The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops the nursing licensing examinations – NCLEX- RN and NCLEX-PN.

In September, the NCSBN held their yearly conference to discuss the tests. Here are some of the things we want to pass along to you!

The 2019-2021 test plan:

  • The test plans are not changing significantly in 2019, though there is an improved emphasis on culture and spirituality.
  • Other changes for 2019-2021 tests are based off what is required of nurses during their first year of practice. You can find the nursing practice analysis here.
  • The 2019 test will really look like the 2016 test. TAKE A BREATH! You are cool. Put the rumors down.

  • They will be putting new item types in the research section of the test. These do not count toward your score on the test. At all. So, if you see a strange question, like a select-all-that-apply with a kazillion choices (up to 10, actually), don’t worry about it. They are testing out the question, not you.
  • Your instructors will start pushing you to think harder. Clinical judgment! There is a new NCSBN Clinical Judgment Model that is expected to be used on the 2022 test for RN and PN. This model is intended to make the test more like real life instead of the mythical NCLEX world where you have all you need and the docs answer your texts immediately.
  • NCSBN has until around December to decide if they want to make the test a little bit more difficult to pass in 2019. If this happens, they do not expect to make it much harder. Think of this as the difference between needing a 78% to pass and an 80% to pass on a regular text. This may not happen at all. We will let you know!

Other tidbits:

  • The NCSBN folks SWEAR that the Pearson VUE trick is not accurate. They reiterate that if the system takes your money for scheduling a test that is not needed, they cannot give you that money back. New nurses used to have to wait a REALLY long time to get those results. You will have them in a couple of days. CHILL OUT 🙂
  • The NCSBN spends approximately 1.5 years working on each test item before it becomes a question that will get a score when you answer it. This includes having lots of students answer it and lots of nurses review it before they decide it is fair to use on the real test.
  •  The NCLEX is not 3 years behind practice changes, though. They constantly go in and remove outdated information and replace it with newer questions that address current practice.

Here are some useful statistics and information that came from the conference:

  • 40% of testers do stop at 75 items.
    • 80% of testers who stop at 75 items pass.
  • 40% of testers answer between 76 and 264 questions on the NCLEX-RN.
    • It just means the computer is trying to keep up with you! Don’t panic. Just keep going! 
  • 15% of test takers hit that max number of items 256.
    • 50% of those folks pass.
  • I didn’t hear anyone say where the other 5% of the test-takers went.
    • Maybe they ran away? (Seriously, it is probably people who had to cancel for illness or something.)


  • The NCLEX does not give you the same item reworked until you get it right. The computer is not that smart!
  • Even for you straight-A folks, the NCLEX is smarter than you! You will feel like you didn’t know it all because the CAT gears the questions to make sure you have a 50-50 shot in each one!
    • As in, you are super smart and the test keeps pushing to see which questions are actually tough for YOU.
    • The better you answer, the harder they get. That’s all.
    • Chances are excellent that you passed, even if you feel like you don’t know the answers, even if you feel defeated by the number of select-all-that-apply items!
    • As an instructor, I can’t tell you how many brilliant students message me after their exam feeling defeated….AND THEY PASSED!
    • Chances are awesome that you did great! Be confident!


Where can you find more information?

Truly, everything a nurse graduate needs to prepare for the NCLEX is on the NCSBN website. Including a great explanation of adaptive testing or CAT.

You can access the basic or detailed test plans for RN and PN on the NCSBN website. Information is also available about alternate item formats, how many decimal places for numerical answers, and tutorials, offered in both English and French.  For French-speaking and Canadian NCLEX-RN testers, there is much more information on the NCSBN site, such as a list of terms that do not translate well between languages and how this type of determination is made.

Check out the NCSBN website before you test. You will not regret it.

Take a look at our summary of the 2017 NCLEX UPDATES HERE:

Select All That Apply and other NCLEX changes

      You will love our NURSING SOLUTIONS on MOBILE & COMPUTER!





Posted by Catherine MSN RN

Catherine is a nursing subject matter expert at Higher Learning Technologies, the developers of awesome Nursing Mastery products. Catherine worked in oncology, pulmonary, progressive care, intensive care, med-surg, step-down, and hospice. Catherine teaches clinical, classroom, and simulation. "Spare time" fillers include craft festivals, camping, and raising 5 boys in TN. #BoyMomma #ICanStudyAnywhere #NursesRock


  1. I’m having difficulty retaining the material. Please help


    1. Catherine MSN RN November 7, 2018 at 11:40 am

      This is a complex question. Continue daily practice with NCLEX MASTERY each day is one of the best methods to increase retention.


  2. I haven’t thanked y’all for all the efforts that you made just to help us get through NCLEX! Nclex Rn Mastery is not only an app but a very strong and powerful tool to have as a nurse. I’ve been only getting 55% correct answers most of the time —and that made me scared— but constantly training and challenging yourself to think like you’re in the actual exam helps you to manage your time and develop test taking strategies and gain more nursing knowledge and skills. Not to mention all the features such as podcast, audio, video, nclex simulation, blogs, everything that the app offers are really helpful! Again, with my utmost respect to the creators, the nurses and developers of Nclex Mastery, THANK YOU! I am now a Registered Nurse. Loud and proud! 👩🏼‍⚕️ ❤️


    1. Catherine MSN RN November 7, 2018 at 11:38 am

      This is amazing! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a warm comment. The team appreciates it so much!!!


  3. If you have mix of “above” and “near” the passing line for NCLEX, is it a pass? Or is it only “above” a pass? Because I read somewhere that either “above” and “near” mean a ‘pass’. But, if you only have “near” for all sections, that means it’s a fail. So confusing..


    1. Catherine MSN RN December 18, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      First, just know that you will be just as prepared no matter where the standard lies! As long as you have a few answers just above the pass line, a few just below, and few at the passing standard line, you should be fine. It kind of averages out. See this video for how the adaptive testing works, too!


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