A Primer on the NCLEX Nurse Exams

In order to become a full-fledged professional nurse students must get beyond their nursing school, the graduation ceremony, and the degree accolades. Nursing licensure exams are where the rubber meets the road. In the U.S. you won’t practice nursing without passing your NCLEX exam, whether you’re aiming for RN or LPN licensure.


The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) exams are developed and mandated by the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), which unifies the disparate state boards of nursing. If each state board developed and implemented its own separate nursing exam then standards of practice would be all over the map and largely unregulated.

The NCLEX is divided into two types of exams, the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN, the latter for practical nursing grads seeking LPN licensure.

Computer-Adaptive Testing Exam and Effectiveness

The NCLEX is designed to evaluate what you’ve learned in nursing school, whether that education was for your BSN, your ASN, or for your practical nurse program. The exams are administered via computer adaptive testing, or CAT testing. This means they are computer-administered, but designed to adapt to your individual answers. Theoretically a CAT-based exam is able to measure your knowledge and skills abilities based on an intricate algorithm that “learns” about you with each successive answer you provide.

What The NCLEX Exams Measure

The state boards of nursing require all approved schools of nursing within their jurisdictions to deliver a certain level of credit hours and provide a curriculum that allows student nurses to learn what knowledge and skills will be required at the minimum to practice nursing. In fact each state government legislates an official Nurse Practice Act that delineates in detail the scope of a nurse’s practice at various levels of licensure.

Over the course of your undergraduate nursing education you learn certain core nursing competencies necessary for basic or entry-level nurses. Once you break into an area of specialization core competencies change to include more specific metrics.

These basic core competencies are a major part of what your NCLEX exam measures. But questions could cover anything you’ve learned in your two or four years of education.

You’ll hear about the NCLEX exam, study aids and tactics and strategies for getting prepared during the course of your nursing school program. The goal of any good school is 100% pass rate on NCLEX—this is good business for them and a win for you, as well.

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