How Is The NCLEX Scored? New Method Updated

The NCLEX examination plays a pivotal role in the nursing licensure procedure.  Its purpose is to measure your capacity to utilize the knowledge and competencies acquired during your nursing education in practical situations. 

So how is the NCLEX scored? Unlike most tests you’ll encounter in nursing education, the scoring system of the NCLEX is different. Instead of giving a specific grade or score, the NCLEX result is just pass or fail.

How Is the NCLEX Scored?

You’ll pass the NCLEX exam if your answers reach a point where the system is 95% confident that your ability is above the passing standard.

The NCLEX test includes 75 to 145 questions for NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN for 205 questions. The 95% rule means you don’t necessarily have to answer all the questions. The test will end whenever the computer is 95% sure that your ability is either above or below the passing standard.

You’ll pass the test if the system is 95% sure that you are above the passing standard
You’ll pass the test if the system is 95% sure that you are above the passing standard

So if you do the test really well, you could finish after just 75 questions and pass. Or you could still pass the test after answering all 145 questions, or anywhere between. Naturally, the test will also end once the allotted time has expired.

By the way, the NCLEX uses computerized adaptive testing (CAT) technology to adjust the difficulty of questions based on your actual performance. That means if you are consistently answering questions correctly, the system will give you more difficult questions. On the other hand, if you are constantly wrong, the difficulty level will gradually decrease.

How Are Confidence Intervals Used on the NCLEX?

As a pass or fail exam, the NCLEX doesn’t evaluate you on a numerical score. The CAT keeps presenting questions until it determines with confidence whether you possess the requisite knowledge to practice nursing. No need to beat anyone’s score, just show you’ve got the skills

Linda Kim

Once the system is 95% confident that you are good enough to be a nurse, it’ll stop giving you questions, and you will pass the test. On the contrary, once the test is 95% certain that you aren’t good enough to be a nurse, it’ll stop asking you questions.

There’s always the chance that you may need to go through all the questions. Another way to fail the NCLEX exam is that you can’t correctly answer a sufficient number of questions within the given time frame of 5 hours.

When Will You Get Your NCLEX Results?

It typically takes six weeks to obtain your official NCLEX results. However, you can view your “unofficial” results just two business days after the exam to discover if you’ve passed.  This allows you to swiftly learn whether you’ve passed or failed, but you can’t practice as a registered nurse until your official results are in hand.

You’ll get your official NCLEX results after six weeks
You’ll get your official NCLEX results after six weeks

Remember that if you do your exam on a Friday or close to a holiday, it may extend the period needed to receive your scores. Accessing your quick results also incurs an extra fee of $7.95.

I’ve heard some students mention a way to instantly find out their scores by attempting to register for the exam again. The idea is that if you’re unable to register, it supposedly means you’ve passed. However, I strongly advise against using this method. It’s not a reliable way to determine your results, and you might end up paying the exam fee twice.

What Happens If You Don’t Pass NCLEX After Your First Try?

First, I want you to take a deep breath and know that you are not alone. Struggling with the exam is fairly common, especially among those who either don’t study sufficiently or lack access to the appropriate resources. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s (NCSBN) pass rates, here’s a breakdown of the failure rates for the NCLEX-PN exams:

  • Overall, an average of 34% of all candidates (again, including first-timers and retakers) fail.
  • For first-time test-takers in the U.S., the failure rate is also around 20%.
  • The failure rate for retakers increases to an average of 62%.

For the NCLEX-RN:

  • On average, 42% of all candidates (including first-timers and those retaking the exam) fail.
  • Among first-time test-takers in the U.S., about 20% fail.
  • For U.S. candidates retaking the exam, the failure rate jumps to an average of 59%.

So just think about what happened. Was it a matter of timing or pacing? Perhaps one question involved an overwhelming amount of information? Or maybe you found yourself out of time? Knowing the issues will be crucial to strategizing and preparing effectively for your next attempt.

You must wait about 45 days before retaking the test
You must wait about 45 days before retaking the test

If you don’t pass the test for the first time, you’ll have the chance to retake it. You must wait about 45 days before your results are issued before you can sit for the exam again.

After your first try, you’ll receive a Candidate Performance Report. This personalized document outlines your performance across different content areas. So, you can use it as a valuable tool to guide your study efforts as you prepare to retake the exam.

Retaking the NCLEX can be both costly and demanding, especially after dedicating a significant amount of time to studying. So my advice is don’t rush to retake the exam right after receiving bad news. Instead, it’s wise to invest in a supplementary resource specifically tailored to assist you in passing the exam.

Common Misunderstandings About The NCLEX Scoring System

#1. More questions on the NCLEX doesn’t mean you’re failing

The test changes based on how you’re doing, not how many questions you answer. You might get the minimum or go all the way to theS max, but it’s whether you’re hitting the right level that counts. For first-time test-takers, most RNs pass, while PNs have a slightly tougher time. But remember, it’s your skill level that matters, not the number of questions.

#2. RN and PN Test Scoring

RNs and PNs, you’re both in the nursing family but your exams look a bit different. RNs, your test covers more ground, including leading a team. PNs, your focus is more on direct patient care. Even though the tests have different flavors, they grade you the same way. It’s all about whether you’ve got the chops to make the grade.

#3. Forget the idea that the NCLEX is trying to trip you up with sneaky questions.

Each one is there to see if you’ve got the nursing know-how to make smart decisions. Tough questions? Sure, but they’re fair and square. It’s all about proving you can think on your feet like a nurse should

The Bottom Line

By this point, you should understand how the NCLEX is scored. The moment when you sit down to take the NCLEX exam represents all your efforts throughout nursing school. Try your best to remain focused and put into practice all the test-taking strategies and knowledge you’ve gained.

If you fail on your first attempt, don’t worry, though! In the period between receiving the unfavorable results and your next attempt, prepare yourself well, and you will be fine!