To become a nurse, candidates must complete a term of post-secondary educational training. During this time student nurses study subjects including biology, chemistry and human anatomy. Once a nurse has completed her undergraduate training, she must pass a state licensing examination to become a fully licensed nurse. The exam in question is known as the NCLEX.


The initials NCLEX stand for National Council Licensure Exam. There are two types of exams given: one for licensed practical or vocational nurses and another for registered nurses. The exam for LPNs is known as the NCLEX-PN, or practical nurse, while the exam taken by registered nurses is known as the NCLEX-RN. The exams also vary by state. Each state has its own version of the NCLEX.


To sign up to take the NCLEX, the applicant must apply to the state board of nursing, which will verify that the candidate has the necessary credentials. A student nurse must have completed all of her undergraduate classes with a satisfactory grade point average. In addition, the student must have completed a term of on-the-job-training known as clinical education. Candidates who have not completed such requirements will not be allowed to take the exam.

Material Covered

The NCLEX covers material related solely to nursing. Students are not asked to write an essay nor are they tested on their knowledge of any other subjects they may have studied in school such as communication or political science. Exams for both RNs and LPNs cover subjects such as safety and infection control, basic care and comfort, pharmacological therapies and physiological adaptation.

Average Pass Rate

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, candidates taking the NCLEX-RN for the first time in 2009 had an average pass rate of roughly 88 percent. Candidates who were taking the exam more than once had an average passing rate of 55 percent. Those taking the NCLEX-PN exam for the first time had an average rate of 85 percent. Student LPNs taking the exam more than once had a 41 percent passing rate.

Other Considerations

The NCLEX can be taken as many times as needed. The exam is given on a computer. Students are directed to test centers on the date when the exam is given. A computer administers the questions. Students start off with medium questions judged of medium difficulty. If they get that question wrong, a question judged easier will appear. This process continues until the computer has determined the student has taken enough questions and a grade of pass or fail can be issued. The results of the exam are mailed out after the candidate has finished taking it.

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