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Does receiving a low number or high number of questions on the NCLEX mean that I passed or failed?

Updated on December 6, 2012

Does the Number of Questions I received on the NCLEX indicate whether I passed or failed?

As a nursing instructor, a lot of students call or come see me right after taking their NCLEX exams. The first thing they usually ask is, “Do you think I failed?” and they first question I ask them is, “How many questions did you get?”

The truth is, the number of questions that you do get can be an indicator of how well you did on the NCLEX. For me, personally, I got 201 questions on the NCLEX-PN exam and 75 questions on the NCLEX-RN exam. What on earth does that mean?

If you are reading this just after taking the NCLEX, relax. Know that one there is one fact that is for certain. You can pass the NCLEX no matter how many questions you got, and you can fail the NCLEX no matter how many questions you received. However, there are some clues…

Number of Questions

As you probably already know, for the NCLEX-PN exam (for LVNs/LPNs), graduate vocational nurses receive between 85 and 205 questions. For NCLEX-RN graduate vocational nurses, they can receive between 75 and 265 questions on their exam.

Low Number of Questions

If you received a low number of questions on the NCLEX, such as between 85-95 for LVNs/LPNs or 75-85 for RNs, then one of two things probably happened. Either you really did well, or you did really bad. As the NCLEX is a computer adaptive test, it tries to figure out if you as a graduate nurse meet the minimum competency level required for practice. As such, as soon as the computer can figure out whether or not you will meet the “secret” formulated percentage of correct answer choices, it will pass you. Similarly, if you receive such a low percentage of questions correct and it deems that based on your current trend of answering questions you will not get a greater percentage correct, then the computer will fail you. Therefore, if you reach at or around the minimum amount of questions and the computer shuts off, it either means that it you answered enough questions to satisfy the computer, or you answered enough questions that there is no way that you will ever satisfy the computer. In other words, you aced it or you bombed it.

What this means is that if you were a straight-A student in nursing school and have a good understanding of concepts, absent an anxiety attack, you probably passed. If you had really bad grades in nursing school and don’t know most of the major labs or don’t know basic concepts, you probably failed. However, there are always exceptions.

High Number of Questions

If you come out of the NCLEX and answered around 200 or more questions or even got the maximum amount of questions, it means that you either just barely passed, or you just barely failed. The computer, believe it or not, wants you to pass. If you keep answering questions and get them wrong, the computer will give you easier questions. If you keep answering questions and get them right, the computer will give you harder questions. Therefore, the more questions you get, the more the computer wants you to pass. It will keep giving you questions to try to get you to pass. If you go all the way to the maximum number of questions, the computer is almost, but not entirely sure of whether your passed or not. I have seen people who get the maximum number of questions pass as well as fail. Most students who were C-students in nursing school tend to get higher numbers of questions.

I got a lot of select all that apply questions. What does that mean?

I have heard some students don’t get any alternative item format or select all that apply. This doesn’t mean that you passed or failed. It just means you got lucky. Everyone knows that select all that apply questions tend to be harder than other questions. From my experience, both personally (I didn’t count, but it seemed liked I got at least 20-25 questions on my NCLEX-RN exam) and from my students and peers, it appears that the more select all that apply and alternative item format questions one gets, the greater likelihood that the student passed. I have one student who claims she received 40 select all that apply. She was super smart, so I believe her, but she is the exception rather than the rule. I personally didn’t count how many were on my exam, and I wouldn’t encourage you to count, as that takes away from your concentration on the question being presented at that time, but if you are getting more than 14 or 15 select all that apply questions on the exam, you probably passed (though I have seen a student or two fail if they got that many, but it is rare).

In the end, though, I feel compelled to give you this very true disclaimer: no matter how many questions you received, it is possible that you either passed or failed the NCLEX. How will you know for sure? Only time will tell…



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