Greetings, and welcome to yet another information-packed article on how the NCLEX is graded.

In this article, we’ll explain in plain English the grading system of the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN (the grading system is the same).

By the time you finish this article, you’ll be well-versed in NCLEX computer adaptive testing, and how to fail/pass is determined in the NCLEX exam.

In summary, here is an outline of what we’ll cover:

  • How is NCLEX graded?
  • Computer adaptive testing scoring method
  • NCLEX scoring system
  • NCLEX fail/pass rule

Without wasting time, let’s dive right in.

How Is the NCLEX Graded?

How Is the NCLEX Graded

Unlike most exams that are graded based on a student’s correct answers, the National Council Licensure Examination takes a different route as it uses the computerized adaptive testing system to grade test-takers.

In layperson’s language, CAT means the exam is tailored to the candidate’s ability level.

The NCLEX exam starts with moderately difficult questions.

If the candidate answers the question correctly, the next question will be slightly more difficult.

Suppose they get the question wrong.

The following question will be slightly easier than the previous one.

As you continue with the test, the CAT system analyzes your ability level and the difficulty of the questions you’ve answered before selecting the next item.

The computer uses this method to establish your true ability.

And so, each test question you answer in the exam will not be too easy or too hard.

When taking the exam, you won’t notice when the questions are getting easier or more difficult.

Your focus at that moment is to reach above passing standard—we’ll get to this in a bit.

While the NCLEX has a maximum of 150 questions, the number of questions you’ll get depends on when the system establishes your ability with 95% confidence.

Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) Scoring Methods

Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) Scoring Methods

NCLEX computer adaptive testing comprises these four elements.

Candidate ability: The amount of entry-level nursing knowledge, abilities, and skills a nursing student has.

Ability estimate: The level of entry-level nursing skills, abilities, and knowledge the system has ascertained that the nursing student has.

Passing standard: It’s a point on the ability range scale that indicates the minimum ability required to effectively perform the duties and responsibilities of an entry-level nurse.

Logit: This is a unit of measurement that compares a candidate’s performance relative to an average candidate’s and the difficulty level of a question compared to other questions.

CAT uses these four elements to determine whether test-takers are competent enough to become nurses.

NCLEX Scoring System

NCLEX Scoring System

The traditional NCLEX used dichotomous scoring, where you get all correct or all incorrect for a question.

They were no partial credits.

The next-generation NCLEX that takes effect on 1st April uses polytomous scoring.

In this scoring system, you can get partial credit if you are partially correct.

Partial credit works with +/- scoring, 0/1 scoring, or rationale scoring.

+/- scoring: You get a point for a correct answer and lose one for an incorrect answer. In SATA questions, for example, if you select three correct answers and get one wrong, you’ll earn two points instead of three.

0/1 scoring: You get one point for the correct answer and no point for incorrect answers.

Rationale scoring: All paired items must be correct for test-takers to earn points.

NCLEX Fail/Pass Rule

NCLEX Fail and Pass Rules

Since the NCLEX test doesn’t grade candidates’ performance, so to speak, the computerized adaptive testing determines whether you’ve passed or failed the exam using these three rules.

95% Confidence Interval Rule

The computer system generates questions until its 95% confident that the test-taker has enough knowledge to become a nurse.

If the system establishes with 95% confidence that your ability is above the passing standard, the test will stop, and you will pass the exam.

Suppose it determines with 95% confidence that your ability is below the passing standard.

The test will still stop, but this time you’ll fail the exam.

With this rule, you might answer the minimum number of questions, all questions, or any number of questions in between.

Maximum Length Exam Rule

This rule dictates that if a candidate’s performance is too close to the passing standard, they must answer all the exam questions.

The CAT system will use all the answers to determine if they’ve reached the passing standard.

The maximum number of questions in the NCLEX currently is 150.

Run-Out-Of-Time (R.O.O.T) Rule

If a candidate doesn’t answer the minimum number of questions within the allotted time limit, they automatically fail the exam since the system can’t establish their competency level.

Conversely, if they’ve answered the minimum number of questions and the time runs out, the system will use all the answers given to establish the final ability estimate.


NCLEX grading uses computer adaptive testing that generates questions depending on the student’s knowledge level.

This method ensures learners are tested at their level.

And ultimately, only those who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to deliver as entry-level nurses get into nursing practice.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing reviews NCLEX every three years to ensure the exam and scoring methods are up-to-date.

FAQs on how the NCLEX Exam graded

FAQs on how the NCLEX Exam graded

How does NCLEX determine pass or fail?

NCLEX determines pass/fail using computer adaptive testing. The scoring method uses the candidate’s ability, ability estimate, passing standard, and logit to determine a candidate’s competency level. The test ends once it determines with 95 confidence that one is competent enough to be a nurse or not.

How many questions do you need to pass NCLEX?

There’s no specific number of questions you need to answer to pass the NCLEX. You can pass the exam after answering the minimum number of questions in the test, all the questions, or somewhere in between. NCLEX grading method uses computer adaptive testing.

What grade is passing on the NCLEX?

There’s no passing grade on the NCLEX. Test-takers must answer the minimum number of questions (75 questions) for the system to determine their ability level. The exam can end at any point between 75 and 135 questions once it determines whether you are knowledgeable enough to be a nurse.

How many marks do you need to pass NCLEX?

NCLEX is a pass/fail exam. There’s no passing score to work towards. The exam algorithm tests your ability level with each question answered and gives you either difficult or easier questions. The test will come to an end once it determines your competency level.

How do you know if you passed NCLEX?

You don’t get the results immediately at the end of the exam in the testing center. You’ll know whether you’ve passed or failed approximately six weeks after taking the exam. But you can get your unofficial results after two business days after taking NCLEX through Pearson VUE. This service costs $7.95.

How long does it take to get an NCLEX score?

It takes around a month and two weeks. But you can get them two days after the NCLEX through Pearson VUE. For the unofficial results, you’ll be charged a small fee. You’ll get the official results from the national regulatory body.

How many questions are on the NCLEX?

The NCLEX exam questions range from 85 to 150. There are 15 pre-test questions. That means the scored number of questions ranges from 75 to 135. The pass rate for first-time test-takers is 79.9%. In case of failure, there’s room for a retake.

What are the different types of NCLEX questions?

The types of questions on the NCLEX exam include enhanced hot spot, multi-response, multiple-choice, enhanced drag-and-drop, matrix, drop-down, bow-tie, and case scenarios. Familiarize yourself with these questions through practice tests. Also, ensure you review the material from your nursing program.



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