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NCLEX Pass Rates: What You Need to Know

Here we break down all information you need to know regarding passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and NCLEX pass rates.

First Time NCLEX Pass Rates and Schools

According to the NCSBN, the national first time NCLEX-RN pass rate for US educated nurses in 2020 was 86.5% and the PN pass rate for the same period of time was 83%. The pass rate for repeat RN test-takers was only 42.9% and for PN 35.6%. The NCSBN publishes annual and quarterly NCLEX pass rates on a state level, if you’re interested in seeing how your school stacks up. Regardless of your school’s pass rate, remember that your ability to properly prepare for and pass the NCLEX is 100% in your own hands.

Many factors contribute to the low pass rate for repeat test-takers, but the bottom line is, it’s critical that you prepare properly and aim to pass on your first attempt for your best chance at passing the NCLEX—period.  You need to have a solid study plan in place that blends content, test-taking strategies, and realistic practice with test-like questions. It’s also important to keep in mind that these are national averages; pass rates vary state-by-state and school-by-school.  To view 2020 NCLEX pass rates for each state, please see the table at the bottom of this article.

Need help prepping for the NCLEX? Check out Kaplan’s resources.

How many questions are on the NCLEX?

A test-taker will see a minimum of 60 questions and a maximum of 145 questions on the NCLEX-RN and PN.  Each of the tests will also include 15 experimental questions that do not count in scoring. Currently there is also an opportunity for many candidates to participate in a special research section for future Next Generation NCLEX items. When the test will stop for you depends on the level at which you are consistently performing. The NCLEX is a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) which means it uses an algorithm to produce each new question based on your performance on previous questions. As you answer questions correctly you will receive increasingly difficult questions, and if you answer questions incorrectly you will receive increasingly easier questions. You will not be able to skip questions.

Your job as a test-taker is to answer questions correctly and work your way up in difficulty to establish that your level of competency is high enough to demonstrate that you will be a safe and effective nurse.  When the test ends depends on how early you reach the required zone of competency established by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The test ends when the test-taker either passes the test after they have correctly answered enough questions to stay above the passing line with 95% confidence interval, or fails the test by not staying above the pass line with 95% confidence. So, a test-taker can pass or fail the NCLEX-RN/PN with 60 questions, 145 questions, or any number in between.

Other Considerations for passing the NCLEX

In order to pass, it’s not all about the number of questions you see; you’ll also be working within a time constraint. You will have 5 hours to finish the NCLEX (both RN & PN), which translates to an average of 2 minutes and 5 seconds to complete each question if you end up going all the way to question 145.

As you are testing, remember that each NCLEX question is as important as the next. Sometimes test-takers try to self-evaluate and guess how they are doing as they go along, but NCLEX doesn’t work that way. It is best to simply focus on the questions at hand.

NCLEX Pass Rates by State

Based on the most recent data available from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the table below illustrates NCLEX pass rates for each state in 2020.

NCSBN Inc. 2021
STATE OVERALL PASS RATE %
Alabama87.5
Alaska88.5
Arizona91.4
Arkansas83.4
California90.9
Colorado90.7
Connecticut89.5
Delaware93.6
District Of Columbia94.8
Florida68.8
Georgia88.8
Hawaii91.3
Idaho89.2
Illinois86.7
Indiana87.7
Iowa86.6
Kansas86.1
Kentucky88.8
Louisiana92.8
Maine89.1
Maryland87.4
Massachusetts89.8
Michigan89.0
Minnesota83.8
Mississippi88.5
Missouri90.0
Montana89.1
Nebraska90.1
Nevada93.2
New Hamphire96.2
New Jersey87.6
New Mexico85.7
New York83.2
North Carolina92.0
North Dakota91.6
Ohio84.4
Oklahoma85.3
Oregon90.1
Pennsylvania91.7
Rhode Island87.8
South Carolina90.4
South Dakota92.4
Tennessee91.7
Texas90.7
Utah88.7
Vermont87.7
Virginia87.0
Washington90.6
West Virginia90.2
Wisconsin88.7
Wyoming80.8

Need help prepping for the NCLEX? Check out Kaplan’s resources.