CNA and the Canadian Nursing Students’ Association developed these tips to help students write the NCLEX-RN entry-to-practice exam.
Eight steps to writing the NCLEX-RN exam
The following list is an adapted version of the process identified by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), which develops the NCLEX-RN exam. We have modified the steps for students in Canada.
- Apply for licensure with one provincial/territorial nursing regulatory body where you wish to work and be licensed/registered.
- Register and pay the exam fee to Pearson VUE via phone or internet.
- Receive acknowledgement of Receipt of Registration from Pearson VUE by e-mail.
- Your provincial/territorial nursing regulatory body will activate your eligibility in the Pearson VUE system.
- Receive Authorization to Test (ATT) e-mail from Pearson VUE. Your ATT is valid for 90 days from date of issue.
- Schedule your exam appointment via the internet or by telephone. You must test within the 90 day validity period of your ATT.
- Arrive for the exam appointment and present your acceptable identification.
- Receive your official results from your nursing regulatory body.
About the exam
- The NCLEX-RN is a computer-based test, 75 to 265 questions in length. Fifteen items on the exam are unscored pretest items that do not count towards your result. You will not know which items are unscored, so try your best on all of them.
- The NCLEX-RN is developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and administered through Pearson VUE.
- Test accommodations can be requested through Pearson VUE. Accommodations refer to any adjustment made to the testing conditions that helps an applicant overcome a physical or mental condition or disorder. Examples include additional time and a separate room. Be sure to check with your provincial/territorial nursing regulatory body, as you may be required to submit or coordinate a request through them first.
- The exam will be a maximum of six hours in length. The time will depend on the exam’s Computerized Adaptive Testing process, which uses questions of varying difficulty to assess competence.
- There are multiple question types, including multiple choice, audio questions, calculations, and drag and drop. For a simulation and examples of these different question types, download the NCLEX-RN Tutorial. This automatic 101 MB file for Windows is a computerized simulation of the virtual test environment, including samples of question types. NCSBN recommends this simulation be downloaded and run in Chrome.
- You cannot skip questions. To advance to the next question, you must provide an answer. There is no penalty for guessing. Once you have answered a question, you cannot go back to it.
Anecdotal evidence from students and nursing educators indicates that unmanaged anxiety and poor preparation and planning are the two major factors contributing to lack of success on the NCLEX-RN exam.
The following tips can help you plan and organize your studies:
- Review our list of resources.
- Develop your study plan and timeline.
- Consider using multiple modes of study (e.g., textbook, group study, online modules, videos) to meet your learning style.
- Consider supplementing your study with mobile NCLEX-RN review apps so you can study on the go or in short periods of time.
- When reviewing practice questions, be sure to review the rationales for all questions, not just those answered incorrectly. The rationale may be different than your own, or perhaps you knew the answer, but couldn’t articulate the reason. Reviewing all rationales can help to improve your knowledge base and preparation for the exam.
Before the exam
- You should not have to study the day before the exam. You may wish to spend the day doing relaxing activities. Choose an activity or relaxation technique that you know works for you. Try to be active, but avoid overexerting yourself. Most important, be sure to get a good sleep the night before the exam.
- Consider doing a dry run to the testing centre. Map your route, method of transportation, cost, parking and any other logistics to minimize surprises and stress on test day.
- Prepare and be confident! Don’t schedule yourself to take the exam until you have given yourself adequate time to prepare. If you have studied and you still feel unprepared, or if you know you will be unable to write the exam on your scheduled day, you can change your appointment. Be sure to follow all steps and provide at least 24 hours’ notice so as not to forfeit your exam fee.
On exam day
The following is adapted from NCSBN.
- Wear light layers as room temperatures may be variable. You will be required to leave hats, scarves, gloves and coats outside of the testing room. Provisions are made for religious or cultural attire.
- It is recommended that you arrive 30 minutes before the exam, as you will be required to check in and provide your biometrics. If you are more than 30 minutes late, you may have to forfeit and rewrite at another time, for an additional cost.
- The following biometrics will be obtained on site, before you are permitted to write the exam: signature, photograph and palm vein scan.
What can I take in with me?
- During the exam, personal items should be kept in the locked storage provided by the test centre.
- Some items cannot be accessed at any time during your exam appointment or breaks:
- Educational, test prep or study materials.
- Electronic devices. Electronic devices such as cellphones are not permitted. You will be required to store your electronic devices in a sealable, plastic bag provided at the testing centre. At the end of the exam, you will have to return the unopened bag for inspection by the test administrators.
- You are not permitted to bring paper or writing instruments into the exam. You will be provided with an on-screen calculator and an erasable note board with markers.
- Many items are not allowed in the testing room, but can be accessed on breaks:
- Medical aids/devices
- Food or drink, gum/candy
- Lip balm
For more information, refer to NCSBN’s NCLEX Candidate Rules.
During the exam
- The exam will be a maximum of six hours in length, which will include a short tutorial and breaks. Breaks are optional and are offered after two and 3.5 hours of testing.
- The test is 75 to 265 questions long. The computer will shut off once the system has determined your ability. It is important to remember that writing 265 questions does not mean you have failed and, conversely, 75 questions does not guarantee that you have passed. Continue to focus and remain calm throughout the exam. Do not let yourself get discouraged. Plan to be there for the full six hours, so as to have reasonable expectations about exam length.
- Expect and plan for anxiety and feelings of uncertainty during the exam. Stay positive and focused. Anecdotal evidence from those who have passed the NCLEX-RN indicate that many of them left the exam feeling as if they had failed.
Coping with stress (adapted from CRNNS NCLEX-RN Preparation Guide)
- Plan in advance for the examination. Schedule your time effectively for studying. Do other activities and make time to rest. All of these can help reduce your level of stress.
- If you are working on a temporary licence:
- Contact your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) for stress management resources
- Talk to your colleagues — they have all written registration exams and understand the stress you may be experiencing
- Reach out to your manager and/or union shop steward for guidance on how to manage your work commitments while preparing for the NCLEX-RN
After the exam
- You will receive your official results from your regulatory body. Wait times may vary by jurisdiction, though they are usually received within two weeks of writing the exam.
- If you are not successful on your first attempt, you will have a chance to rewrite the NCLEX.
- If you are working on a temporary licence, check with your regulatory body and nursing association, as well as your employer, as the number of exam attempts you are permitted while maintaining a temporary licence varies by jurisdiction.