5 NCLEX Exam Changes Due to COVID-19

5 Min Read Published May 19, 2020
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COVID-19 has had a significant impact on nursing schools and programs across the country. It’s also had an impact on the NCLEX-RN and nursing students who are ready to take the exam and begin their nursing practice. 

Ironically, this pandemic has created a significant demand for more nurses but also made the process of completing the NCLEX-RN much more difficult and reduced the number of nurses who are eligible for licensure.

Because of these challenges and the urgent need for more nurses, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) recently made significant changes to the NCLEX-RN to enable nursing students and others eligible to sit the exam do so in a safe and more timely way.

We learned more about the recent NCLEX-RN changes from Shelly Luhning MN, RN. Shelly is the founder of NCLEX Education Canada Inc. and a nursing adjunct faculty member in the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing (SCBScN) program in Canada. She started her company in 2015 to help nursing students and those who are eligible prepare for the NCLEX-RN. Since then, Luhning has helped thousands of students from Canada, the U.S., and other countries to prepare for, and successfully pass, the RN exam.

Luhning notes there have been a number of significant changes to the exam since March 25, 2020, that those preparing to take the exam should be aware of.

How Has COVID-19 Affected the NCLEX-RN?

Test centers were initially closed due to COVID-19 in the U.S. and Canada and are slowly reopening. However, not all test centers have reopened. Physical distancing has allowed fewer students to take the exam at one time. 

What Changes Have Been Made to the NCLEX-RN as a Result of COVID-19?

The following changes have been made to the exam due to the decreased number of students allowed at each sitting:

  1. Exam Time: The maximum time allowed for writing the exam has been shortened from 6 hours to 4 hours. 
  2. Questions: The minimum number of questions that must be answered correctly to pass the NCLEX-RN has been decreased from 75 questions to 60 questions. The maximum number of exam questions that can be answered has been decreased from 265 questions to 130 questions. This is less than half the original number of questions on the previous version of the NCLEX-RN.
  3. Pre-test Questions: The 15 pre-test questions were removed from the exam. In the past, 15 pretest questions were included in all exams. These questions did not count in a student’s exam mark but were a way to collect statistics from students for future exams.  
  4. Sections: The research section at the end of the exam has been removed. The NCSBN has been collecting additional information from students at the end of the exam in the past for use in preparing the “next generation” of NCLEX-RN. This work was being collected to help with future exam changes.
  5. Attire: Students may wear a mask and gloves during the exam. 

This decrease in exam time and the number of questions is expected to allow more students to sit the exam daily. The level of difficulty and passing standard for the exam has not changed. The exam will also continue to be delivered through Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT). All these changes are noted on the NCSBN website

>> Related: Watch Nurse Alice's Free Webinar on How to Prepare for the NCLEX, exclusively available in the Nurse.org Nurse Network

Do the NCLEX-RN Changes Benefit Those Who Take the Exam?

Luhning explains there are pros and cons to the NCLEX-RN changes for exam writers. For example, many students worry about taking an exam that is 6 hours long because it can be difficult to stay focused for that length of time. So, a shorter exam may be appealing to students from that perspective. 

However, Luhning points out that where the new NCLEX-RN may be a disadvantage is for students that fail to meet the 95% Confidence Interval Rule on the exam. In the past, students that took the maximum length exam were given 265 questions to demonstrate they were above the passing standard in all client need areas. Now exam writers are given a maximum of 130 questions which may provide less opportunity to show they’re above the passing standard.

When Did These NCLEX-RN Changes Occur and How Long Will They Stay in Effect?

Changes to the NCLEX-RN took effect on March 25, 2020, and will continue until approximately July 4th, 2020. The NCSBN will reassess the situation closer to July 4th to see if these changes need to remain in effect for a longer period of time.

What Should Students Do to Prepare to Take the NCLEX-RN Based on These Changes?

Preparation to take the NCLEX-RN has not changed although students will have approximately half as many exam questions to complete to demonstrate they are competent and safe as novice nurses. Luhning stresses that students need to feel very prepared in all client need areas and feel confident and ready to take the exam before scheduling to take the NCLEX-RN.

What Challenges Do Nursing Students Face When Preparing for the NCLEX-RN? 

According to Luhning, most students don’t know where they are struggling or why. She says “Often I see students that believe they have failed because of xyz, but in fact, it could be something else”. 

She adds “Students often feel they are left on their own when they finish their nursing program. They are no longer part of their school and the nursing program and feel they have no one to turn to for questions and support”. 

To meet these needs, Luhning developed her program to provide students with the mentorship, coaching, support, and connection she feels they require to be successful on the exam. She recommends students seek out an NCLEX prep program that provides this comprehensive approach if they’re concerned about passing the exam.

For more information about recent exam changes and ongoing updates, see COVID-19 Impact to NCLEX Candidates on the NCSBN website. 

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*This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease.

Leona Werezak MN, RN is a nursing adjunct faculty member in the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing (SCBScN) program in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is also an entrepreneur and freelance writer who writes primarily about healthcare, wellness, and personal finance.

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