Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) on the NCLEX

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The NCLEX uses CAT to administer your exam. This info is direct from the NCSBN and Pearson Vue, the official authorities on the NCLEX.

Why CAT?

CAT is used for the NCLEX because it:

  • Reduces the number of “easy” items that high-ability candidates receive; “easy” items tell little about a high performing candidate’s ability
  • Reduces the number of “difficult” items low-ability candidates receive; candidates tend to guess on items that are too difficult which can skew results
  • Reduces item exposure and subsequent security risks
  • Improves precision of measurement of the NCLEX candidate’s ability related to nursing and
  • Provides a valid and reliable measurement of nursing competence

How Does CAT Work?

  1. Every time you answer an item, the computer re-estimates your ability based on all the previous answers and the difficulty of those items.
  2. The computer then selects the next item that you should have a 50% chance of answering correctly.
    a. This way, the next item should not be too easy or too hard
    b. The computer’s goal is to get as much information as possible about your true ability level
    c. You should find each item challenging as each item is targeted to your ability
  3. With each item answered, the computer’s estimate of your ability becomes more precise

Pass/Fail Rules

The computer decides whether you passed or failed the NCLEX using one of three rules:

  • 95% Confidence Interval Rule
  • Maximum-Length Exam Rule
  • Run-out-of-time (R.O.O.T.) Rule

Video Explanation of the 95% Confidence Interval Rule

The test will start to evaluate your performance at the 60th question mark. A minimum number of NCLEX questions is 75 in the U.S.

Video Explanation of the Maximum-Length Exam Rule

If at the end of the exam your confidence interval is becoming precise and you are consistently above the passing threshold, you will pass, and if you are consistently below the passing threshold, you will fail.

Video Explanation of the Run-out-of-time (R.O.O.T.) Rule

The last 60 questions will determine whether you pass or not. You must have every one of the last 60 questions above the passing threshold for this situation

CAT Definitions

  • Candidate ability - The level of entry-level nursing knowledge, skills and abilities that the candidate has.
  • Ability estimate - The level of entry-level nursing knowledge, skills and abilities that the computer has determined that the candidate has.
  • Passing standard - A cut point along an ability range that marks the minimum ability level requirement. For the NCLEX, it is the minimum ability required to safely and effectively practice nursing at the entry-level.
  • Logit - A unit of measurement to report relative differences between candidate ability estimates and item difficulties.


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