How Hard Is The NCLEX? (5 Tips To Help You Prepare)

Aria Miller
Published by Aria Miller
Last Updated On: December 1, 2022

You’re about to take the NCLEX for the first time and, hopefully, become a registered nurse. Now’s the time to gather all the necessary information to ensure you start practicing nursing ASAP. So, how hard is NCLEX?

In this article, we’ll equip you with everything you need to know to pass the test with flying colors.

How Does the NCLEX Work?

How hard is the NCLEX exam

The NCLEX is the single most important exam you’ll take after leaving nursing school. It determines if you’re eligible to provide nursing care in your state. For most students, taking the NCLEX is one of the most difficult events in their education. It’s for a good reason, too.

There are two types of NCLEX exams:

  1. NCLEX-RN - a nursing test for prospective registered nurses
  2. NCLEX-PN - a nursing test for prospective vocational nurses

What Types of Questions Appear on the NCLEX?

Some test-takers find the NCLEX questions quite tricky and hard on their first try.

Here, we’ll focus on the NCLEX-RN. Still, both the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN are administered via a computer adaptive testing (CAT) system, so both work the same way.

The NCLEX-RN exam includes 4 types of questions:

  1. Fill-in-the-blanks
  2. Multiple-choice
  3. Order-response
  4. Select-all-that-apply (SATA)

The CAT adjusts the tests and the level of difficulty of questions according to your performance. Initially, you’ll be given a question that the computer believes you have a 50/50 chance of getting right.

When you answer the least difficult questions correctly, your next set of questions becomes more difficult. The level of difficulty increases until the computer decides you’ve demonstrated a satisfactory competency level.

There’s no exact number of questions that participants have to answer. You can get anywhere from 75 to 265 questions in total. Note that the number of questions doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’ve either passed or failed the test. You can answer the minimum number of questions and still fail or answer all 265 questions and pass the NCLEX-RN.

“The highest result of education is tolerance”

Hellen Keller

To make sure the questions don’t confuse you on your test day, get familiar with how the NCLEX looks early by taking a practice test. You can find countless sample questions and tests online.

As we’ve said, you’ll get a minimum of 75 questions, with the number increasing based on how well you perform on less difficult questions.

Is the NCLEX Hard?

A teenage girl thinking

How hard is the NCLEX, exactly? Let’s see what the standard pass rate is.

Between January and March 2020, the first-attempt NCLEX pass rate for U.S. educated nursing students was 86.16% [1]. When we compare that to the 87% first-time pass rate from 2017, we can see that this is more or less the standard pass rate.

The numbers tell us that passing the NCLEX isn’t easy. About 13% of test-takers don’t pass it—and don’t become registered nurses the first time.

Just like there’s no minimum number of questions you need to answer, there’s no exact number of questions you need to get right. A solid rule of thumb may be to give correct responses  to the medium difficulty questions at least 50% of the time.

Why Do Some Nursing Students Fail the NCLEX?

Three scenarios can cause you to fail the test:

  1. Time is up before you answer at least 75 questions.
  2. You answered all 265 questions and didn’t showcase a satisfactory level of ability and knowledge.
  3. The computer determined your level of ability and knowledge isn’t satisfactory even before you answered all questions.

Failing the NCLEX isn’t the worst thing in the world. A lot of nurses had to retake it, and they’ve been successfully providing nursing care ever since.

On the other hand, passing the NCLEX is… kind of hard. To make it a bit easier, don’t wait too long after you finish nursing school to take it. This way, you’ll need less time to prepare and refresh your knowledge than if you were taking the NCLEX later.

How Much Should You Study for the NCLEX?

Most students study for a minimum of 1-2 months before taking the NCLEX exam. You should develop a NCLEX study plan that will ensure you use the time you have well and prepare as much as you can.

If you fail the test, you’ll get 45 days to prepare again and retake the test.

In fact, 14.6% of nurses take the test again and often turn to professional tutors or schools for help. It’s O.K. to fail—the questions are hard, and it’s not like you’re the only nurse who didn’t pass the NCLEX on the first try.

5 Tips to Help You Prepare

Students studying outdoors for NCLEX

To make sure you begin practicing nursing as soon as possible, follow these top five tips during your test prep.

  1. Find practice tests. Seeing what the exam looks like before the test day will help you understand what to expect and how to prepare in advance.
  2. Start studying on time. Most nursing students start studying one or two months before the exam and have a detailed study schedule to keep them on track.
  3. Think your responses through. A question might have several correct solutions, but you should choose only the most appropriate one. Don’t jump to conclusions. Read the entire question and then pick an option.
  4. Take your time on each question. You’ll have six hours to finish the NCLEX. Don’t skip the question if you don’t know the right answer immediately. Better yet, go through the hard questions again when you finish the test and see if a solution pops to mind.
  5. Use digital resources. You can find just about anything online—from free quizzes and tests that will help you assess your knowledge to workbooks and students’ materials. Use as many varied materials as you can to increase your chances of passing.

So, is NCLEX Difficult?

If you organize your time properly and make a solid study plan, the NCLEX doesn’t have to be hard. You do need to take it seriously, though. It’s the one test that guarantees you’re competent to provide adequate nursing care to the public, so the level of difficulty is more or less justified.

Consider purchasing a prep course or book to ensure you’re getting your information from trusted sources. Since you’ll have to pay another $200 if you need to retake the exam, it's a good investment.


  1. https://www.mometrix.com/blog/what-are-the-nclex-pass-rates/#:~:text=Between%20January%20and%20March%202020,test%2Dtakers%20was%2077.89%25.


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