NCLEX Exam Guide

National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is the final exam taken by all nursing graduates in the US before joining the nursing workforce as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. NCLEX is a computer-based adaptive test that focuses on your critical thinking ability and judgments as a nurse.

Registering for NCLEX Exam

A private company called Pearson VUE administers both NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN. Your state board will list what is needed to be eligibility to take the test. In general, what you need to register for the NCLEX exam is:

  1. Proof of graduation from an approved nursing education program 
  2. A set of fingerprints, which can be obtained from your local police department.

Once you have met the above requirements, the state BON will give you an ATT (Authorization to Test), which you will turn in to Pearson Vue along with a $200 fee to take the test.

At that point, you will be allowed to make an appointment to take your test.

NCLEX-RN® Exam Content

The tests are comprehensive, all the same, basic subjects you learned throughout your nursing education. You will not be expected to be exceptionally brilliant, but you will be expected to have sound knowledge about the following topics:

Questions are divided into four categories according to patient needs

Safe and Effective Care Environment 26% to 38%
Health Promotion and Maintenance
6% to 12%
Psychosocial Integrity
16% to 12%
Physiological Integrity
38% to 62%

The first category, Safe and Effective Care Environment, is broken down into

Management of Care
17% to 23%
Safety and Infection Control
9% to 15%

The last category, Physiological Integrity, is broken down into

Basic Care and Comfort
6% to 12%
Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
12% to 18%
Reduction of Risk Potential
9% to 15%
Physiological Adaptation
11% to 17%


Average Exam Content Distribution for the NCLEX-RN



How to Prepare for NCLEX

First, do not panic. You have been preparing for NCLEX for the past one or two years. Perusing your notes and books, you will probably find a lot of information that seems less daunting in retrospect than it did the first time. Many programs provide their own reviews in preparation for the test. And many hospitals also offer review courses, so check what's available locally.

The NCSBN, which is responsible for the content of the tests, also offers a $50.00 review course. You can study at your own pace online with over 2000 pages of content and over 1300 questions written in the same style as NCLEX. An interactive feature even allows you to question teachers and get feedback.

If you are looking for an NCLEX review service that can help you prepare for the exam, check out our mega list of NCLEX service providers.

Leave the number 2 pencils at home. Pearson Vue sites maintain personal computers for your test. Make your reservations early, because space is limited. Be sure you know how to get to the site so that you will be there in plenty of time. Consider making a dry run from home to the test site before the day of the test, so that you will be confident of how to get there. Dress comfortably and bring a light sweater that you can take off.

You will have five hours to take the NCLEX-PN or six hours to take the NCLEX-RN, including two breaks if necessary. There are about 205 questions on NCLEX-PN and 265 on the NCLEX-RN.

Exam Scoring

The NCLEX is graded pass/fail. Grading is based upon a complex set of algorithms and statistics designed to demonstrate competency. If you are able to show competency after 75 questions on the NCLEX-RN or 85 on the NCLEX-LPN, the test will automatically shut down.

Although the computer immediately determines whether you pass or fail, it takes about two weeks to get your results from your state's board of nursing. This is because, for quality assurance, Pearson VUE grades your test twice before reporting your result to the state board.

Learn more about how NCLEX is scored

Last year, 87.69% of nurses who took the NCLEX-RN exam passed on the first try and 83.79% of NCLEX-PN test takers passed on the first try. Failing on the first try is not really the end of your career. Persistence is as important as competence, so study some more and try again. Good luck!