7 Facts Many Students Don’t Know About the NCLEX


The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is unlike any test you’ve taken before. This is certainly true if you’re just embarking on a nursing school journey. If you have a couple semesters under your belt, you’ve probably experienced NCLEX-like testing, or at least NCLEX-style questions. While nursing school exams, high-stakes tests, and review books help with NCLEX preparation, there are still some facts students don’t know about the national board exam. Here they are:

You won’t know how many questions you’ll get until you’re done.

Students can receive as few as 75 questions or as many as 265 questions on the NCLEX-RN (with a range of 85 to 205 on the NCLEX-PN). The NCLEX uses computerized adaptive testing, so the number of questions one receives depends on how quickly the computer determines the candidate’s nursing ability with 95% certainty.

There is no “need to know” drug list for the exam.

Students often want to know which medication names to memorize for the NCLEX. Since there is no specified list, take a different approach studying pharmacology. Learn and understand the different drug classes and some examples from each. Focus on what nurses need to know about medications to keep patients safe. Practice many, many NCLEX-style questions, including pharmacology questions. The most successful students build a list or create drug flashcards throughout their nursing programs.

You can’t skip questions (or go back to any).

This might just be the most helpful thing about the exam. If you have a (bad) habit of second-guessing yourself and changing test answers, you won’t be able to do that on the NCLEX. Once you’ve submitted your response, you can’t go back. That means you can’t skip questions, either. There is no “later”. It’s all about right now. So, thoroughly analyze each question, confidently select your answer, then move on to the next item.

The NCLEX is written for the “entry level” nurse.

The NCLEX is designed to evaluate the “minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities required to deliver safe, effective nursing care at the entry level” (NCSBN website). Basically, the exam aims to determine whether newly licensed nurses will be safe to practice during their first year of nursing. While the NCLEX may seem like a daunting exam, it serves an important purpose: ensuring patient safety.

If you have to retake the NCLEX, you won’t get the same questions the second time.

Because of computer adaptive testing, you will be administered questions from a large pool. That also means you aren’t likely to get the same questions as your friends. So, don’t zero in on specific questions for any reason. Focus on cumulative learning and critical thinking. Successful students integrate test-taking strategy resources throughout their preparation.

Only students who fail the NCLEX receive a performance report.

Students who don’t pass the NCLEX the first time can utilize a Candidate Performance Report. According to the NCSBN, this helps direct a candidate’s remediation strategies. Students who pass the NCLEX do not need a performance report; they’ve demonstrated the minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities to enter the nursing workforce.

There is an NCLEX Test Plan available to students.

The NCSBN website offers an NCLEX Test Plan, along with a number of other resources. Check out the 2016 NCLEX Candidate Test Plan, or visit ncsbn.org for more information. While the test plan is not a “study guide”, it’s considered a blueprint for the exam. Knowledge is power, so the more you learn about your national board exam, the more successful you will be!

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