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How to Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Essential Test Prep Tips to Help You Pass the NCLEX-RN the First Time

Smiling Asian medical professional taking notes

Looming at the end of every nursing program is that final hurdle between “student” and “professional nurse”… the NCLEX exam. All your hard work in classes, labs, and projects comes down to one final test, so it’s only natural that many test takers feel a little nervous going in.

Fortunately, anyone preparing to take the test already has something big in their favor—they aren’t the first to take the test. Thousands have taken (and passed) the exam, and many have shared tips from their experience to help those following behind. In our guide, we’ve compiled information to help you excel at the exam and achieve your goal of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN).

Our comprehensive NCLEX-RN study guide will cover the following:

– What is the NCLEX-RN?
– How many questions are on the NCLEX-RN exam?
– How long is the NCLEX-RN exam?
– How do I study for the NCLEX-RN exam?
– How do you pass the NCLEX-RN exam?
– How do I register for the NCLEX-RN exam?
– What score do you need to pass the NCLEX-RN test?
– How hard is it to pass the NCLEX-RN test?
– What is on the NCLEX-RN exam?
– How much does it cost to take the NCLEX-RN?
– How many times can you take the NCLEX-RN?

What Is the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The title NCLEX-RN stands for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. This exam uses computerized adaptive testing (CAT) technology, creating a valid and reliable measurement of nursing competence. In the United States, aspiring Registered Nurses must pass the exam before they can work in the field. The specialized format of the exam quizzes candidates on the decisions they would make as a nurse, how they would prioritize those choices in real-world situations that could occur.

This exam is administered by an organization called the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. (NCSBN). NCSBN is a not-for-profit organization whose U.S. members include the nursing regulatory bodies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories.

On April 1, 2023, NCSBN launched the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) project. With this launch, the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN exams were updated to reflect a more integrated process. You can learn more about the NGN and how it changed the NCLEX exams here.

What Is the Format of the NCLEX-RN Exam?

As we mentioned above, the NCLEX uses computer adaptive testing (CAT) technology. Each time you answer a question correctly, the next question will be more challenging. This is because the computer is readjusting and recalculating your ability with each question that you answer.

The NCSBN wants you to succeed on this exam. To help you become better acquainted with this type of software, they offer an exam tutorial that you can find here. You’ll find sample questions, an exam preview, an annual candidate bulletin, and more.

Is the NCLEX-RN Exam Hard?

You might be wondering just how difficult it will be to complete the NCLEX exam. We think the best answer is this: It should be challenging but not too challenging. While the questions should become gradually harder each time you answer correctly, the CAT technology still chooses a follow-up question that you should have a 50% chance of passing.

In other words, the questions you are given shouldn’t be too easy or hard. This is because the goal of the exam is to determine your true ability level. So, you can expect to be challenged but not overloaded when you complete the NCLEX exam.

Medical students studying with textbooks and laptops

What Score Do You Need to Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The NCSBN Board of Directors reevaluates the passing standards every three years when the test plans are reviewed. Effective through March 31, 2026, the passing standard is 0.00 logits. This means that if you score a positive number, answering more questions correctly than incorrectly, you pass.

The 2023 NCLEX-RN pass rate for U.S.-educated candidates taking the test for the first time was about 88%. Breaking down this category, those with a baccalaureate degree passed the exam approximately 90% of the time, while those with an associate degree almost 87% of the time. This statistic highlights how a bachelor’s program, such as the BSN Program at Unitek College, may significantly boost a candidate’s chances of passing the exam the first time.

What Is On the NCLEX-RN Exam?

As stated in the NCLEX-RN Test Plan, the exam covers four major categories under client needs. These topics include a Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity. Keep in mind that the percentage of questions from each category can vary depending on the exam and how you answer each question. Below are the main categories and the percentage of questions that may appear when you take the exam.

Client Needs Percentage of Items from Each Category/Subcategory
Safe and Effective Care Environment
• Management of Care

• Safety and Infection Control



Health Promotion and Maintenance 6–12%
Psychosocial Integrity 6–12%
Physiological Integrity
• Basic Care and Comfort

• Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies

• Reduction of Risk Potential

• Physiological Adaptation





Below is a great pie chart from the NCSBN that also breaks down the exam:

NCLEX-RN exam distribution pie chart from the NCSBN

How Many Questions Are On the NCLEX-RN Exam?

Due to the exam’s format, the number of questions can range from 85 to 150. You will have a maximum of five hours to complete this exam. According to the NCSBN, the minimum length of 85 questions will include 52 questions from the content areas that we previously discussed. In addition, 18 questions will encompass three clinical judgment case studies. There will also be 15 unscored questions that are considered pretest items.

