Understanding Computerized Adaptive Testing for the NCLEX

There's a lot of confusion surrounding the Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) that NCLEX uses.

In this article we hope to dispel some myths, explain how it actually works, and hopefully make it just a little easier for you to pass the exam. 

General Overview

The gist of the CAT is as follows:

  • You get questions one at a time.
  • As you answer easy questions correctly the computer sends you questions that are a little harder. (That you have a 50% of answering correctly)
  • As you answer harder questions incorrectly, the computer sends you questions that are a little easier. 
  • Easy questions don't provide a good understanding of your proficiency, but harder questions do. 
  • As you answer more and more questions, the computer tries to determine with 95% confidence if your ability is below or above the passing standard. 
  • The minimum number of questions to determine that is 60. The maximum is 250.

Common Misconceptions:

  • If you get to questions 60-75 and they're easy, you're probably failing. - NOT TRUE! "Easyness" of questions is relative to what you studied and what you know. The computer will always attempt to give you questions that you have a 50% chance of answering correctly so you shouldn't give up or think you failed if the questions start getting easy. You might just know the material really well!
  • When you retake the test the difficulty transfers from the past test. - NOT TRUE! Every session of the exam starts out at a low difficulty level and the CAT is used to adjust the level as the exam goes on.
  • People are randomly selected to get maximum length examinations. - NOT TRUE! The length of your examination depends on how long it takes the computer to determine with 95% confidence whether you passed or failed. There is no randomizing in test-length.

P.S. - If you're not sure what books to use to study for the NCLEX, we have a good list here

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