If you’ve spent even a little time exploring the nursing field, you’ve probably seen mentions of the National Council Licensure Examination, more commonly known as the NCLEX.

Nurses are often required to make complex decisions and think quickly on their feet. So a universally accepted standard is needed to gauge the aptitude of our future prospective nurses.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), a nationally recognized nonprofit organization, has administered the NCLEX since 1994. The NCLEX determines professional eligibility for entry-level nurses in the United States and Canada.

Since its inception, over six million candidates have taken the exam, which is split into two parts. The first is the NCLEX-RN, which is for students wanting to become registered nurses (RN). The other is the NCLEX-PN, meant for those pursuing a licensed practical nurse (LPN) position.

However, these formats will disappear in April 2023 when the NCSBN introduces its newest iteration of the exam, the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN). All students enrolled in an accredited nursing program from Fall 2021 and beyond must take the NGN after graduation to obtain their nursing license.

The Right Decisions Come from the Right Questions 

We’ll break down what this new format means for future nursing students. But first, let’s talk about some of the exam’s fundamentals.

What is the NCLEX?

The NCLEX is a standardized exam that measures nursing students’ proficiency and ability to care for their patients safely.

All versions of the exam cover comprehensive nursing concepts under four categories:

  • Safe and effective care environment
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiological integrity

At launch, the NGN will allow students five hours to answer 85 to 150 questions.

So why such a wide range of possible total questions? 

The NCLEX uses a computerized adaptive test (CAT) format, a modern testing technique incorporating an algorithm that adapts to your responses in real time. Based on your previous answers, the test will adjust the difficulty of your future questions accordingly.

With each question answered, the NCLEX narrows its certainty index. This level of certainty determines whether the test taker’s overall competency exceeds or fails the exam’s passing standard.

Here’s a short video from the NCSBN’s Director of Outreach, Jason Schwartz, MS, with a more detailed look into how the CAT process works in the NGN:

The Next Generation NCLEX Uses Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT)

Why Does the NCLEX Matter?

The NCSBN collaborates with nursing regulatory bodies as an independent council to create a universal standard for licensure testing.

Therefore, anyone wishing to work in the United States or Canada as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse must pass the NCLEX.

By passing the NCLEX, you will assure potential employers that you have the knowledge and critical thinking skills to care for your patients effectively.

How Do I Take the NCLEX?

Anyone with the appropriate nursing degree accredited by the following commissions is eligible to take the NCLEX:

First, you must contact the nursing regulatory body (NRB) where you wish to be licensed (don’t forget that some states, like California, have multiple NRBs).

After applying to your desired NRB, you will register with the test’s administrator, which is Pearson VUE, at the time of this writing.  

How Can I Prepare for the NCLEX?

The NCLEX may sound like a monumental hurdle, but it’s just another stepping stone to your nursing career! You can take several steps to set yourself up for success in preparation for the NCLEX.

While studying for most other exams relies on memorization, critical thinking is a significant focus in how the NCLEX determines your nursing competencies. So you’ll want to consider using the following study methods so you can adjust on the fly on testing day. 

Get Familiar With the Exam’s Composition

While you won’t be able to see any of the exam’s specific questions until you begin, the NCSBN is incredibly transparent about the test’s scoring model.

Familiarize yourself with how the NCLEX operates in real time. Five hours may seem long, but that time can quickly disappear if you’re unprepared for the NGN’s format.

Explore Study Resources

As with plenty of other standardized testing models, many NCLEX study guides, books, and tutorials are available.

And yes, several of them are free! In addition, video reviews from other nurses who have already experienced the exam are also worthy of your consideration.

Take Practice Quizzes

If you’re struggling in a particular area, or perhaps you’re not even sure which subjects you might be weak in, then sample tests are excellent barometers of your study progress.

Many practice quizzes, like the ones here, are accompanied by study guides and videos for their respective topics.

Invest in a Review Course

If you’re not confident in your self-study skills, many NCLEX review courses are at your disposal. Many come with extensive assessments, interactive classrooms, and even live coaching.

Remember that these courses often come with a hefty price tag. However, one of them could be just what you need to help you grasp key concepts and hone your exam-taking insight.

Don’t Stress Out

The most important thing to do when preparing for the NCLEX is relax! 

Don’t get so caught up in studying that you neglect your physical and mental health. Instead, keep yourself grounded by intentionally setting aside time for other activities. 

You won’t be doing yourself any favors by burning out your body and brain by test day. Also, avoid last-second cramming and take time to quiet your nerves before the timer starts.

The NCLEX is Just Another Marker on Your Journey

The NCLEX may seem daunting at first glance, but don’t look at it as a hurdle — rather as the finish line on your track to becoming a licensed nurse.

With practical preparation and diligent effort, you can fulfill your dream by passing the NCLEX with flying colors. Yet, every journey begins with one simple step, and the Davis & Elkins family would love to invest in yours.

We offer our students an intensive course during their final semester that prepares them for the NCLEX, including an ATI Comprehensive Live NCLEX Review.

Our passionate nursing instructors will work with you to ensure you’re ready to tackle the NCLEX and lead the way for the next generation of nurses.

Realize your dream of becoming a nurse and reach out to us today!