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When to Take the NCLEX-RN Exam

How soon after graduation you take the NCLEX-RN exam is up to you, with some caveats. Some eager-beaver types want to take the test 14 minutes after graduation, while others are still dragging their feet 14 months from graduation. Each state has its own rules — of course! — about how long after graduation you need to wait before taking the test, but most states require you to wait 45 days.

You should take the exam as soon after you graduate as possible because all that information you crammed into your brain is still fresh. Many students wait months before taking the exam because they feel that they aren't prepared. But the longer you procrastinate, the more you have to study, and the less chance you have of passing on your first try. So take it as soon as you possibly can. Most nursing schools provide review courses, so if you're a recent graduate, you've probably honed your test-taking skills in the last few years, and your test-taking ability is at its peak. And the sooner you pass the NCLEX-RN, the sooner you can start work, start helping people, and buy yourself that new Lexus — or pay off your student loans!

Of course, if you've delayed getting transcripts, sending in your fees, and paying your campus parking tickets, you may find yourself taking your test later rather than sooner. You must take the exam while your Authorization to Test (ATT) is valid, so the clock starts ticking after you get your ATT. Check your calendar for weddings, births (presumably you'll know if you're giving birth any time soon, you're almost a nurse, for heaven's sake!), vacations, moving plans, and other personal events and factors that may delay your taking the exam after you have your ATT in-hand.

Plan to take the exam before you get too involved in a new job as a graduate nurse. Job requirements usually take up a significant amount of your time, especially when you're a new employee. It may be in your best interest to accept a position but not start the job until you actually take the exam. In this period of acute nursing shortages, healthcare agencies want people to start working right away, but it may be in your best interest to take time to study for the exam first. Get it over with, and then start the job with a clear focus on beginning your new career.

Each state determines the requirements for graduate nurses pending licensure. If you're working as a new graduate nurse, you must be aware of the state rules governing your practice. Check with your local state board for requirements for new graduates and to find out whether or not you can get a temporary permit in the state in which you choose to work.

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