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Registered Nurse License

By an allied health world contributing writer

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What is the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)?

After earning the Bachelor Degree, Associate Degree, or Diploma from a state-approved nursing program, candidates are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before performing as an entry-level registered nurse.
The NCLEX-RN exam was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), a not-for-profit organization Registered Nurse Licenseput in place to regulate the nursing profession. It consists of boards of nursing in all 50 states, and four United States territories: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands. They also extend membership to other countries and territories.

Learn more about the registered nurse degree.

Each individual state board is responsible for administering the NCLEX-RN to its residents. The exam is available year-round and costs $200. Scores are measured using an innovative testing format based on the difficulty of the questions answered, not on the overall score. Test items include fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, and items asking for identification on a picture, graph, or chart. Students would also be tested on their ability to prioritize a list of tasks in a procedure. On average, candidates can expect to answer 119 test items and spend about two and a half hours completing the examination.


How difficult is the exam?

Pursuing the exam immediately after earning a degree or diploma is highly recommended. Individuals at a more recent stage of study have higher proficiency levels and will succeed with less effort. According to statistics from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing the probability of a passing score is likely. The likelihood of passing only increases with the level of the nursing degree earned. In 2008 over 129,000 US students took the NCLEX-RN exam. A passing rate of 87.5% was accomplished among the candidates with the Bachelor Degree and 86.2% by those with the Associate Degree.

Learn more about the registered nurse schools.

Is continuing education required for a practicing registered nurse?

Each state mandates specific Continuing Education Unit (CEU) requirements to maintain a nursing license. For example, California requires 20 hours of CEUs and license renewal every two years. Registered nurses certified in a specialty are required to have a greater number of CEUs, a certain percentage of which must relate to the specialty. CEUs can be achieved through conferences, lectures, or hospital classes, covering topics from general nursing knowledge and leadership to specific areas of interest. States do not require submission of CEU hours, however random audits are performed and those lacking proof of license risk suspension.


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