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After completing nursing school, nursing graduates must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to demonstrate their knowledge and competency for entry-level nursing roles.
As prospective nurses prepare their NCLEX study plans, they may come across numerous NCLEX prep resources offering different study options and methods at various price points. This article overviews seven popular NCLEX test prep resources for practice questions, practice exams and other study materials.
What Is the NCLEX?
The NCLEX is a standardized test created by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to determine whether nursing school graduates are ready to practice nursing safely. The NCLEX is the culmination of nursing students’ studies and the final hurdle toward becoming a registered nurse.
The NCLEX is a computerized adaptive test (CAT), meaning the computer adapts the test to each test-taker’s ability level based on their real-time exam performance. CAT technology makes testing more efficient and more effective in measuring nursing competencies.
NCSBN administers two NCLEX test plans: NCLEX for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) and practical nurses (NCLEX-PN).
The NCLEX-RN and PN exams vary slightly. Currently, both the NCLEX-RN and PN test plans are organized into four major “Client Needs” categories, with two of these categories being divided into subcategories. Here is a general overview:
- Safe and Effective Care Environment
- Management of Care (RN) or Coordinated Care (PN)
- Safety and Infection Control
- Health Promotion and Maintenance
- Psychosocial Integrity
- Physiological Integrity
- Basic Care and Comfort
- Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
- Reduction of Risk Potential
- Physiological Adaptation
The NCLEX covers the following fundamental nursing processes and concepts:
- Nursing process (RN) or clinical problem-solving process (PN)
- Communication and documentation
- Teaching and learning
- Culture and spirituality
NCLEX qualifications depend on guidelines set forth by regional nursing regulatory bodies (NRBs). Consult with the NRB in the area where you plan to practice to determine whether you are eligible to take the NCLEX.
Generally speaking, all test-takers must hold a diploma or degree in nursing. Students with a practical nursing diploma may qualify for the NCLEX-PN, and those with an associate degree in nursing or a BSN degree can qualify for the NCLEX-RN. Diplomas and degrees must be obtained through properly accredited programs.
The NCLEX exam contains 75 to 145 questions. Regardless of the number of questions that appear on your exam, you must complete the exam within the five-hour time limit.
The exam comprises questions in a variety of formats, which can include:
- Hot spots
- Audio and graphics
The NCLEX is administered via CAT, which assesses the test-taker’s ability level as the exam progresses and tailors the exam’s questions accordingly. This ultimately makes the testing experience more efficient and accurate. For this reason, the number of questions on the NCLEX and the questions’ difficulty levels vary by candidate.
The following scenarios determine whether a candidate passes or fails the NCLEX:
- The 95% confidence interval rule. This scenario is the most common for test-takers. The computer stops administering questions when it reaches 95% certainty that the candidate’s ability is either above or below the NCLEX passing standard.
- Maximum-length exam. When a candidate’s ability level is close to the passing standard, the computer administers questions until the candidate reaches the maximum number of questions. The candidate passes if the final ability estimate is above the passing standard, and they fail if the ability estimate is below the passing standard.
- Run-out-of-time rule. If an NCLEX candidate runs out of time before answering the maximum number of questions, the following alternate rule is used:
- If the candidate hasn’t answered the minimum number of questions, they fail the exam.
- If the candidate has answered the minimum number of questions, their exam is scored according to their final ability estimate. This estimate is generated based on the candidate’s responses to all completed questions.
Is It Hard to Pass the NCLEX?
Every year, NCSBN posts NCLEX pass rates. As of September 2022, the year-to-date pass rate for first-time, U.S.-educated NCLEX-RN candidates was 80.87%. The NCLEX-PN pass rate was 80.63%.
When Should You Start Studying?
It’s never too soon to begin studying for the NCLEX. Many students start studying several months before their scheduled exam date. Test-takers should plan to spend at least one to two months studying for the NCLEX.
NCLEX Test Prep Resources
Several NCLEX test prep resources are available to help nursing students prepare for the exam. NCSBN offers an official NCLEX practice exam; however, additional exam prep is recommended.
Below are a few key resources NCLEX candidates can use to prepare for the exam.
Study Methods: Personalized coaching, content assessments with practice questions and detailed rationales, adaptive quizzes, personalized coaching from an expert (Virtual-ATI® + Boardvitals)
Cost: The Virtual-ATI NCLEX-RN Review + Boardvitals costs $525; the Virtual-ATI NCLEX-PN Review + Boardvitals costs $475.
Resource Overview: ATI offers three NCLEX prep solutions: Virtual-ATI, Live Review and Boardvitals. Virtual-ATI, a guaranteed, 12-week NCLEX prep course, features personalized coaching from an experienced nurse educator who provides content assessments and study plans.
