The National Council of State Boards of Nursing offers the National Council Licensure Examination -- or NCLEX -- to nursing school graduates. Successful completion of the NCLEX qualifies a nurse for board licensure. The NCLEX is a computerized adaptive test, meaning that the questions vary in difficulty. The computer uses this technique to determine how many questions to administer and which test-takers pass or fail.

Computerized Adaptive Testing

The NCLEX uses computerized adaptive testing technology to assess test-takers' abilities. Each candidate receives a different set of questions because the computer recalculates her estimated ability after each item. This assessment depends on the item difficulty and whether the response was correct. The test continues until the computer is 95 percent certain whether the candidate should pass or fail.

Test Format

The NCLEX test includes a variety of question formats, including drag and drop answers, fill in the blank and multiple choice. There are no partial credit questions on the exam. The test length varies depending on the responses of the test-taker. All nursing candidates receive at least 75 questions on the exam. If the computer does not have information about your ability after you answer the first 75 questions, the test continues. The largest number of questions the computer can administer is 265.

Failing the NCLEX

After answering the first 75 questions, the computer compares your performance to the NCLEX passing standard. If your score surpasses this standard, the test ends and you pass. If you perform significantly below the passing standard, you automatically fail after 75 questions. Sometimes the computer is unable to determine with 95 percent accuracy whether you pass or fail using your responses to the first 75 questions. In this case, it continues to administer questions until your ability falls clearly above or below the passing level.


Experienced statisticians and psychometricians ensure test validity and standardization of question difficulty. The NCLEX is designed to be challenging to nursing candidates, and many test-takers report that they find the exam difficult. The computer adjusts the difficulty of the questions until the test-taker gets about 50 percent of the items correct. Although the test may seem hard, the computer ending the exam after 75 questions does not always mean you automatically failed.