shutterstock 401599609For someone to become a nurse in the United States, you must first pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is a standardized test that all state regulatory boards use to determine if a graduate is ready to become a licensed nurse. There are some things you should know about the examination that will help you understand the rules and regulations.

The NCLEX Exam

There are two different NCLEX exams available, and based on your level of education, either the NCLEX-PN that is designed for practical nurses or the NCLEX-RN designed for registered nurses that have completed the minimum requirements for examination. Those students who have completed an associate degree (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree (BSN) can take the NCLEX-RN exam.

Both of these exams focus on four specific areas of nursing practice. They include safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, physiological integrity. This last section accounts for about half of all the questions.

How long after graduation can you take the NCLEX exam?

Many graduating students want to know how soon after graduation, they can take the NCLEX exam. The answer is that it is somewhat up to you. The earliest date that you can take the NCLEX exam varies depending on the state you test in, but the majority of students test about 45 days after the date of their graduation.

You should schedule and take the exam as soon as possible after you graduate. All that information you learned in school will still be fresh in your mind and easier to recall. Some students wait for months before taking the exam, mainly because they feel that they aren’t ready. However, the longer you wait, the more you have to study, and the higher the chance that you will not pass on your first try. So take it as soon as you possibly can.

Some states have provisions for individuals that wait to take the NCLEX exam. For example, the state of Tennessee allows people who completed a course of study no more than ten years before the date of application to take the examination. This request for application is reviewed on an individual basis.

Registration Requirements

All students that have completed an accredited nursing program (or are near completion) can apply to take the NCLEX.  About six weeks before graduation, you should receive an application for licensure, with a pre-determined date to return your completed paperwork and required fees. Once these are submitted and processed, you will receive an Authorization To Test (ATT). Candidates are then eligible to apply (register) to the state in which they plan to take the test and follow the guideline set by the Board of Nursing for that state and the test site.  This application can be made by phone or online, and the current cost to take the NCLEX is currently $200.

According to the NCLEX Candidate Services, all registrations are open for 365 days during which a board of nursing/regulatory body (BON/RB) in your state can find out eligibility. This time begins when your state BON/RB receives the NCLEX registration from a test service. Once you are determined to be eligible, you must test within the stated dates printed on your ATT. This ATT will be valid for a limited period that is specified by the state BON/RB (the average length is about 90 days and cannot be extended for any reason).

Candidates who are not found eligible or who are denied eligibility by their BON/RB within the 365 days will not be able to register. This forfeiture also includes the registration fee that was paid. If this happens, you will need to reregister and pay the fee again.

After your board of nursing/regulatory body declares you eligible, you will receive your ATT by email notification. You must have your ATT information to register to take the NCLEX. If the name on your ID (driver license) does not match the first and last names you provided exactly when registering (listed on your ATT), you will not be admitted to the examination site. You will need to register again and pay another fee to take the exam.

Board of Nursing (BON) Requirements for the NCLEX

The eligibility requirements to take the NCLEX and to get a license/registration are determined by the board of nursing or the nursing regulatory body (NRB) in the state where you wish to be licensed/registered.

An applicant who has graduated from a Board-approved school of nursing in another state must have completed coursework substantially similar to the course of study in the state in which you wish to be licensed. Each state has minimum curriculum requirements and approved schools of nursing. If you do not meet these requirements, the state BON may require you to eliminate all deficiencies before you are permitted to become licensed.

Since the adoption of the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), nurses are now allowed to hold one license to practice in multiple states. There currently are 34 states which have enacted NLC legislation. This means that they already recognize multi-state licensure or have legislation pending.

Licensure is used by nursing  boards to give permission to individuals to participate in nursing practice. This is after ensuring the applicant has the necessary skills. It is necessary when the activities are complex and specific knowledge, skills, and problem-solving are necessary. This licensure process will determine if that individual has achieved the essential skills to safely perform within the scope of nursing practice through pre-determining criteria, and evaluation to decide if the person is qualified.

For most states, this criterion includes proof of graduation or pending graduation, confirmation of successful completion of NCLEX examination, and some states also require a criminal background check. Receiving licensure to practice nursing is an exciting time, and the reward for hard work and dedication it took to reach this level of achievement.

Tracy Everhart

Master of Science (M.S.), Complementary Alternative Medicine| American College of Healthcare Sciences

Master of Science (M.S.), Nursing| Yale University

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Microbiology| Hampshire College

November 2019

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