Study Methods: Practice questions, full-length computer adaptive tests, personalized feedback on test performance, videos, content review sessions, Qbank questions, e-book, content review guide, decision tree method
Cost: The self-paced course costs $425, and the live online course costs $525.
Resource Overview: Kaplan Nursing’s NCLEX test prep courses equip students with the clinical reasoning skills needed for the exam. In addition to the full live or on-demand NCLEX course, which provides 18 hours of lectures by experienced nurse educators, students gain access to the following resources:
- Kaplan’s strategic Decision Tree Method
- Content video library that covers more than 300 topics
- 10 NCLEX content review sessions
- Over 2,100 test-like Qbank questions
- Three full-length CATs mimicking the NCLEX test environment
- NCLEX-RN Content Review Guide
- E-book containing more than 500 pages
- NCLEX Channel lessons, live or on demand
- Study plans on mobile interface
Students receive personalized feedback about their test performance to help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.
Study Methods: Flashcards, instructional videos, study guide, full-length practice exams and a progress tracker
Cost: $59.99 per month
Resource Overview: Mometrix offers an abundance of free NCLEX test prep materials, including a free NCLEX-RN practice questions and NCLEX-PN practice test, plus lecture videos. Mometrix’s NCLEX-RN review course includes the following resources:
- Study e-Guide
- Nine full-length practice tests
- Over 600 flashcards
Study Methods: Practice questions, flashcards, NCLEX simulator, detailed rationales for correct answers
Cost: Nurse Plus Academy offers three premium packages: the Monthly, which costs $49 per month; the Bulletproof, which costs $99; and the Full Year, which costs $139.
Resource Overview: Nurse Plus Academy offers an extensive collection of free sample test questions. Students who want more in-depth prep materials can sign up for a Nurse Plus Premium account. A premium account provides access to the following resources:
- Over 2,700 test-like questions
- Unlimited NCLEX CAT simulations
- 80 realistic practice tests
- Over 350 SATA questions
- Voice-over and night mode
Additionally, students who sign up for the Bulletproof or Full Year packages gain access to more than 300 NCLEX flashcards and four NCLEX cheat sheets.
Study Methods: Video lessons, practice questions, e-books, cheat sheets, NCLEX simulator (SIMCLEX)
Cost: Six monthly payments of $82 for two years of NCLEX prep; 30-day access for $199; 90-day access for $249; 180-day access for $329
Resource Overview: Nursing.com prep courses include the following resources:
- NCLEX prep course containing 328 lessons
- 2,500 video lessons
- Over 6,500 practice NCLEX questions
- More than 300 downloadable cheat sheet PDFs
- Over 300 nursing mnemonics and over 400 picmonics
- More than 700 medical images
- Eight Nursing.com eBooks
- Comprehensive NCLEX review eBook
- Prebuilt NCLEX study plans
Additionally, each package comes with its own amount of SIMCLEX attempts. The 30-day access package comes with one attempt.
Study Methods: Practice questions, online flashcards, full score reports to help learners identify weaknesses and Boost test-taking skills, detailed explanations for incorrect answers
Cost: 365-day access plan for $199; 90-day access plan for $159; 30-day access plan for $99; five-day access plan is free
Resource Overview: The Princeton Review purchased more than 1,900 NCLEX practice questions directly from NCSBN, including multiple-choice, select-all-that-apply and dosage calculation questions.
- Qbank with over 3,500 NCLEX-RN practice questions
- Detailed explanations for correct and incorrect questions
- Full score report to help identify strengths and weaknesses
- Mobile web access
Study Methods: Challenging practice questions, thorough explanations for correct and incorrect answers, detailed images and illustrations, flashcards, online notebook to organize notes, self-assessment tests, performance tracking
Cost: $139 to $449, depending on the length of access to the examcollection and other test prep features
Resource Overview: UWorld Nursing offers custom exams, performance graphs and a variety of test prep materials developed by nurse educators, including the following:
- Next Generation NCLEX® questions
- Detailed rationales for correct and incorrect answers
- Vivid images and illustrations to deepen understanding
- Online notebooks
- Two timed 100-question tests and a detailed performance analysis available upon completion
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About NCLEX Prep
How should I prepare for the NCLEX?
There are several ways candidates can prepare for the NCLEX, including creating a study schedule, enrolling in a NCLEX prep course and taking practice exams. Taking NCLEX practice exams is an effective way to familiarize yourself with the questions and exam format.
How hard is it to pass the NCLEX?
Though the NCLEX is undoubtedly challenging, passing the exam is achievable for nursing graduates with thorough preparation. About 80% of first-time NCLEX test-takers passed the exam in 2022.