NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination, but does anyone who hasn’t taken it really know what that means? 

Whether you’re considering nursing as a career or simply want to know more about what this exam entails, you’re in the right place. 

So, what is the NCLEX exam? Read on to learn more.

What Is the NCLEX Exam?

The NCLEX exam is a standardized test that all nursing candidates must pass to become a registered nurse. The goal of this test is to verify that a nursing hopeful has the knowledge and ability to practice safe medicine. 

When looking to become a licensed nursing professional, individuals will take either the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN. 

Keep reading to learn the difference between the two standardized tests. 


What is the difference between the NCLEX RN vs. PN?

The NCLEX-RN is for anyone with an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree who wishes to become a registered nurse or an RN. These candidates must pass this version of the NCLEX to become a licensed registered nurse. 

Anyone who wishes to become a licensed practical nurse, or an LPN, must take and pass the NCLEX-PN. Individuals who have their practical nursing diplomas are eligible to take the NCLEX. 

The main difference between these two versions of the NCLEX is the content of the questions. The NCLEX-PN focuses more on coordinating care, while the RN version looks at a greater scope of practice. 

Registered nurses tend to take on a more management-focused job where they often oversee LPNs, so the NCLEX-RN will feature more management-geared questions. Potential RNs are also more likely to see questions concerning nutrition, blood work, and blood products. 

Who Should Take the NCLEX Exam?

Anyone with one of the following degrees who hopes to pursue a career in the medical field as a nurse should take the NCLEX exam:

Practical Nursing Diploma

Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)

While specific nursing requirements may vary depending on each state, the NCLEX is a national exam that every practicing nurse must pass. Nursing students may choose either a two-year or a four-year program, i.e. an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but they all must pass this exam to practice as a licensed nurse. 

While an ADN qualifies an individual to pursue a career in nursing, many employers prefer to hire those with a bachelor’s degree because it indicates more education and experience. 

A registered nurse may choose to work in any of the following settings:


Private practices

Residential care

Urgent care

Health clinics


In each of these settings, a candidate will need to have passed the NCLEX. 

How Does Scoring for the NCLEX Work?

Unlike other common standardized tests, the NCLEX is scored using computerized adaptive testing, or CAT. The CAT system analyzes your answers as you take the test, and it will determine the type of questions you answer, how many questions you answer, and the difficulty of your questions.

Each NCLEX exam starts with medium-difficulty questions. The more questions you answer correctly, the harder your exam will get. If you do well on these difficult questions, your exam may only be about 75 questions long.

On the other hand, if you answer the mid-level questions wrong, you will be presented with easier questions. The computerized system may deliver as many as 265 questions if your scores continue to drop. 

The system is designed to give you only as many questions as it deems necessary to pass or fail you – all based on the answers you give. 

Scoring and Passing

The standards of scoring and passing the NCLEX are set and reviewed by the NCSBN Board of Directors every three years to keep up with the ever-changing health and medical industry. 

However, as far as passing the exam goes, candidates will receive either a pass or a fail, along with a score report for each of the eight subject areas covered on the test. The report will say one of the following: 

Above the passing standard

Near the passing standard

Below the passing standard

The NCLEX exam report doesn’t mean much if you passed the exam as a whole. It can tell you which areas need further improvement, which can be helpful in your career.

If you fail the NCLEX, these scoring reports can give you a good indication as to what type of material you need to study more. 

How Long Does it Take to Get NCLEX Results?

The NCLEX is technically scored twice. It’s first scored by the computer system at the testing center where you took the exam. The results then get sent to Pearson VUE, where the results are calculated again. 

After the results are finalized, they are sent to the nursing regulatory body (NRB) in the jurisdiction of a candidate’s registration application. Each of these entities may have differing procedures for releasing the test results, but they are usually sent electronically.

The process can take as long as six weeks from the day that you completed the exam. However, some NRBs participate in quick results. These results are considered unofficial, but they are available within 48 business hours for a small fee. 

Can You Retake the NCLEX?

If you took the NCLEX and failed, there’s no need to panic. The NCSBN has a retake policy that allows candidates to retake the exam. A candidate who wants to retest simply has to wait at least 45 days from the first test. 

In total, any candidate who has applied for licensure or registration is eligible to take the test as many as eight times per year with a 45-day gap between retests. This limit is contingent on whether or not a particular jurisdiction offers that many tests in one year.