When to Take the NCLEX-RN after Graduation

NursingMay 21, 2018

The question of when to take the NCLEX after nursing school graduation comes down to a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer. But it may help to consider a few salient points.

If you take the examination too soon, before you feel completely ready, your scores may suffer. If you wait too long after graduation, you risk forgetting some of what you learned in school. Keep in mind that the exam is not inexpensive. While it can be retaken, you should strive to do well your first time, in order to avoid wasting time and money attempting to earn your RN license. Your state board of nursing charges a fee, as does the test administrator. These fees quickly add up, especially if you have to fork them over repeatedly.

The Sooner the Better 

Consider, too, that time spent in possession of a degree—but no RN licensure amounts to time during which you will be ineligible to earn pay at the level available to you once you have obtained your RN license. You should also keep in mind that retaking the exam requires a 45-day waiting period. This represents more lost potential wages. If you spend money on a review course, you will be out even more money. Of course, if you do not spend time or money on review, you risk failing the exam. Again, the longer you are out of school, the more information you may forget. 

Nurses who have confronted these situations recommend taking the test within two months of graduation, if possible. The consensus seems to be; the sooner the better. And they strongly recommend spending significant time reviewing material, completing practice questions, etc. A good plan is to schedule daily reviews and/or practice question sessions, until you take your exam.

Attempt to pinpoint the areas where you are weakest, and focus on improving your knowledge in those areas. Taking an NCLEX simulation exam may be your best strategy. It can help you identify areas of weakness, while simultaneously allowing you to become familiar and comfortable with the test format. NCLEX is no ordinary exam. This is not your high school multiple choice test. Rather, it is a computerized adaptive test. 


Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) is a model used by NCLEX that poses questions based on your prior responses. For example, some questions may be deemed easier than the passing standard, while others may be considerably more difficult. If you do well on easier questions, the algorithm will pose increasingly harder subsequent questions, until you can no longer answer them correctly. It would then follow up by posing a relatively easier question. This allows the program to assess your readiness more thoroughly and rapidly than the old, standard format model. 

In essence, no two students will take the exact same test. The test will adapt to your responses and attempt to determine your highest level of knowledge and comprehension. Depending on your preparedness, you may be required to answer as few as 75 questions, or as many as 265. Similarly, the test may take anywhere from two hours to six hours to complete. Obviously, the better prepared you are, and the better you do on early questions, the faster you will complete the test, and the higher your score will be. To earn your RN, your collective score will need to be at or above the pre-established passing standard. 

Practical Considerations

Taking the test involves some other preparations. Before anything can happen, you will need to allow time to apply to take the test with your State Board of Nursing. They will need to do a background check on you, and this typically takes time. If you happen to have any questionable events on your record, such as a DUI, this could take longer than it would otherwise. You will also probably be required to pay a fee at this stage. They will review your school transcripts to ensure that you are actually eligible to take the NCLEX-RN. 

You will then need to register with the administrators of the test; Pearson Vue. At this point, you will need to pay another fee. And then you will need to wait. Again. Finally, you will receive an Authorization to Test (ATT). Only then will you be able to schedule the actual exam time/place. Keep in mind that a given ATT expires within 90 days, so it is crucial that you take the exam within that time frame once your ATT is obtained. Finally, keep in mind that once you obtain your ATT, you should schedule your exam as soon as possible. Available slots may fill up fast. You do not want to have to start this process all over again.