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Common Questions About the NCLEX-RN® Exam

Posted Wednesday, Oct 7, 2020 by Altierus

Interested in becoming a nurse? You’re definitely not alone this year: according to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report, some nursing schools are seeing many more applicants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] If you’re looking into what nursing education involves, you’ve probably read about the coursework you can expect, what clinical experiences are like, and, of course, the NCLEX-RN® (National Council Licensure Exam – Registered Nurse) exam.

The NCLEX-RN is the final checkpoint on a student’s journey to becoming a practicing nurse in the United States. In this article, we’ll explain what the NCLEX-RN is, why it matters, what it tests, and how the test is structured. We’ll also discuss how we at Altierus Career College in Tampa ensure our nursing students have all the knowledge and skills they need to pass it once they’ve finished their programs.

Why Is the NCLEX-RN Required?

The NCLEX-RN is used by every U.S. state and territory board of nursing to determine whether new nursing program graduates have the knowledge needed to serve safely and competently as entry-level nurses. It has been required for all U.S. nursing graduates since 1982.[2]

Who Administers the NCLEX-RN?

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers and develops the questions for the NCLEX-RN. The NCSBN is a private, non-profit organization.

What Kind of Material Is Tested on the NCLEX-RN?

Many nursing programs teach students skills in a structure similar to the medical school model, with separate courses covering topics including obstetrics, surgery, and psychology. Unlike other standardized tests, the NCLEX-RN does not ask questions specific to each of those topics. Instead, you will need to integrate concepts from across each area to answer questions.

There are four main content areas the NCLEX-RN is designed to assess (the last content area includes four sub-areas):

  • Safe, Effective Care Environment
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity
    • Basic Care and Comfort
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
    • Reduction of Risk Potential
    • Physiological Adaptation

What is the NCLEX-RN Format Like?

The NCLEX-RN is a computer-based exam which candidates can only take at Pearson Professional Centers. Most questions are multiple-choice questions with four answer options.

However, there are other question types, including open-ended questions, fill-in-the-blank questions, or questions which require you to give an answer by completing a chart.

How Many Questions Does the NCLEX-RN Have?

In a normal exam year, test-takers can complete anywhere from 75 to 265 questions. The NCLEX-RN is an adaptive exam, which means it will end a student’s exam when they have:

  • Completed 75 questions and demonstrated competence as a nurse
  • Completed 75 questions and failed to demonstrate competence as a nurse
  • Answered the maximum number of questions
  • Used the maximum amount of time 

There’s no time limit for each question, but the time limit to complete the exam is six hours. Test-takers have optional breaks after two hours and three and a half hours.

Do All of the Questions on the NCLEX-RN Count?

No. In a normal exam year, 15 of the questions test-takers will answer while completing the NCLEX-RN are test questions placed in the exam by the NCSBN. These test questions are used to refine future editions of the exam. Answers to these questions don’t affect a test-taker’s score either way.

Have There Been Any Changes to the NCLEX-RN Due to the Pandemic?

Yes. The length of the test has been modified for 2020.[3] Test-takers will complete 75 to 145 questions (instead of a maximum of 265) and the time limit to complete the exam is five hours instead of three hours.

15 experimental test questions (which don’t affect scores) are still included in the exam.

How Does Altierus Career College Prepare Nursing Students for the NCLEX-RN?

We offer an Associate of Science in Nursing program at our campus in Tampa. Our student nurses receive an excellent foundation for their nursing careers in the classroom and during clinical experience.

In addition to quality training, our program also makes time to prepare students for the NCLEX-RN, with the opportunity to discuss and analyze sample questions as a class and take practice exams. After graduation, our students have the knowledge and skills they need to take their licensure exam—and to serve patients as a nurse.

Additional References:


[1] https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-nursing-schools/articles/how-coronavirus-is-affecting-nursing-school-admissions

[2] https://timeline.ncsbn.org/1978-1985.htm

[3] https://www.ncsbn.org/SummaryofModificationstoNCLEX.pdf

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