NCLEX 101: How to pass your NCLEX and earn your credentials

Congratulations, you graduated! It is such an exciting time, but also a stressful and confusing time. You have passed all the classes, test, clinical, papers, but now is one of the most important test of all. The NCLEX. The test that will make you an official LPN/RN. The test that will give you a license and allow you to start practicing your craft. I have written a few different blog post about this subject back when I was a new grad and have linked them in this post. I also wrote some helpful tips, resources, and left some encouragement to all of you about to embark on the NCLEX experience!

Let’s get started!

What is the NCLEX?

NCLEX stands for National Council of Licensure Examination. This is a national exam given to nursing school graduates for state licensure. Everyone takes the same NCLEX, but you will only be licensed in the state to which you apply. You also can take you NCLEX at any Pearson VUE testing center, regardless of what state you will be licensed. For example, I was testing for a SC nursing license but completed my test in NC. There is an NCLEX-RN for Registered Nurses and NCLEX-PN for Licensed Practical Nurses. The NCLEX-PN ranges from 85-205 questions with a time limit of 5 hours and the NCLEX-RN ranges from 75-265 with a time limit of 6 hours.

Computer Adapted Testing

Computer Adapted Testing is why the NCLEX has a range of possible number of questions. In order to give appropriate questions to each test taker the computer re-estimates your ability with every question answered. Therefore, each question you receive is based on your performance of the previous question.

There is no grade for the NCLEX. The computer will decide you have pass/failed when:

  • You have completed the maximum number of questions allowed
  • 95% confidence rule
  • You exceed the maximum amount of time.

The 95% confidence rule is when the computer will stop giving you questions because it is 95% certain you are above or below the passing level. Think of the passing level as a line. You start on the line, every time you get a question right- you go a step up. Every time you get a question wrong, you take a step down. When the program has determined with 95% certainty that you are above or below the passing line, the test will end. It also can end if you meet the maximum number of questions or if you meet the maximum amount of time.

Get Registered

This is one of those things in life that if you wait until you feel you are ready, you’ll never do it. Once you get you ATT (authorization to test), go ahead and book that exam! Having a deadline will help keep your studies on track and will also ensure you take the test in a timely manner. I took my NCLEX 3-4 weeks after graduation and felt this was enough time to study. I would suggest taking it within 4-6 week, while you are still fresh from school.  Remember, you can go to any testing center. If the one closest to you is booked, look at other areas around you. You have the knowledge, you just need a few weeks of practice before you take the exam!

Questions, Questions, Questions 

Seriously, I can’t say it enough. I think the absolute best way to pass the NCLEX is through question review. You have already had two years of nursing education. Lectures, powerpoint, flash cards, clinicals, studying for hours on end. Now, the focus is to learn how to appropriately answer NCLEX style questions. This is not to say you don’t need to review the rationals for the questions. Understanding why an answer was right/wrong is just as important as getting the answer correct.

Create a Study Plan

Decide what study tool you are going to use and create a plan. The first 2 weeks of my studies- I chose certain topics to answer questions on. The last 2 weeks,, I mostly did comprehensive exams to better prepare for the actual test. When I missed things, I read the rationale and wrote things that I found to be pertinent in a notebook. Do not spend you whole day studying! It is unnecessary and will lead to nothing but stress. I suggest completing 100-200 questions a day and limiting your studying to no more than 2 hours.


I used Uworld for my NCLEX-RN prepped and loved it! I felt the questions were similar to the NCLEX questions and I really love the rationales they gave- they are very detailed and they tell you why answers are right but also why the other answers are wrong. They also have an app on your phone which is nice for if you have a few minutes to spare while you are out. You can pull up the app and do some questions. You can find a blog with a more detailed account of my Uworld experience here.


I used Kaplan Review and Test Prep for my NCLEX-PN and really enjoyed it. The review class was helpful and they also have a large bank of questions with rationales.

Do not study the day of the test

Seriously, don’t do it. Studying or questions the day of the test will do nothing by stress you out about things you think you don’t know. Your focus on the day of the test is to remain calm, get checked into the test center, and ace that test.

Pass with 75 questions on the first try

Everywhere you look someone is talking about how they passed the NCLEX on their first time in the minimum number of questions. And this is great! It is something to be proud of. I passed both my PN and RN NCLEX in the minimum number of questions (85 PN, 75 RN) on the first try. However, I decided not to include any of this information in the title of this blog post, no matter how intriguing it may be. Let me say this, it does not matter if you pass in 75 questions or 265 questions, first try or third try, YOU CAN STILL BE AN AMAZING NURSE! It has no bearing on your knowledge, compassion, or skill. I do not want to lead anyone to believe that if question 76 pops up they are a failure. Before I submitted my 75th, I took a deep breath and told myself that if another question popped up it would be okay. I suggest you do the same and believe it!

Don’t base answers on past experience

The NCLEX world is a perfect world. There is adequate staff, resources, and disease processes are always text book. The NCLEX world is black and white while the nursing world is full of grey. Answering based off things you have seen or done could get you in trouble, so answer based off what you have learned in your studies.

The Experience

Both of my experiences with the NCLEX involved a lot of anxiety and not being confident that I passed when I left (I think this is common for a lot of people!) You can read a more detailed post on my experience here.

Know where the test center is and arrive early

For both my NCLEX, I went and found the testing center the day before! I tested out of town for both and chose to get a hotel for the night before. It was a little extra money but knowing I was close to the testing center and being able to locate it the day before was very helpful.

Walk in and do you best!

In the end, remember the NCLEX is just ONE test and it does not define who you are as a person or a nurse. Follow these tips, study, and just do the best you can do. Good luck! Let me know when you pass that test! 🙂

Where are you in your nursing school journey? Are you preparing for the NCLEX?