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When to Take the NCLEX After Graduation
Alright, so you’ve graduated nursing school and are trying to figure out when to take the NCLEX after graduation. Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer to this question that is right for everyone. However, there are certain things to consider as you make this important decision.
You don’t want to take it too early if you’re not ready, but you don’t want to wait too long. The longer you wait, the more you forget.
You also want to take this seriously. Don’t just test to see if you’ll pass, then only study and take it again if you have to.
It’s not that simple. Or affordable.
Taking your nursing boards is expensive. There are fees from both your state board of nursing and Pearson Vue (the people who administer the NCLEX) to consider, in addition to any lost wages from not being able to start work as a nurse right away. Plus, you must wait a minimum of 45 days to retake the exam. That’s 45 days of lost wages.
If you earn an average RN salary, you’ll be missing out in $12,825 in lost wages. Not to mention what you’d pay for a review course and fees to re-register on top of it.
So, let’s dive deeper into figuring out when to take the NCLEX after graduation.
When Do Most Graduates Take the NCLEX?
Let me tell you about my post-grad timeline. I graduated May 8th, 2010 and I tested June 15, 2010 (5.5 weeks later). I took an NCLEX review course, an assessment afterwards to see where I needed more content review, and took 25-50 practice questions 6 out of 7 days a week until June 13th. Then, I did nothing nursing related on June 14th. Finally, I tested on June 15th and passed in 75 questions in about 1.5 hours.
Reminder: I’m not a great test-taker. I attribute this success to diligent and purposeful studying and planning.
I thought it’d be helpful to hear from other nurses about their post-graduation timeline. I asked nurses on Twitter, with almost 800 nurses responding. Results showed that 79% tested between 2-8 weeks after graduation, and 98% of voters would have either tested earlier or at the same time if they had to do it all over again.
Bottom line: Test as soon as you’re ready, don’t wait.
First, Assess Yourself
It is critical when studying for this exam is to first identify the areas in which you need focus. I recommend taking an NCLEX simulation exam. By doing this, you get the feel for the exam and computerized adaptive testing (more on that later), as well as identifying those specific topics to focus in on.
Bonus if you can find one that has:
- An adaptive question algorithm – so it’s set up is like the NCLEX and not just a bunch of multiple-choice questions
- Multiple practice attempts – you’ll want to re-test again after you think you’re ready to double check
- Rationales for the questions to review later
- Alternate format questions
Come up with a study plan, and write it out on your calendar. I wrote out the number of practice questions and a specific amount of time I was going to review content each day and then gave myself a day off each week.
For example, plan to study for two 20-minute focused blocks of time with breaks in between, followed by 25 practice questions, another break, then another 20 focused minutes. If you break things up into manageable chunks, it makes the tasks more conquerable.
Learn How the NCLEX Works
Essentially, you’re first given a question of medium-difficulty. The next question you get depends on how you answered the previous question. If you answered it correctly, you’ll get a harder question. You’ll then get harder questions until you get one wrong. If you answered it incorrectly, you’ll get easier questions until you get one right… then you’ll get harder ones. This continues until you either pass or fail. Check out this 1:21 minute video that describes the confidence interval well.
Big important 2023 update: There has been a massive NCLEX update as of April 1, 2023 called NCLEX Next Generation. To learn more about those updates, click here.
How to Register to Take the NCLEX
Once you’re ready, you can’t just go to your nearest testing center and test. There are quite a few steps you must take before being able to actually take boards.
(And if you want a little mini course that walks you through all of these steps, click here!)
First, you’ve got to apply with your state board of nursing (BON) to take the exam.
Lets go through an example. We’ll pretend I want to be licensed as an RN in Indiana. I would go to the website of the Indiana State Board of Nursing and I would apply for licensure by examination.
The BON will do the typical background check to ensure it’s appropriate to give you a nursing license (should you pass boards), and check your transcripts to make sure you did indeed graduate from an accredited nursing program. There are also fees that come along with applying for licensure, which vary from state to state. This process can be quick or slow, but it depends on your state and if your school takes their sweet time getting your transcripts sent in.
