When Should I Take the Nursing Board Exam?

If you are nearing the end of your nursing education, you may be wondering when you should take the nursing board exam. All registered nurses (RNs) in the United States and Canada are required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Although every nursing graduate wishing to become an RN must take this exam, rules may differ from state to state regarding when you may take it.

Following Graduation

One consistent part of the answer to when you should take the exam is “following graduation.” Although state boards differ regarding how soon you can take the exam after graduation, many say you must wait at least 45 days. You will need to contact your state board of nursing (BON) or whatever regulatory body is in charge of the area in which you’re trying to get licensed. If you meet their eligibility requirements, they will give you your Authorization to Test (ATT). Once you have the ATT, you will have a specified time period, usually averaging 90 days, to take the NCLEX.

Testing While Your Schooling is Fresh

Although advice will differ on how soon you should take the nursing board exam, it may make good sense to take it as soon as your state board indicates that you’re eligible and authorizes you to do so. Obviously there may be some life-related reasons to delay, but taking the test relatively close to graduation ensures that the things you learned in your course work are still pretty fresh. Chances are, by the time you’ve graduated from nursing school, you’ve become rather proficient at facing and taking exams. Don’t let the significance of this particular exam daunt you into putting it off. Remember that your goal in going to school was to become an RN; the NCLEX is just the last part of your goal. Once you have passed the exam, you will be licensed to work.

In some cases, nursing graduates can get temporary permission to work prior to taking the exam, especially because there is such a need for nurses today. While an early job offer may be exciting, taking on a new role and beginning a job before you’ve taken the board exam may add extra pressure as you prepare. There’s not a one “fits-all” solution to this. Some people will thrive under that kind of pressure while others will find it easier to go on and get the exam done before starting a new job. You know yourself best, so choose what works for you and your life situation.

Whether you take the NCLEX as soon as possible or wait a while, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is the last step toward entering the career you’ve chosen. Focusing on that and looking ahead to your job goals will help you make the best decision about when to take the nursing board exam.

For more information on the nursing board exam, please see: How Should I Prepare for My Nursing Board Exam?