If you want to become a nurse, taking tests doesn’t end in school. Nursing candidates need to pass one last test before they become qualified to work in their field. That test is the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX).
Candidates take either the NCLEX for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN) or the NCLEX for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). Not everyone passes the test on their first try, so test-takers can try again. State nursing boards sometimes have different limitations and restrictions.
If you’re wondering how many times you can take the NCLEX in your state, check out this guide to help you find out.
Failing and Retaking the NCLEX
Every year, hundreds of thousands of aspiring nurses take the NCLEX exam. Test-takers wait for the results, hoping that they’ll pass and qualify to become a licensed nurse. And although every year the majority of nursing graduates earn a passing grade, many do not.
In 2022, about 20% of NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN test-takers failed on the first try. The good news: Applicants don’t need to give up. They can take the test again.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), which administers the NCLEX, limits the frequency by which candidates can take the exam. Individuals who fail the NCLEX must wait 45 days between tests, which means they can take a maximum of eight tests per year. However, there’s no limit to the number of retests overall.
While this NCSBN guidance applies across the country, certain states require additional processes or impose time limits and other restrictions. You can learn about these state-by-state below.
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States With Unlimited NCLEX Attempts
Although some states have laws in place that limit the number of times aspiring nurses can take the NCLEX, others allow exam-takers to retake the test unlimited times, as long as they follow NCSBN rules.
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
States With Additional Rules for Retaking the NCLEX
If you don’t live in one of the states listed above, then your state imposes additional guidelines or time limits on retaking the NCLEX. Learn how many times you can take the NCLEX below.
- Candidates must pass the examination within two years of their first attempt.
- If candidates continue to fail after two years, they must complete a remedial course before attempting to retake the exam.
- The board allows applicants to take the NCLEX three times within three years of their first test.
- If they wish to take the test a fourth time, within two years of their third test attempt candidates must evaluate their deficiencies; take a course or review to refresh their studies; and submit a petition to take the NCLEX for a fourth time.
- If they fail a fourth time, they must enroll in and complete another nursing education program.
- Applicants can continue to retake the NCLEX for up to five years.
- After three failed attempts, applicants must successfully complete a remedial course approved by the Florida Board of Nursing.
- Applicants must pass the NCLEX within three years of graduation from a nursing education program.
- Candidates who fail the NCLEX three times must take a remedial course. They can then repeat the NCLEX exam within six months of completing the course.
- Illinois grants applicants a three-year time frame to pass the exam after the initial application.
- If candidates do not pass within that three-year period, they must take an additional course of education and submit a new application for licensure.
- Candidates who do not pass the NCLEX after three attempts must undergo a board review procedure.
- If Kentucky applicants remain unsuccessful for two or more attempts, they will receive a letter from the Kentucky Board of Nursing.
- They must reapply for licensure, pay the fee again, and complete the background check and jurisprudence exam if enough time has passed.
- For practical nurses, applicants can take the exam up to four times within a period of two years — but no later than three years —of finishing a practical nursing program.
- If the applicant fails the NCLEX-PN, they must enroll in and complete the entire practical nursing program again.
- Candidates must pass the NCLEX within three years of graduating from their nurse education program.
- If they do not pass after three years, candidates must either complete a certification of skills competency or request an extension from the board of nursing.
- Although Minnesota does not limit the number of times candidates can take the NCLEX, the state does require applicants to submit an examination retake request within eight months. Applicants should also repeat the test within a year.
- Applicants can take the NCLEX up to six times within two years of graduating from their nursing education program.
- To retake the NCLEX, candidates must file a repeat examination application containing required data and documents. Then candidates must retake the test within one year from the date the application is notarized.
- Applicants may take the NCLEX up to four times.
- Applicants may take the NCLEX up to five times (that includes attempts to pass the exam in other states).
- Candidates who do not pass the NCLEX after three times must complete a board-approved remedial training before their fourth attempt.
- Applicants can take the exam a maximum of three times within three years of their initial eligibility.
- In Oklahoma, candidates must take the NCLEX within two years of completing a nursing education program. If they fail to do so, they must take a refresher course or a supervised clinical experience before they become eligible to take the exam again.
- Candidates have up to three years to pass the NCLEX.
- Applicants who do not pass the NCLEX within one year of the first attempt must complete remediation plans approved by the South Carolina Board of Nursing before reexamination.
- Applicants who do not pass the NCLEX within three years of graduation must requalify by enrolling in an approved nursing education program.
- The board of nursing may request that candidates who fail the NCLEX twice meet certain recommendations. The board determines this on a case-by-case basis.
- If an applicant hasn’t passed within three years of graduating from a nursing education program, they must complete another accredited program of nursing.
- Applicants who do not pass the NCLEX within four years of graduation must complete an approved nursing education program before retaking the exam.
- Applicants must pass the NCLEX within five years of graduation. If they fail to pass within five years, then they have to complete another approved nursing education program.
- Candidates who do not pass the NCLEX within five years of graduation must complete another nursing education program before testing again.
- Test-takers who fail the NCLEX twice must participate in state-approved activities that help maintain and remedy deficiencies in their nursing knowledge. The state RN board outlines approved activities on its site.
- If candidates fail the exam four times, they must provide evidence to the board that they’ve completed courses and assessments to help remedy their deficiencies.
- Candidates can sit for the NCLEX up to 10 times within a five year period following graduation.
Frequently Asked Questions About the NCLEX
How many times can you take the NCLEX?
According to NCSBN rules, you can take the NCLEX eight times a year with 45 days in between attempts. Several states do not put restrictions in place on the number of times you can take the NCLEX. However, several states do place additional limitations. In some states, aspiring nurses can take the test a maximum of 3-5 times before they must enroll in a remedial course or take another course of action.
Are there states with unlimited NCLEX attempts?
Yes, there are several states with unlimited NCLEX attempts. However, even if your state does not limit the number of times you can retake the exam overall, you must still follow the NCSBN rule of taking the NCLEX a maximum of eight times a year.
Is NCLEX harder the second time you take it?
The NCSBN does not change the difficulty level of the NCLEX, no matter how many times you take it. If it feels harder, that could be due to additional pressure you put on yourself. Luckily, you can find several resources to help you master strategies to help you pass the NCLEX.
How many people fail the NCLEX on the first try?
About 20-25% of test-takers fail the NCLEX on the first try, according to statistics from the NCSBN, although that varies from year to year. More specifically, in 2022 about 26% candidates failed, including repeat NCLEX-RN test-takers. The year before, about 20% of test-takers failed.
Page last reviewed March 20, 2023