NCLEX Test Format

Many nursing students preparing to take the NCLEX are anxious about taking it. After all, you must pass this exam to be able to get a job as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. One way to help reduce that anxiety is to be as prepared for it as possible, and that means having a very good understanding of the test format and how the test works.

  • First, you should know that both the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN are constantly undergoing revision. Neither test remains static for very long. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the organization that develops the exams, welcomes the submission of new test questions from nurse educators, clinicians, and managers who work with entry-level nurses. These volunteers write, review, and judge exam questions. This process can take anywhere from one year to fifteen months. However, it’s good to stay on top of the latest changes and developments in nursing care, because these inevitably will make it into the test.
  • Currently, the tests are primarily composed of multiple choice questions, but there are variations of this format that are included, such as some fill-in-the-blank questions, and questions in which you’ll need to arrange answers in the right order, make calculations, or identify a body part or other item in a figure.

Both the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN are divided into four general categories: a safe, care environment; maintaining and promoting wellness or good health; psychosocial factors; and physiological influences and factors. The test will verify that you have at least the baseline knowledge of each of these categories. That means you must have the minimum amount of knowledge in each category that you’ll need to safely practice nursing. Keep in mind that if you’re taking the NCLEX-RN, many of the test questions will test your ability to assess a patient’s condition, while if you’re taking the NCLEX-PN, the test will gauge your ability to gather information about the patient’s condition and use it to assist the RN in developing a care plan for that patient. You’ll need also to base your answers on the ideal choice offered, usually one that has been presented in one of your textbooks, rather than what your employer typically does. Also, always keep patient safety uppermost in your mind as you choose your answers.

The last thing you’ll need to know about test format is that it is a computer-based test, offered through Pearson VUE, at their various, testing centers throughout the country. The test is programmed so that you’ll answer 15 pretest questions, and then begin the actual exam. The pretest questions are pending questions that may be added to the test in the future. As you answer each question correctly, each new question will become more difficult. Once the computer has enough information to pass you or fail you, the computer will shut down automatically. This may happen after you’ve answered as few as 75-85 questions, or as many as the entire test, which consists of more than 200 questions.

Last Updated: 05/19/2014


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