An Overview Of The RN Certification Exam

Once you have completed your Nursing studies, the RN Certification exam is the next and most important step. Certification can greatly affect your career and will make a great difference in your career prospective. It is an opportunity for you to have your skills and knowledge validated and backed up by a certification board and will aid your confidence, as well as your employers, in your excellence and ability to carry out tasks that will be required of you as a Registered Nurse.
The Certification of professionals in the health industry is also aimed at giving patients piece of mind. It helps to prevent malpractice and misuse of ones authority as a health professional and established a standard that keeps the health system functioning at higher levels. Parts of your exam may be around legislature which, for example, is so vitally important in protecting both yourself and the patient in case of any disputes.

Applying For The Exam

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN) will be the first board with which you will take an exam. Whilst they do not have a set list of guidelines for eligibility, it is important that you research the State board that you would like to join and research the list of their requirements. Application for many Certification exams can be applied for online; however these methods can differ State to State.

The NCBSN holds its own examination for Registered Nurses, call the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and this serves to aid your License board of choice in deciding whether you are eligible for certification.

In order to register for the Exam, there are two processes that need to be followed:

  • Request a Licensure Application with your chosen Board of Nursing – You will need to pay a licensing fee, as well as submit your application materials. Thereafter you will need to obtain a copy of the NCLEX Candidate Bulletin, which can be done via the Board or online.
  • Register with Pearson VUE and submit your $200, 00 payment, which can be done by check or credit card.

In some cases, Nursing Schools will register and cover the costs of your certification, so it is important to ensure that all your information is correct.RN Certification Exam
Once you have completed the aforementioned steps, the NCBSN will send you an Authorization to Test (ATT) They will issue you with a time frame in which to take the exam, which can range from 60 to 365 days, and it is vitally important that you take the exam before this expires, otherwise you will be required to re-register from the very beginning and will have to repay the fee.  Once you have received your ATT, you will need to schedule an appointment to take the NCLEX.
The list of center where you can take the exam are listed on the

Preparing For The RN Certification Exam

The content of your RN Certification exam will differ from State to State and thus you need to contact your State Board of Nursing to confirm the content you will be required to study. Once you have established this, there a few guidelines that will make your preparation a little easier and hopefully a little less stressful.

  • Timeline/Timetable – This can be a vital step in your preparation for your RN Certification Exam. As the NCBSN will give you clearly defined period in which you need to study, adhering to this and planning your study time-table will help you to establish a routine of study that is comfortable and most importantly practical for you. Some boards have a schedule of practical hours that you will need to include and it is best anticipate and plan for the division of your time. It is no use to schedule practical hours and expect that you can conquer an additional 4 hours of study on top of a busy day. A Timetable will spread your work load evenly and prevent burnout.
  • Course Material – Ensure you have all the material readily available for when you start studying. It is no use creating a timetable, abiding by it and arriving at a point where you do not possess the material, or are still waiting for a book to arrive. Get all your resources together before you start your studies.
  • Study Hours – this is a very personal thing and it can be incredibly helpful to evaluate when you are at your most productive when studying. For some studying at night is the best option, for others studying in the morning is the time when they are most focuses.
  • Self-Evaluation – Most exams will come with a blueprint or guide on what is in the exam, as well as allocation of marks per question. Read through this and evaluate yourself on what you already know. This will enable you to identify your weaker points and thus allocate more time to study them.
  • Study Partners/Testing Partner – as a recent graduate, you will most likely have a fellow student who you can partner with to study. This can be useful especially when testing each other, as well as sharing knowledge. Some people benefit more from a practical method of study and having a partner can aid in this.
  • Practice tests – There are many of these available online and they can help immensely in putting what you have learnt into a definitive test setting.

Some helpful testing websites are:

The day before the exam should be spent getting all your practical items ready. You will require your ATT letter and a form of identification for the NCLEX-RN exam – current acceptable identification is:

  • U.S Driver’s license
  • U.S State Identification ( Department of Motor-vehicle issued)
  • Passport
  • U.S Military Identification

It is not advisable to try and cram as much information in the night before, so ensure that you have covered all your material before the last week or so prior to the exam. The day before should be spent restfully and if you feel you need to, simply skimming over certain chapters. This will ensure that you feel refreshed and ready on the day of the exam. It is a well- known fact that exams are incredibly stressful and especially so, if you feel there is still material you are not comfortable with.
On Exam day it is advised that you arrive early, preferably around 30 minutes before the exam so that you can fill out any additional forms. Ensure that you are comfortably dressed and note that hats, scarves and coats are not permitted to be word during the exam. Read through the exam carefully and establish your pace and what time you feel you need to allocate to certain questions.


Whilst the time frame in which you receive your results may vary according to the Board you have applied to for certification, the average waiting period is about one month. There is a Quick Results Service that you can register for, however it is to be noted that these results are unofficial and you will need to pay a fee. If you are signed up with Quick Results, you can anticipate results in about 48 hours. These are only available in certain states.

Should you fail the exam, you will be sent a Candidate Performance Report which will help you establish which areas you were weak in and will also give you an idea of where you are located in terms of the pass standard. There is a policy that will allow you to retake the examination within 45 days after processing of the exam; however this is also dependent on the Board you are registering with. You will be required to start the registration process from scratch, which includes payment of the $200, 00 fee. Currently the NCLEX-RN exams are permitted to be retaken approximately 8 times per year; however there may be limitations in place dependent on the board you are registering with.


Taking a certification exam is an integral part of your career and should you decide not to take it, will greatly limit where you can work. A certification Exam is something to be proud, as not only have you Educational Institution recognized you, but your skills will be accredited and recognized by an institution that pursues excellence in its profession. The NCLEX-RN exam is the most common certification exam in the U.S, as it forms an umbrella over most state Nursing boards, and it also a recognized certification source for international nurses. The most important factors to consider are your preparation and readiness. These rest on your ability to effectively manage your time, research thoroughly and mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand. Rather than seeing it as an overwhelming prospect, view it as part of your career progression and consider the immense rewards you will sow from the experience.

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