NCLEX & Nursing School

Two Keys to Passing the NCLEX

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on November 26, 2012 3:43:00 AM CST

describe the imagePassing the NCLEX is your last step towards becoming a nurse.  For some students, it’s an easy task that comes naturally, while others struggle to “crack” what can be a very tricky test.  There are two major reasons why passing the NCLEX can be tricky, and why people often turn to NCLEX prep classes or NCLEX tutors to help them pass:




  1. The NCLEX is a computer adaptive test (CAT)
  2. The NCLEX tests a mix of subject knowledge and critical thinking

The NCLEX is a Computer Adaptive Test

As you probably know, the NCLEX is a “Computer Adaptive Test,” which means you receive questions based on your previous answers:

    • Every time you answer a question, the computer re-estimates your ability based on all the previous answers and the difficulty of those questions

    • The computer then selects the next item it expects you to have a 50% chance of answering correctly.  This way, the next item should not be too easy or too difficult

    • The goal is to get as much information as possible about your true ability

    • You should find each question challenging as each question is targeted to your ability

    • With each question answered, the computer’s estimate of your ability becomes more precise.

Ultimately, the test ends when the computer is 95% certain your ability is either above or below passing standard (or you run out of time, in which case a variation of this rule is applied to your last 60 questions).

Why does this make the NCLEX tricky?  Well, we all know what it feels like to get flustered while taking a test, doing a presentation, or simply meeting new or important people for the first time.  It’s easy to get a few questions incorrectly on the NCLEX, and begin receiving easier and easier questions, and pretty soon you are in a “hole” and it’s difficult to prove to the computer that you are above the “pass” level, because the questions you are getting are too easy.

The NCLEX tests a mix of subject knowledge and applied critical thinking.

The NCLEX is an interesting test.  There is a lot of information to know across all of the sciences and nursing protocol and procedures.  You can do poorly by not recalling this information.  On the other hand, if you are an expert at eliminating clearly incorrect answers (i.e., at thinking critically about the questions as you go along), you can pass the test without a completely firm grasp on these basic facts.  Passing the test requires a good base of knowledge, combined with the ability to think critically about what answers are clearly wrong, and restrict your focus to answers that might be right.  In this way, when you do guess, your chances are 50%, instead of 33% or 25%.

Based on our experiences providing NCLEX tutoring in Chicago, most students have the knowledge of the facts they need to pass the NCLEX, and instead get caught up in the process of taking the test (i.e., the applied critical thinking associated with the multiple choice questions).  They become frustrated that they don’t simply know the answer, even when they might actually know pretty well that three of the four answers aren’t right – which means  they do know right answer!

Are you interested in working with an NCLEX tutor or taking an NCLEX prep class? What are you experiences with the NCLEX?  We’d love to hear from you below.