NCLEX 2020-2023 Test Plan: The Current Changes


What is the NCLEX?

Nursing continues to be a vital profession globally. From pandemics to wars to everyday health, nurses help direct, support, and review the health of everyone, for humanity. An important step for any nurse is licensure. To obtain this license, current and future nursing professionals must pass the NCLEX test. The assessment determines the ability level of RNs and LPN/LVNs. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops the NCLEX and updates its tests every 3 years. The revisions improve the passing standard and ensure nursing knowledge meets current standards, advancements, and future NCSBN goals.


NCLEX’s Test Focus and Format

The NCLEX uses computer adaptive testing (CAT), utilizing test items of various difficulty levels. Thus, after each answered item, the computer re-estimates a candidate’s ability based on previous questions and their level of difficulty. NCSBN explains, “The computer’s goal during the NCLEX is to determine the ability of the candidate in relation to the passing standard.” The knowledge focuses on entry-level nursing ability. Therefore, candidates should not worry about studying advanced areas of nursing they are not prepared for. The exam’s language utilizes universal knowledge, so one examinee will not be advantageous over another candidate from a different region or country. In terms of medications, the test uses generic names, and some knowledge addresses the classification of medication.


Besides that, for the NCLEX cognitive level, the assessment requires examinees to employ problem-solving skills to answer the questions correctly. As Lexile level helps determine reading ability, here are the reading levels for the exams:


  • The RN version does not exceed 1300 Lexile.
  • The PN version does not exceed 1200 Lexile.


Additionally, candidates may receive different test item formats like multiple response, drag and drop/ordered response, and cloze calculation. Keywords like increased, refute, next, and so forth are in bold. The test can include 75-145 items. Moreover, for accuracy and measurements, the NCLEX includes items that only have one meaning. The item writers are nursing instructors, and administrators who scrutinize the assessment several times for accuracy. Most importantly, administrators review the tests for bias—racial and gender—using differential item functional analysis (DIF). Revisions for the exam occur every 3 years, and the next set of changes occur in 2023.


Changes for the Current NCLEX Approved October 1, 2020, for RN and PN Versions


  • Examinees receive 75-145 items.
  • 15 pre-questions are included to help determine overall and future testing difficulty levels.
  • NGN (next-generation items) are optional.
  • Tutorial removed (increases testing time for examinees) from the test but remains online.
  • Time increased to 5 hours.


The Current Passing Standard for the NCLEX

Therefore, the passing standard uses a logit, a unit of measurement that accounts for “the relative differences” between the candidate’s ability and the difficulty of the test items. Therefore, the NCSBN creates test items focusing on entry-level nursing knowledge and on the overall ability of candidates to answer questions based on these factors:


  • A panel of judges reviews the accuracy test.
  • Annual surveys of employers and nursing educators about the current knowledge level of entry-level nurses.
  • A historical review of previous NCLEX exams.
  • An educational readiness survey of high school students pulled from the ACT.


NCSBN approved the current logit level for RNs at 0.00, and it is good till March 31, 2023. The PN version’s logit level is -0.18, and it is also good till March 31, 2023. To pass, a candidate will need to score above the logit level. Beneath or at the logit level is a non-pass. Below presents a breakdown of the pass and fail decision rules.


NCLEX Pass or Fail Decision Rules for the Passing Standard


95% Confidence Interval Rule:

The examinee’s ability indicates 95% certainty above (passes) or below (fails) the passing standard, the computer will stop administering test items—the most common situation.


Close to the Passing Standard:

Examinees will continue to receive questions until the maximum number of questions is obtained.

1.) Examinees who do not reach the minimum number of test items fail.

2.) Examinees who reach the minimum number of test items and above the passing standard will pass.

3.)Examinees who reach the minimum number of test items and at or below the passing standard fail.


R.O.O.T—Run Out of Time Rule/Alternate Rule:

At times, examinees run out of time and do not attain the maximum number of items answered. Additionally, the computer cannot determine if the candidate passed or failed at 95% certainty; thus, the alternate rule will be applied:


1.) Examinees not reaching a minimum number of items fail.

2. ) Examinee reaches the minimum number of items will be scored by a final ability estimate:

a. An estimate above the passing standard is a pass.

b. An estimate at or below the passing standards is a fail.


The Costs of the NCLEX

  • The US Only: 200 dollars
  • International: 150 dollars is an additional fee, which foreign applicants will pay, along with the 200 dollar fee plus taxes.
  • Change Fees: 50 dollars


NCLEX Numbers Indicate How Many People Enter the Nursing Profession

The test shows how many people are applying to become a nurse because it is usually the last step before becoming a nurse. Thus, the testing numbers provide a good indicator of how many people are entering the profession. In 2021, for example, 203,557 took and passed the test for RN licensure. The Philippines, India, Puerto Rico, Kenya, Nigeria, and Nepal have the highest number of international applicants who took the test and passed it for 2021. Of this group, for 2021, the Philippines outpaced the other countries with 9,788 applicants who applied and passed the test, which is about 7,000 more people than the second top country India. These applicants hope to find employment in the US.


The NCLEX, the primary test for nurse certification, continues to change and adapt to current trends. Nurses should understand the passing levels to ensure they will pass the NCLEX. The test provides health organizations a way to track how many people enter the profession domestically and internationally.

How Can I Better Prepare My Staff for the NCLEX Changes?

With these forthcoming changes, it is vital to provide your teachers with the supplies and curriculum they need to adapt to the new NCLEX testing methods. A Pass Educational Group, LLC is in a uniquely qualified position to assist you. As a company that has worked for years to meet specific and custom curriculum needs, we have the information, tools, education, and skills to create the materials you need.


Our assessment capabilities are top of the line, and we can create the perfect samples for your faculty to work from. To see what we can do for your institution, take a look at our higher ed assessment samples page.

Who is A Pass?

A Pass Educational Group, LLC is an organization dedicated to the development of quality educational resources. We partner with publishers, K-12 schools, higher ed institutions, corporations, and other educational stakeholders to create custom quality content. Have questions?

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