The NCLEX exam

Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT)

The CAT method

The NCLEX uses CAT to administer the examination. CAT is a method for administering exams that merges computer technology with modern measurement theory to increase the efficiency of the exam process.
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 candidates ability related to nursing
  • Provides a valid and reliable measurement of nursing competence


CAT’s efficiency

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


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