again. Click here for more information if you have failed and don't know what to do next. 

Click here for all the "official" information on the test from the NCSBN.

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