The NCLEX is different from many other standardized tests you’re used to, mostly because you don’t get a percentage grade. You won’t know whether you got 70% or 80% of the questions right, and you won’t be given a percentile range. Instead, you’ll simply be graded on whether you passed or failed. To get an NCLEX passing score, you need to prove that you’ve met the overall competency requirements for a nurse who has been newly registered. That’s pretty much exactly what the NCLEX stands for.
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How the NCLEX is Scored
The NCLEX test is done with the use of Computerized Adaptive Testing technology, otherwise known as CAT technology. CAT technology tailors the questions to your current ability level, which allows you to achieve results at a faster, more accurate, and fairer pace.
When you pass the NCLEX, you demonstrate that you’re competent and ready to become a nurse. The best way to prepare for the NCLEX, besides studying, is to understand how the CAT technology works.
The overall goal of CAT technology is to identify the level of competence that each candidate has by tailoring the questions to their individual skill levels. Each subsequent question reveals more about the candidate’s competency level.
CAT technology will start by asking everyone questions at the same basic level. When a candidate gives a correct answer to a question, the next question will be slightly more difficult, as the test will assume that easier questions could be answered by the candidate. When a candidate gives an incorrect answer to a question, the next question will be slightly less difficult. This allows candidates to show their levels of competence and test at their own skill level.
Read more about what to expect on NCLEX test day.
How the NCLEX Uses Confidence Intervals
The reason the NCLEX is scored in a pass/fail manner is because of the way the questions are tailored to each individual. Since such a big part of the test is the determination of skill level through making the questions more and less difficult, it’s not possible to give each candidate a percentage score. A good NCLEX score isn’t determined by the percentage of questions you get right. Instead, a good NCLEX score is determined by a calculated confidence interval, which shows what your logit score is.
This essentially means that the NCLEX test will calculate whether or not you’ve truly demonstrated competency to become a nurse. The test will continue to give you questions until it’s certain that your actual nursing ability is above the basic standard for passing. Because of this, there’s no set number of questions on the NCLEX. The test lasts as long as it takes to determine whether you can pass or fail your competency test. Still not convinced? Check out our article Is the NCLEX Hard?
How Many Questions Will There Be?
The first few questions will be experimental, as the test determines your overall level. You might see only 75 total questions, 15 of those being the experimental ones while 60 affect your real time test score. You might also see up to 265 questions. Regardless of the amount of time the test takes to complete, you’re guaranteed to be given enough questions and review enough content for the testing software to determine whether you pass or fail the competency requirements.
The test maker ascertains that you’ve reached a passing score when it is 95% confident that your ability is above the necessary logit score for passing. With each new question, the confidence level of the test increases.
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Related: Take the NCLEX with confidence with the help of these free NCLEX practice questions
What’s Passing the NCLEX?
Believe it or not, the NCLEX-RN passing score is actually zero points. This is because 0.00 is considered the balance point between competent and not-competent. When a candidate is in the positive range of the score, they pass. When the candidate is in the negative range, they fail.
There are two scenarios in which the candidate can pass even without proving they are significantly more competent than the passing standard:
- The candidate answers a maximum number of test questions and, at the end of this trial, achieves the required competency levels on a positive scoring note, even if that positive number is not significantly more than the 0.00 passing standard
- The candidate answers the minimum number of questions at the very least, but they run out of time, and their competency level is consistently above the passing standard when the last sixty questions they answered are considered
What’s Failing the NCLEX?
If a candidate has a competency level which is significantly lower than the accepted passing standard, they will not pass the NCLEX. Candidates can also fail in these scenarios:
- A test taker answers the maximum question number, but their competency level is below the passing standard when they finish the test. Alternatively, if the test taker runs out of testing time, and their competency level is below the passing standard regarding the last sixty questions they answered, they will fail.
- A candidate fails to answer the accepted minimum number of test questions (15 experimental along with 60 real scored) within the allotted time period.
Before you get too worked up about failing the NCLEX, check out how many times you can take the NCLEX. You’ll be fine.
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