How is the NCLEX Scored? Quick Facts for the NCLEX 2023

How is the NCLEX Scored? Quick Facts for the NCLEX 2023
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You may have been researching how the NCLEX works only to find that there is a lot of bad information out there and you need to know what’s true and what’s false regarding NCLEX rumors. Good news, you’ve come to the right place!

How does the NCLEX work?

Let’s start with a little background info, and talk about how the NCLEX works on a technical level. We now live in a digital age, and the old-fashioned days of paper and pencil are gone now many tests have transitioned to computer adaptive testing (CAT). You may be asking yourself, so what? Why should we care? Are there any advantages?

Absolutely! For starters, the tests are much shorter and faster now. With the old NCLEX written test, you would have to answer every single question on the exam. With the new NCLEX that uses CAT, the computer is able to accurately determine your performance to a near certainty without making you take all of the questions in the testing bank. It’s awesome!

Computerized grading is also 100% accurate… and fast! In just a few days you can have your final results, compared to the months it took during the dark ages.

Here is a step-by-step of how CAT works from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN):

  1. Every time you answer an item, the computer re-estimates your ability based on all the previous answers and the difficulty of those items.
  2. The computer then selects the next item that you should have a 50% chance of answering correctly.
    a. This way, the next item should not be too easy or too hard
    b. The computer’s goal is to get as much information as possible about your true ability level
    c. You should find each item challenging as each item is targeted to your ability
  3. With each item answered, the computer’s estimate of your ability becomes more precise.

There is good and bad information out there regarding how the NCLEX works, so let’s take a look at some of the common NCLEX rumors!

Does getting cut off at 75 questions mean that I passed the NCLEX?


I have seen countless people say that if your NCLEX cut off at 75 questions that you definitely passed the test. The truth is that you could have passed or failed. The reason you were cut off was simply that the computer had met a threshold of certainty of your testing level.

What does that mean? Basically, the computer has determined your performance average and has predicted that you will get the same results if you stop now or stop after 100 more questions. If your performance is at or above the passing threshold or cutoff line, then you passed. If it lies below it, you failed.

Bottom line: If you passed your NCLEX and got cut off at 75 questions then you did a great job. If you failed at 75 questions, then you really made of mess of it.

Does getting cut off at 145 questions mean that I failed the NCLEX?


Similar to the first question, you can pass or fail the NCLEX at the 145 question mark. If your final score places you above the passing threshold, then you passed, and if not, then you failed. Getting drawn out to 145 questions can mean multiple things, which leads us to the next question.

If I got all 145 questions on the NCLEX, does the last question determine if I pass or fail?

Maybe… it depends

If you have been drawn out until the last question, it can mean one of two things. Either the computer has not yet accurately predicted your testing level, or it has, but you’re so close to the cutoff line that it wants to give you a little more room to improve.

In the first case, maybe you have answered all of the questions so erratically that you’ve simply confused the computer. In this case, regardless of if you answer the last question correctly, you could pass or fail the NCLEX depending on your total score and the weight of each question (i.e. fancy computer maths).

On the other hand, if on the last question you are at the 50/50 pass/fail border, and if you get the last question correct, it will push you over the threshold and you will pass the NCLEX. On the flip side, if you were on the pass/fail border and got the last question wrong, then you would fail the NCLEX.

If I ran out of time on my NCLEX does the last question determine whether or not I passed?


Running out of time is probably the worst case scenario when it comes to ending your NCLEX because it’s the least flexible. If you managed to take 5 hours, then the last 60 questions will determine whether you pass or not. You must have every one of the last 60 questions above the passing threshold for this situation in order to pass your NCLEX.

Now, keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you have to answer every single question correctly in order to pass if this happens. You just can’t dip under the passing threshold at any point in the last 60 questions. So, if this is your situation, then I hope you were pretty consistently right towards the end… otherwise, better luck next time.

Are Select-all-that-apply (SATA) and prioritization the hardest NCLEX questions and weighted the most?


SATA questions are generally the hardest questions on the NCLEX. The number of correct responses is unknown and getting partial credit is not an option, as it is either pass or fail.

Prioritization questions are also very difficult, as all of the responses are likely correct answers to a question, but rely heavily on critical thinking skills to find the correct order.

Because of this, SATA and prioritization questions are given the most weight when scoring the NCLEX final results. It’s similar to saying a correct SATA question might give you 3 points while a correct easier question might give you 1 point. This can be comforting because if you get a fact-based multiple choice question on a drug you’ve never even heard of before, it might not matter that much regarding your overall testing performance.

If I mostly got SATA and prioritization questions, does that mean that I passed the NCLEX?

Maybe, it depends

Kind of like the first question, whether or not you passed the NCLEX will largely depend on whether or not you actually answered these questions correctly or not. If you get all SATA and prioritization questions AND you think you aced them, you probably passed.

If you got all SATA and prioritization questions AND you think you got the majority of them wrong, you could have failed the NCLEX.

However, even if you have failed many of the SATA and prioritization questions, you could still pass so long as you are above the passing threshold, you just might get extended beyond the 75 question cutoff number.

Does the NCLEX have experimental test questions and do they count?

Maybe, it depends

Prior to 2017, the NCLEX may have embedded experimental test questions into your NCLEX. The test was supposed to require a minimum of 75 questions to cut off, so if you only had 75 test questions, you probably did not receive any experimental questions.

However, in 2017, the NCSBN began using something called the special research section. Users are randomly selected based on certain conditions (such as total time spent testing, and whether or not the computer had cut you off) and this section would be appended to the end of your NCLEX. Here are some key points about this:

  • You should be informed that this section has started.
  • There is no credit! Your answers DO NOT COUNT for or against you.
  • This section will only show up after your NCLEX has been finished.
  • This section is voluntary and you can quit at any time without penalty.

Does the Pearson VUE registration trick actually work?


Assuming your results were actually delivered (which can take some time after you walk out of the building) you can try the Pearson VUE trick. If you go to re-register for your NCLEX after taking the test and get a pop-up stating “Our records indicate that you have recently scheduled this exam. Please contact your member board for further assistance. Another registration cannot be made at this time,” then you have passed your NCLEX! Congratulations!

So as you can see, there are a lot of complicated and possibly confusing elements to the NCLEX. In the end, try not to fret so much about the number of questions you got cut off at, or the amount of SATA and prioritization questions you received, as they don’t necessarily indicate a pass or fail. Don’t drive yourself crazy for the next few days that it could take to get your test back! Instead just wait a few hours and try the Pearson re-register trick… that actually works.

Read more about the Pearson Vue trick here:

Here are some extra NCLEX facts:

  • 75 questions is the minimum amount of questions that are on the NCLEX.
  • 145 questions is the maximum amount of questions that are on the NCLEX.
  • There are experimental questions that are being trialed on the NCLEX that DO NOT count for credit. You will not know which questions are real and being counted and which ones are experimental, however, you can get them right or wrong without affecting your score.
  • The majority of students pass the NCLEX on the first try.
  • The NCLEX requires an authorization to test (ATT) which involves your school and your state board of nursing before you can register for your exam.
  • The Pearson Vue trick works for Canadian nurses as well as for those in the USA.
  • You can take the NCLEX as many times as you wish, with the limitations of one exam every 45 days, and 8 exams per year.
  • There is no NCLEX RN passing score. The test is determined by reaching a passing threshold and has nothing to do with the number of questions you take or how many you get right or wrong.

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