When answering, you can consider your answer and change it. However, once you select the ‘Next’ button, you can no longer change your answer for that item, and the next question is chosen for you to answer. In general, the NCSBN recommends that you spend about one to two minutes per item to maintain an ideal pace.

Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that the length of your exam is not an indication of a pass or fail result. You can pass or fail regardless of the length of the NCLEX.

NCLEX-RN Exam Sample Questions

Review the NCLEX-RN Test Plan to gain an overview of the information in each exam category. There are also plenty of sample questions to help you get started on your studying journey. Below are five NCLEX-RN exam sample questions provided in the plan:

Sample Question 1:

The charge nurse has received a change-of-shift report on the following clients in labor.

  • The charge nurse should ask a staff member to first see the client in the…
    1. first stage of labor who has an oral temperature of 99.7° F (37.6° C)
    2. first stage of labor whose contractions are occurring every 30 seconds
    3. second stage of labor who has respirations of 26
    4. second stage of labor whose contractions are lasting for 60 seconds

Sample Question 2:

The nurse is observing a staff member caring for a client who has chickenpox.

  • Which of the following actions by the staff member would require the nurse to intervene?
    1. placing the client in a private room with monitored negative air pressure
    2. placing a box of disposable face shields outside the client’s room
    3. placing an alcohol-based hand rub in the client’s room for hand hygiene
    4. placing a surgical mask on the client during transport out of the client’s room

Sample Question 3:

The nurse is planning care for a client with moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

  • Which of the following interventions should the nurse include in the client’s plan of care?
    1. Encourage the client to reminisce about happy memories.
    2. Confront the client when inappropriate or agitated behaviors occur.
    3. Administer to the client the cholinesterase inhibitor to reverse the course of AD.
    4. Provide the client with information about activity choices in the morning so the client can make plans for the day.

Sample Question 4:

The nurse is teaching a client how to ambulate using crutches.

  • Which of the following information should the nurse include?
    1. “Use your hands and arms to support your body weight.”
    2. “Wear slippers when ambulating with the crutches in your home.”
    3. “Maintain the crutches 12 in (30 cm) in front of your feet while standing.”
    4. “Adjust the hand grips of the crutches so that your elbows are fully extended.”

Sample Question 5:

The nurse has taught a client with multiple sclerosis (MS).

  • Which of the following statements by the client would indicate a correct understanding of the teaching?
    1. “I will complete all of my household chores in the morning when I am well rested.”
    2. “I have learned how to massage my bladder to help empty my bladder completely.”
    3. “I will take a hot bath in the evening to help me relax if I have had a stressful day at work.”
    4. “I should expect the blurred vision to resolve after I have received medications for several weeks.”

We also suggest that you visit the Next Generation NCLEX sample pack, which is full of sample questions. You can find this information here.

Medical students performing CPR on a mannequin

What’s the Best Way to Study for the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The best way to study for the NCLEX-RN exam is to create your own plan, review the topics and categories the exam will cover, and avoid stressing yourself out. Although you know yourself best—and what kinds of study methods work for you—we’ve compiled some ideas to help you get started and prepare for the exam.

1. Prepare Early

Cramming may have worked in high school, but you don’t want to rely on a last-minute study “sprint” when your career is on the line. Instead, treat your studying and your test as more of a marathon—study early, study often, as far in advance as possible. “Even though you’ve done well in nursing school and you’ve had a great education, you must still prepare—and that means practicing,” says Jan Jones-Schenk (DHSc, RN, NE-BC). “Take 100 questions per day for two to three weeks leading up to your exam date.”

2. Take Your Test ASAP

While you need to study and prepare for the exam, it’s important to remember that the longer you wait after graduation, the more chances you have to forget things you’ve learned. Make sure to take the test while the knowledge is still fresh in your mind. “The sooner you take it, with good preparation, the better your odds are for a first-time pass,” advises Jones-Schenk. “Two to three weeks should be enough time to prepare.”

3. Know What You’re Getting Into

It’s natural to worry about a test like the NCLEX, but the more you know about the exam and exam requirements ahead of time, the more you can concentrate on actually taking the test (and remembering everything you studied). Check out early for a good idea of what’s ahead.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

The best way to prepare for what’s ahead is to actually experience what’s ahead, and there are plenty of practice tests available to help you do just that. Take advantage of the NCSBN’s practice exams to give yourself a head start on exam day.

5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Resist the urge to stay up cramming the night before the test and instead focus on getting seven to eight hours of sleep. Not only will the sleep be of greater benefit, but the cramming? Turns out it doesn’t work.

6. Don’t Let the Stress Get to You

Prepare diligently as you approach your test date, but don’t lose sleep or spend all your time studying. Balance is key, and staying healthy physically and mentally can do more for you than constantly cramming the week before your exam.