Keep in mind, if you’ve got things on your record like a DUI/DWI, it’ll take longer for this to occur. This doesn’t mean you won’t get cleared necessarily, but it just takes longer if there are things that show up on the background check.
In addition to this, you’ve got to register with Pearson Vue (the people who administer the NCLEX). There is (you guessed it) another fee to register with them. The fee is currently $200.
Once these two steps have been completed, you must wait.
When you’re cleared, you receive your Authorization To Test (or more commonly referred to as an “ATT”). Only after you have an ATT can you schedule yourself to sit for boards. Pearson Vue will provide a list of locations near you with dates and times. Some will be as soon the next day, to a few months away. The catch is, ATT’s expire after 90 days (12 weeks). You MUST have an active ATT on the day you go take your exam. They will not make any exceptions and extend the date on someone’s ATT.
So, if you were hoping to test later than 12 weeks post-graduation, you’re not going to want to submit paperwork to get your ATT right after graduation.
There is a really good explanation of this here, on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website… you know, the people who write the NCLEX.
- The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) writes the NCLEX
- Pearson Vue administers the NCLEX
- Your respective State Board of Nursing is who grants your nursing license. They will only do this when they see that you’re appropriate to give a license to after a background check, transcripts show you’ve graduated from an accredited nursing school, and you’ve passed the NCLEX
- It takes time to get your ATT, so plan accordingly both practically and mentally
Remember, you will start this process and while it’s happening you should continue to study and prepare. It’s not a process where you apply for your ATT and once you get that, then you study. You should be studying throughout this entire time.
Just Tell Me When to Take the NCLEX
Sooooo…. I wish I could just tell you a definitive answer, but I can’t. There are so many variables… from each state BON’s timeline to each school to get transcripts out, to your own individual and unique study needs.
If you’re the typical nursing school graduate, you will test between 2-8 weeks (0.5 – 2 months) after graduation. This is well within the 90 days/12-week windows of an ATT. This would mean you could wait a few weeks post-graduation to begin your paperwork to obtain your ATT and once you receive this, you could schedule yourself pretty soon thereafter.
I waited about 2 weeks after graduation before submitting my paperwork just in case they flew through it and I wasn’t ready to test within the dates on my ATT. I didn’t want to risk needing to re-initiate that process and pay more fees. Once I received it, I scheduled myself to test about 2 weeks later. Honestly, the scariest part was scheduling it because I knew once I did, there was no turning back!
One thing that both the NCSBN and Pearson Vue recommend doing is not waiting until the end of your ATT to look for an available testing date because they fill up quickly.
To get your mind around where you’ll test, you can view available locations ahead of time.
My Recommendations on When to Take the NCLEX After Graduation
- Before you graduate, familiarize yourself with your State Board of Nursing (where you want to practice, not where you went to school) website and the process. Take note of how long it’ll take you to get everything together and what they’re asking for. Remember, this is your responsibility, not your school’s. I thought my school would take care of this for me (for some reason), but they did not.
- Familiarize yourself with the Pearson Vue process as well
- Pick your NCLEX review plan
- Once you graduate, take an NCLEX simulation exam and see where you stand, and if you’ll need more or less time to study
- Create an NCLEX study plan customized to your needs. Include things like NCLEX question banks.
- Apply to your state BON and Pearson Vue when appropriate (considering how long you want to study and if you’ve got anything that may delay your ATT… like things that may come up on your background check – again, if you’re like most, you’ll wait 1-2 weeks post-graduation to begin this process while simultaneously studying)
- Stick to your study plan
- Test when you’re ready – don’t delay!
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More NCLEX Resources
- Preparing for the NCLEX – 4 Tips From a Nurse
- What to expect the day of the NCLEX – NCSBN
- YouTube Video – How to Pass the NCLEX in 75 Questions
- Best NCLEX Reviews – my fav reviews, plus a few discount codes!
- The Ideal NCLEX Study Timeline