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What is the NCLEX Exam? Breaking Down Nursing Examinations

Posted on by cmorrison

When you work as a registered nurse (RN), your responsibilities can range from coordinating patient care, to administering medication, to providing medical and emotional support to patients. In order to master these tasks, you must have a complete grasp on a variety of topics.

Nurses have a lot of knowledge and need to be prepared to take on any task at any time, and standardized tests ensure this mastery. To work as a nurse, individuals must be licensed, and the NCLEX is required to obtain licensure. Learn more about the NCLEX exam here.

What is the NCLEX exam?

The NCLEX exam is the National Council Licensure Examination. It’s a requirement for nurses to become licensed in the United States and Canada.

There are two types of the NCLEX: the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed registered nurse and an NCLEX-PN to become a licensed practical nurse.

The exam applies what students learn in nursing school to real-world situations and proves that they’re prepared to work in clinics, hospitals, and other medical environments.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers and owns the NCLEX exams.

Who should take the NCLEX-RN?

If you wish to become a registered nurse, you need to take the NCLEX-RN to work as a licensed RN in your state.

First, you must have a degree that qualifies you to become an RN. Before you graduate from your program, you request to take the NCLEX-RN exam by submitting an application to the NCSBN.

When you’re ready to become a licensed RN, follow the steps listed by the NCSBN.

What does the NCLEX-RN exam cover?

The NCLEX-RN covers four categories and eight subcategories. These four overarching categories are called “Client Needs” categories and the six subcategories are housed within them.

These Clint Needs categories integrate medical, surgical, pediatric, psychiatric, and obstetric content throughout the different exam sections.

The Client Needs categories include:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment: This category contains two subcategories.
    • Management of Care: This covers topics like client rights, ethical practice, informed consent, and patient advocacy. Approximately 17-23% of exam questions are within this subcategory.
    • Safety and Infection Control: This covers topics like accident prevention, error prevention, and hazardous materials. This subcategory composes about 9-15% of exam questions.
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance: This category covers topics like newborn care, disease prevention, and health screening and makes up 6-12% of exam questions.
  • Psychosocial Integrity: This category covers topics like grief and loss, stress management, crisis intervention, and end of life care. Approximately 6-12% of exam questions are within this category.
  • Physiological Integrity: This category contains four subcategories.
    • Basic Care and Comfort: This covers topics like nutrition, personal hygiene, and mobility and makes up 6-12% of exam questions.
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies: This covers topics like chemotherapy, intravenous therapy, and medication administration, with 12-18% of exam questions within this subcategory.
    • Reduction of Risk Potential: This covers topics like diagnostic tests, potential for complications from surgical procedures, and therapeutic procedures. This subcategory composes 9-15% of exam questions.
    • Physiological Adaptation: This covers topics like hemodynamics, medical emergencies, and pathophysiology, and makes up 11-17% of exam questions are within this subcategory.

Learn more about the NCLEX-RN here.

How is the NCLEX structured?

The NCLEX contains a variety of question types, including multiple choice, multiple response, fill-in-the-blank, and drag-and-drop. However, approximately 90% of the exam is multiple choice.

Test-takers complete a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265 questions. Additionally, everyone answers 15 experimental questions that don’t count for or against the overall score. These experimental questions are used to test samples that future exams may use.

You have a maximum of six hours to complete the exam.

All NCLEX exams are administered at Pearson Professional Centers on computers. Because it’s a digital exam, the computer gives the test-taker more difficult or easier questions based on previous answers.

Interested in becoming a registered nurse?

Before you take on the NCLEX, you’ll have to get a degree in nursing. The Dallas Nursing Institute prepares students for a successful career.

Read up on the program and request more information today.


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