7. Stay Calm and Look for Logical Choices

When test day arrives, one of the best NCLEX-RN test strategies is to stay calm and focused. Remember, you have plenty of time to answer the questions, so don’t spend the whole time worrying if you’ll finish or second-guessing your answers. Focus on each question and solve it to the best of your ability. You’ve got this.

Bonus Tip: One recurring theme in the guide is to pay close attention to the wording of each question. For example, if a question uses absolute words like always, never, none, only, etc., pay extra attention to those answers. Just because an answer might apply to most situations, it doesn’t always mean all.

Close up of medical students typing on laptops

How Do You Register for the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The NCLEX-RN registration process consists of two parts when applying to nursing regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Canada.

1. Contact your Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB) and request a licensure application.

    • You will pay a registration fee to the NRB in addition to the submission of your application materials.
    • Applications must be obtained from the NRB in the state where you are seeking licensure.

2. Register with Pearson VUE (the testing vendor) using one of the following methods:

    • Online. Visit Pearson VUE and pay with a credit, debit, or prepaid card.
    • Phone. Call Pearson VUE Candidate Services at 866.496.2539 and pay the exam fee by credit, debit, or prepaid card.

Scheduling Rules

If you need to reschedule or cancel your appointment, follow these rules from the NCSBN:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday appointments must be changed 24 hours in advance of the original date and time. For instance, if your appointment is on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m., then you must call or go online to reschedule by Monday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, Sunday, or Monday appointments must be changed no later than the Friday before the original date and time. For instance, if your appointment is on Sunday at 2:00 p.m., then you must call or go online to reschedule by Friday at 2:00 p.m.

Where Can You Take the NCLEX-RN Exam?

Once you have completed the steps above and you are found eligible, you’ll receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) email. It’s important to watch for it because you’ll need this email to schedule an appointment for the exam. Note: If you have not received an ATT email, it would be a good idea to contact your NRB to ensure all the materials have been received or to find out why you have not been found eligible.

Now that you have the ATT email, you can choose your testing location. The NCLEX is offered at both domestic and international locations, and you can locate a test center near you. Once you select a testing location, you can schedule your exam appointment through Pearson VUE Candidate Services using the site and phone number listed above.

To find links for all NRB websites, visit the Membership page. You can also find further details on the Authorization to Test page.

Close up of a medical professional wearing scrubs and a stethoscope

Exam Day Reminders

Here are just a few things to keep in mind on exam day. Don’t just take our word for it—these tips come directly from the NCSBN here and here.

  • Do not bring any educational, test prep, or study materials to the exam testing center.
  • Phones, tablets, smartwatches, MP3 players, fitness bands, and other electronic devices may not be accessed at all during your examination (even during breaks).
  • Hats, scarves, gloves, and outerwear must be left outside of the testing room. However, provisions can be made for religious/cultural dress.
  • Arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before testing time. If you arrive more than 30 minutes late, you might be required to forfeit the appointment and reregister/pay another exam fee.
  • A signature, photograph, and palm vein scan are all required before you can take the test.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The cost of the NCLEX-RN exam is $200.00 in the U.S. and $360.00 in Canada. Additional NCLEX-RN fees may also apply for international scheduling, changing the nursing regulatory body, changing the exam type (RN/PN), or changing the exam language.

You’ll need to pay for your exam and complete your registration using a credit, debit, or prepaid card. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are all accepted. It’s important to keep in mind that refunds of registration fees are not offered for any reason.

How Many Times Can You Take the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The NCSBN retake policy allows candidates to take the NCLEX-RN exam eight times a year, with 45 test-free days between each examination. However, some jurisdictions may have stricter limits on the number of exams a candidate can take annually.

NCLEX-RN Retake Steps

  1. Contact the NRB to notify them of your plan to retake the exam.
  2. The NRB will tell you about any fees or materials that you’ll need to test again.
  3. Reregister with Pearson VUE so that you can pay the required fee.
  4. Monitor your inbox and wait to receive an email from ATT.
  5. Schedule a new exam appointment.

Close up of a smiling medical professional

Advance Your Nursing Career with a BSN Degree

Our goal for this article was to provide you with practical tips on how to pass the NCLEX-RN. We hope it gives you the knowledge and confidence to take that next step toward your future.

If you are considering a career as a Registered Nurse, you’ll want to enroll in a strong nursing program that will give you the foundation to prepare to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Click here to learn more about the BSN Program and how to prepare for a successful nursing career at nursing schools like Unitek College. You can also learn about some of the highest paid nursing jobs.

The nursing field is full of wonderful specialties and careers. There are a number of paths you can choose, and nurses will always fill a vital role in healthcare. The possibilities are practically limitless. Good luck on your journey!