NCLEX Pass Rates: What You Need to Know

Here we break down all information you need to know regarding passing the NCLEX and NCLEX pass rates.

Number of Questions to Pass the NCLEX

Many students wonder how many questions it takes to pass the NCLEX-RN. The short answer—it depends.

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.

First Time NCLEX Pass Rates

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 quarterly NCLEX pass rates can be found here. However, the pass rate for repeat RN test-takers was only 42.9% and for PN 35.6%. 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. (See below.)

NCLEX Pass Rates and Schools

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.