In addition to attending and successfully completing recognized nursing schools, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam in order to work as a practicing Registered Nurse. The standard exam is developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), a non-profit entity made up of regulatory bodies from all 50 U.S. states. The NCLEX-RN is administered by Pearson VUE, a secure and globally recognized testing company.

What Is the Pass / Fail Rate of the NCLEX-RN Exam?

The NCLEX-RN exam is challenging even for graduates of top-performing schools. For this reason, many students opt to complete test preparation courses and workbooks to familiarize themselves with exam content as well as formatting structure.

In 2018, the most recent year statistics are available, approximately 12% failed the exam the first time; 88.29% passed. Test takers receive an official pass / fail results from their nursing regulatory body approximately 6 weeks after they have completed the exam. (Some jurisdictions permit the release of non-official results sooner, within 2 weeks.)

What Happens If You Do Not Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam the First Time?

Though the vast majority of candidates pass the exam the first time, those who fail are permitted to retake it after 45 days from their original test date. Candidates may retest as many as 8 times in a year. Candidates must pass NCLEX within three years from when they graduated nursing school. Please note that some states put additional limitations on how many times candidates can re-take the test.

See our 10 tips for preparing for the NCLEX-RN.

Which States/Jurisdictions Limit the Number of Times You Can Re-Take the Exam?

When retaking the exam, candidates must adhere to the regulations set forth in their state when those regulations are more restrictive than the ones set forth by the NCSBN.

  • For instance, in the state of Colorado, candidates are permitted to take the exam three times within three years from the date the first examination was taken. In Louisiana, it is four times within four years.
  • In Florida, Hawaii, and Michigan, candidates who fail the exam three times are required to take and successfully complete state-approved remedial course(s) before they can re-take the exam for the fourth time.
  • In Indiana, candidates who fail the exam three times are required to prepare and present to the board the seriousness of their candidacy before retaking the exam a fourth time. In South Carolina, candidates who fail their exam within the first year must provide evidence to the board of remediation before re-taking it.

Because such requirements are subject to change, candidates are encouraged to contact the Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB) in their state for their policies on NCLEX exam retakes. This listing of states that have their own restrictions on test retaking is not all-encompassing. Moreover, candidates will have to pay additional fees associated with retaking the test.

Which States Allow Unlimited Tries for the NCLEX?

As of 2023, there are 23 states that allow you to retake the NCLEX with no extra restrictions. If you fail the NCLEX in one of the following states, you will be able to retake the exam regardless of how many times you’ve already failed it or how long it’s been since graduation.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusettes
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

If you live in a state that isn’t listed above, you’ll need to review your state’s specific guidelines for retesting.

How Can You Increase Your Chances of Passing the Exam When Retesting?

Candidates who did not pass the exam will receive an individualized NCLEX Candidate Performance Report (CPR), which reviews how they performed in each area of the exam. It is suggested candidates review their CPR so they know which areas they need to study more for in order to pass the exam when retesting. Apart from this, take a look at a few helpful hints that can help you pass on the second (or third, or fourth) time around:

  1. Develop a Study Plan: Create a structured study plan that allocates sufficient time to review all relevant content areas covered in the NCLEX-RN exam blueprint. Break down your study sessions into manageable chunks and prioritize topics based on your areas of weakness.
  2. Utilize Resources: Take advantage of a variety of study resources, including review books, online practice questions, NCLEX prep courses, and study groups. Utilize reputable resources that align with the NCLEX-RN content and provide comprehensive coverage of the exam material.
  3. Practice Questions: Incorporate practice questions into your study routine to reinforce your understanding of key concepts and familiarize yourself with the format and style of NCLEX-RN questions. Focus on both content mastery and test-taking strategies, such as prioritization, delegation, and critical thinking.
  4. Simulate Testing Conditions: Mimic the testing environment as closely as possible when practicing questions or taking practice exams. This includes timing yourself, avoiding distractions, and completing questions under similar conditions to the actual exam.
  5. Seek Feedback: If possible, review your practice questions and exams with a nurse educator, tutor, or mentor who can provide feedback on your strengths and areas needing improvement. Use this feedback to adjust your study approach accordingly.
  6. Stay Positive and Manage Stress: Maintain a positive mindset and believe in your ability to succeed on the exam. Manage test anxiety by practicing relaxation techniques, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and incorporating self-care activities into your routine.
  7. Review Test-Taking Strategies: Refresh your knowledge of test-taking strategies, such as process of elimination, educated guessing, and avoiding overthinking. Remember to read each question carefully, eliminate obviously incorrect choices, and select the best answer.
  8. Stay Updated: Ensure that your study materials reflect the most current NCLEX-RN test plan and guidelines. Stay informed about any updates or changes to the exam format or content and adjust your study plan accordingly.
  9. Take Care of Yourself: Prioritize self-care during your study period by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, and taking breaks when needed. Maintaining your physical and mental well-being is essential for optimal cognitive function and exam performance.
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