What is the NCLEX? What You Should Know About this Key Nursing Exam

When starting your nursing journey, you may have questions about the licensure exam such as "what is the NCLEX?" and "what makes the Next Gen NCLEX different?" Discover all you need to know about the NCLEX-RN, the format, who takes it, and what to do before registering.

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If you choose a career in nursing, there is much to learn about the nursing school process, what life will look like during this transition, and how you will ultimately achieve your goals. As a nursing student, you will juggle classwork, labs, and clinical rotations in real health care settings. Along with these details, paying attention to the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in your preparation plans is essential. But what is the NCLEX, and why is it so important?

No matter where you are in your nursing journey, there is no time like the present to begin planning for the NCLEX and learning more about the changes brought on by the Next Generation NCLEX. Read on to learn more about this nursing exam, what to expect, and how to best prepare.

What is the NCLEX-RN?

Students graduating from an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program must pass the NCLEX-RN® to become licensed and work as a registered nurse. It is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, an organization dedicated to maintaining high-quality standards within the health care field.

To pass the NCLEX, you will need extensive knowledge of nursing care and practical skills application. While nursing schools will provide coursework and in-person lab and clinical opportunities, you must also study independently to succeed. This nursing exam is highly specialized and requires an understanding of the content and question formatting.

Did you know the NCLEX isn’t the only important exam in your nursing journey? Learn the TEAS’s role in nursing admission and tips for studying.

Who Takes the NCLEX-RN?

While the term “NCLEX” is used broadly, it’s important to understand the differences between the multiple exam versions.

Prospective nurses aiming to become licensed practical or vocational nurses take the NCLEX-PN®. These nurses complete a vocational training course or certification program. They perform patient care and basic nursing skills, including assessments, wound care, and medication administration.

The NCLEX-RN® is taken by students aiming to become a registered nurse. These nurses must complete an associate’s degree or BSN. They provide patient care, collaborate with physicians, administer medications, start IVs, and more. With the increasing need for highly qualified nurses, a BSN is the recommended degree to become a registered nurse.

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Still deciding between an ADN and a BSN? Learn more about both degrees to help you choose the right path.

When Do You Take the NCLEX-RN?

The date you take the NCLEX will depend heavily on the state where you wish to be licensed. Ensure you check these requirements and your graduation date before signing up for your licensure exam. However, most individuals will take the exam around 45 days after graduating.

This date may also be affected by personal needs (travel, family events, etc.) and when you submit the application and fees. Consider these factors so that plans don’t interfere with you taking the exam at the proper time.

Make sure you also account for factors pertaining to your employment. While many nurses choose to apply for jobs after earning their licensure, an increasing number of hospitals hire nurses before taking the NCLEX, contingent on their passing. That way, they may begin work as soon as possible. Double-check any requirements that may impact your testing date.

What Is the Format of the NCLEX-RN?

The NCLEX will cover a variety of subjects you must understand to practice as a nurse. These include health promotion and maintenance, reduction of risk potential, safe and effective care environment, and safety and infection control. You may have learned this information in nursing school or prerequisite courses but will apply your knowledge to real-world hypotheticals and simulation questions.

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There are several different question types you may encounter on the exam, including the following:

  • Multiple choice
  • Drag and drop
  • Cloze questioning
  • Bowtie
  • Extended multiple response
  • Multiple response grouping

You should become familiar with these question styles before taking the exam. This will ensure you don’t become distracted or confused about the format but can focus entirely on the content of the question. Make sure you feel completely comfortable with all question formats by taking practice exams.

The NCLEX-RN® is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), meaning you take it on a computer, and the line of questioning will change based on your answers to previous questions. Because of this, the number of questions on the exam will depend on your answers. There can be anywhere between 75 and 145 questions. The questions are not timed, but you will have six hours to complete the exam, including the tutorial and optional break periods.

What is the Next Generation NCLEX-RN?

The Next Gen NCLEX is a new version of the original NCLEX that was adjusted to provide a more comprehensive and accurate view of nursing knowledge and practice to help prepare for the expanding scope of nursing care in recent years.

This update saw changes to both content and formatting. Using a development process style and clinical judgment measurement model helps to ensure nurses are prepared for complex situations that require judgment calls with high-risk outcomes. The point system and question type are also somewhat adjusted from the previous NCLEX exam for more specific grading.

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For example, you may encounter a question with multiple correct answers. You may be counted +1 point for every correct answer and -1 point for every incorrect answer. In the past, these questions would have been counted as either correct or incorrect. If you become familiar with your study material and take practice exams, you will feel more comfortable with this updated format when taking the exam.

It launched in 2023, so any nurses looking to schedule their test date should ensure they are studying for the Next Gen NCLEX.

How Do I Register for the NCLEX?

Now that you have answered, “What is the NCLEX?” it is time to take the next step. Your first step in becoming a nurse should be to enroll in a nursing program. Once you have done that, you can look at your timeline and select the best testing date to begin your career.

You may register to test through the NCSBN website. This organization also provides resources for planning, studying, and more.

If you are ready to start your nursing journey, explore nursing programs that work for you by completing our online form. You will be contacted by schools that meet your criteria and goals. This is a free service, and you are not obligated to any school that contacts you.

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Ready to start your nursing journey?