How Is The NCLEX Exam Scored?

NCLEX is administered through a Computerized Adapted Testing or CAT technology. CAT tailors test questions to your ability level and achieve faster, more accurate and fairer test results.

Passing the NCLEX demonstrates your competency and readiness to begin your carrier as a newly licensed entry level nurse. Understanding how CAT works will better prepare you for the testing experience.

The goal of CAT is to identify each candidate's competency by determining the difficulty level of question a candidate can consistently answer correctly. Each question reveals more about the true competency level of the candidate.

How CAT Works?

When you answer a question correctly you provide evidence that you could probably answer easier questions correctly. For that reason the next question selected will be slightly more difficult, increasingly more difficult questions will be ask until you incorrectly answer a question.

At that point the next question asked will be slightly less difficult, if that question is answered correctly then a slightly more difficult question will be asked next and so on throughout the remainder of your NCLEX exam. Everyone will miss some questions because questions are programmed to be increasingly difficult until a question is answered correctly.

In this example, the candidate successfully answered a series of increasingly difficult questions then a candidate begins to answer some question incorrectly. After answering the minimum number of questions required, the candidate reaches the competency level that is significantly above the passing standard. When competency is determined the examination is completed and the candidate passes. Conversely, when it is determined that the candidate is not competent the examination ends and the candidate fails. 

The number and difficulty of the questions will vary for each candidate. This is true for candidate above and below the passing standard. Some candidates will be asked fewer questions because pass or failure determination was made quickly for they consistently answered questions either significantly above or below the passing standard.

Other candidates however who have competency levels near the passing standard either a little above or below will be asked more questions in order to determine their pass or failed results.

To ensure complete content coverage, all RN candidates will answer a minimum of 75 and a maximum of 265 test questions. PN candidates will answers a minimum of 85 and a maximum of 205 questions. The most candidates finish in about 2 hours. You’ll be given up to 6 hours to complete the RN exam or 5 hours for the PN exam. This includes the tutorial and all break times. 

Minimum Question 85 75
Maximum Question 265 205
Maximum Time 5 hours 6 hours


A candidate will pass the NCLEX if he or she answers at least the minimum number of questions and achieves a competency level significantly above the passing standard in the following two scenarios:

  • If the candidate answers the maximum number of questions and achieves the competency level above the passing standard (even if it's not significantly above the passing standard)
  • If the candidate answers at least the minimum number questions but runs out of time and has a consistent competency level above the passing standard for all of the last 60 questions.


A candidate will not pass the NCLEX if he or she achieves the competency level significantly below the passing standard in the following two scenarios:

  • If the candidate answers the maximum number of questions and has a competency level below the passing standard and runs out of time while having a competency level that falls below the passing standard at any point during the last 60 questions
  • If the candidate answers fewer than the minimum number of questions during the time allowed.