Is HESI Harder or Easier Than NCLEX? Quick Facts by Experts

There's no fixed answer. Some excel on the HESI but find it challenging on the NCLEX, while others think the reverse is true.

In this comparison, I’ll dig into the question: Is HESI harder than NCLEX? I’ll break down the ins and outs of both exams, what they cover, how they’re structured, and how they test you. 

Hopefully, by the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of what you’re up against on your journey to becoming a fully-fledged nurse.

Is HESI Harder Than NCLEX?

There’s no fixed answer. Some excel on the HESI but find it challenging on the NCLEX, while others think the reverse is true.

The NCLEX utilizes CAT, tailoring questions to each student’s performance. It progressively presents more difficult questions to assess the test taker’s limits. In contrast, the HESI is static, with predetermined questions for all test takers.

Personally, I think the NCLEX can become increasingly challenging, designed for candidates to fail questions. In contrast, the HESI, with its fixed set of questions, may seem easier to some.

Dr Cheryl Ross

However, difficulty perception can vary based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Let’s compare these exams in detail!

AspectHESI ExamNCLEX Exam
PurposeEntrance exams for nursing schools; help predict NCLEX readinessLicensure exam for registered nurses
Content FocusBroad coverage of general knowledge areasSpecific focus on nursing concepts
TimingTypically taken during nursing schoolTaken at the end of nursing school
RemediationRemediation programs help prepare for NCLEXSuccessful completion leads to licensure
Comparision table between HESI and NCLEX Exam
Compare HESI Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX with NCLEX Exam


First, I must emphasize that these two exams have different goals yet complementary within the nursing education and licensure process.

While the HESI aids in student assessment and NCLEX preparation, the NCLEX is the final step toward nursing licensure.

The HESI has two versions: 

The HESI A2 is an entrance assessment for nursing programs, helping institutions evaluate candidates’ readiness for studying. 

HESI A2 Study Guide 2023-2024

The HESI Exit aids in preparing students for the NCLEX. You can mark it as a benchmark for readiness to practice as a registered nurse.


Conversely, the NCLEX is a national licensure examination mandated for all nursing graduates in the US. It distinguishes between RN and PN candidates.

  • The NCLEX-RN is an exam for registered nursing program graduates. 
  • The NCLEX-PN evaluates vocational and practical nursing graduates, focusing on care coordination. 

NCLEX’s ultimate goal is to ensure that nurses meet the minimum standards for professional practice and patient safety.


Because of having different goals, these exams differ significantly in their content outlines and structure.

The HESI exam covers a wide range of subjects over 5.25 hours, including:

  • Language Usage with 150 questions
  • Math Skills with 50 questions
  • Science with 75 questions

Additionally, there’s a section assessing learning style and personality type. The HESI exam aligns with NCLEX test plans, assessing client needs, nursing process, and specialty areas.

In contrast, the NCLEX adapts to the test taker’s performance, with questions becoming more difficult if previous ones are correct. Its questions mainly address

  • Physiological knowledge (43%-67%)
  • Safe care environments (21%-23%)
  • Health promotion and maintenance (12%)
  • Psychosocial integrity (12%)


The HESI exam is typically taken during school. It’s a practice test and an assessment tool for both current students and potential applicants. Some programs integrate the HESI into their curriculum, while others use it for admissions decisions. 

Students who don’t pass the HESI can undergo remediation and focus on needing improvement areas to better prepare for the NCLEX exam.

In contrast, the NCLEX is the final step before obtaining professional licensure and is at the end of nursing school. You must complete the NCLEX to become a licensed nurse.


Both exams test critical thinking skills but have different content areas. 

HESI covers general knowledge like English, math, and basic science. It also looks at learning styles and personality types. 

On the other hand, NCEX is more specific to nursing. Its questions are about real-world nursing situations and require applying nursing knowledge. 

Which Score on the HESI Is Associated With Passing NCLEX?

Research indicates a strong correlation between HESI exam scores and NCLEX outcomes, with an estimated prediction accuracy ranging from 96-99%. Specifically, students scoring 900 or higher on the HESI can pass the NCLEX. 

By the way, the HESI scores range from 0-1500, with 850 being acceptable and 900 being the recommended threshold.

So, students who attain this score show a solid grasp of the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the licensure exam. 

Remember, success on the HESI doesn’t guarantee the same on the NCLEX. Prepare thoroughly for both exams, focusing on HESI content and NCLEX-specific topics like client care and nursing fundamentals.

Kevin Pan

Prepare For The NCLEX & HESI

Preparing for these exams requires careful planning. 

  • While the HESI provides insights into your readiness for the NCLEX for nursing school, prioritize studying for the NCLEX, as it’s essential for obtaining your nursing license. 
  • Develop a detailed study plan to cover all necessary material and allocate sufficient time for preparation.
  • To excel, review the exam topics to understand what to expect, especially if you’re taking HESI for the first time or transitioning to the NCLEX. 
  • I recommend creating flashcards to reinforce your understanding of care practices. Taking practice tests, including ones for the NCLEX, helps you gauge your readiness and identify areas for improvement.
  • Also, understand their formats, particularly the CAT in the NCLEX. Remember to answer questions based on textbook knowledge rather than personal experience. 
  • Keep fundamental principles in mind, such as patient assessment and critical thinking.
  • Lastly, relax and unwind before the exam to ensure you’re well-rested and focused. Stress can hinder your performance, so maintaining a calm demeanor is crucial for success.

Wrap Up

There’s no answer to the question ‘Is HESI harder than NCLEX?’. They both throw their own curveballs with different goals. 

The HESI is more structured due to its static format, while the adaptive nature of the NCLEX can make it more dynamic and personalized to each test taker. 

So, whichever you’re gearing up for, keep studying smart, stay focused, and trust your nursing know-how. You’ve got this!