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Exam information

What you need to know about the NCLEX-PN Exam

As of April 2023, the NCLEX-PN is officially called the Next Generation NCLEX-PN. There is no major difference in the content covered compared to the previous editions of the test, but there are a few added features, including the inclusion of a clinical judgment requirement in many questions.

The NCLEX-PN exam is given to all candidates wishing to practice practical or vocational nursing in the United States. Often referred to as “State Boards” or “Boards,” passing this exam is the only way to obtain licensure as an LPN or LVN.

Test Format

The test itself is computer-adaptive, meaning it increases and decreases in difficulty until it assesses your level of competence. You will receive a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 150. The computer will continue to give you questions that it determines you have a 50% chance of answering correctly until it is able to determine your level of competency, the time runs out, or the maximum question number is exceeded.

Fifteen of the questions you take are considered “experimental” and will not count for or against your score. You will not be made aware of which questions are experimental, so try your best on all of them.

The questions on the NCLEX-PN exam are written at the critical thinking and analysis level, rather than a fact or knowledge level. This means that you will be called upon to choose the best option out of several seemingly correct options or to answer questions where the ideal solution is not presented.

Most questions are given in the traditional four-option-multiple choice format. Within this format, you may encounter questions that utilize audio, charts, or graphics. Beyond multiple-choice, you will see questions formatted in these ways:

  • fill-in-the-blank
  • ordered response
  • hot spots—you must “click” on a place on the screen to answer
  • drop-down—cloze, rationale, table
  • drag-and-drop—cloze and rationale
  • multiple-response—select all that apply, select a certain number, grouping
  • highlight—text and table
  • matrix—multiple-choice, response

All of our practice questions are in the multiple-choice format, but they do review concepts you will need to understand to answer the other question types on the actual test.

One formatting difference in the 2023 edition of the NCLEX-PN is the addition of sets of six questions pertaining to one case study. There are three sets of these on the test, and the questions about the case study each revolve around one of these components of clinical judgment that are based on the NCSBN Clinical Judgment Measurement Model (NCJMM):

  • recognizing cues
  • analyzing cues
  • prioritizing hypotheses
  • generating solutions
  • taking action
  • evaluating outcomes

You will also encounter “stand-alone” questions on the test.

Content Tested

The NCLEX-PN exam is organized around the concept of “client needs.” There are four major categories, two of which are further subdivided. The categories and the percentage of the test they make up are as follows. (The percentages have not changed in the new edition of this test.)

Safe and Effective Care Environment

Health Promotion and Maintenance (6%–12%)

Psychosocial Integrity (9%-15%)

Physiological Integrity

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Exam facts

Answers to all your questions about the NCLEX-PN Exam

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What are the costs?

The registration fee to take the NCLEX-PN exam in the United States is $200. There are no refunds given for any reason. To find out more about additional licensure or registration fees in your specific state, check out the contact page from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

What should I bring?

On testing day, you need to bring with you an acceptable form of picture ID and your Authorization to Test (ATT) email. Your ID must have a recent photograph and valid signature, must be government-issued, and can not be expired. The first and last names on your ID must also match the first and last names on your ATT email. If the names do not match, you must provide a legal document proving the name change (divorce decree or marriage license, etc.).

Personal items such as hats, cell phones, purses, and coats are not allowed in the testing area, but small, lockable storage space is available for your use outside of the immediate testing area. The electronic items and any notes stored there will not be accessible at all during the testing time. However, you will have access to things like food, purses, medical aids, etc. during any breaks you choose to take.

Note that an on-screen calculator will be provided, as will a scratch board and earplugs (the latter two by request).

How is it scored?

To pass this test, you must show the minimum competency necessary to work as an entry-level nurse. This level of competency is re-evaluated every 3 years on the basis of advice from testing experts, historical testing performances, and input from educators and employers in the nursing field. The “passing standard” may also be revised, and you must score above that standard to receive a passing score.

Since it is computer-adaptive, your level of ability will be re-evaluated each time you answer a question. Each question you are given has been determined by the computer to be challenging but not too hard, and the computer modifies the level of the next question according to your response. This continues until the computer is 95% satisfied it has found your overall level of competence in all the areas tested. You could be given anywhere from 85 to 150 questions before this happens, within the 5-hour testing window. The number of questions you are given does not correspond to your level of success—it just sometimes takes the computer longer to figure out your competence level.

So, we can’t tell you a numerical score to shoot for; every person’s scenario is different. But, we can tell you these things:

Your test will end sometime after the 85th question as soon as the computer decides that it is 95% sure that your score is definitely above or below the passing standard.

  • If the 150-question limit has been reached and the computer is still not 95% sure, it will make a “final ability estimate” of whether your performance is above or below the passing standard.

  • If you run out of time and the computer is not 95% sure of your performance, remember we said that the computer “re-estimates” your ability after every question you answer. The computer will now look at the last 60 of those ability estimates.

  • If you have answered at least 85 questions and every single one of those last 60 estimates was above the passing standard, you pass. Note that every one of these last 60 answers does not have to be correct because each estimate is based on all previous answers.

  • If you have not answered a minimum of 85 questions, you automatically fail.

With the 2023 edition of this test, there will be partial credit given for answers that contain some correct elements. Certain questions will continue to be worth 1 point, and other point counts will vary.

What kind of job can I get?

Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses (often referred to as LPNs and LVNs, respectively) are an important part of the healthcare industry. Often employed in nursing homes, medical offices, and home health settings, they help support higher-level providers such as doctors, physician’s assistants, and registered nurses in providing effective client care. Duties vary from setting to setting, and can range from taking vitals and administering injections to maintaining client records or supervising non-licensed staff.

Am I eligible?

To be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN exam, you must be able to show graduation or eligibility for graduation from an approved LPN/LVN education program. To receive your license, you must successfully pass the NCLEX-PN exam, and in certain states, also pass a criminal background check.

Why does it matter?

Taking the NCLEX-PN exam is one way you can prove your competency and obtain a practical nursing license. Even if you successfully complete an approved nursing program, you must obtain your license in order to gain employment as an LPN or LVN.

What salary can I expect?

According to 2021 Occupational Outlook Handbook data, the median pay for an LPN/LVN was around $48,070 a year, or $23.11 an hour. Demand for these types of healthcare professionals is expected to grow. From 2021-2031, the demand for LPNs/LVNs is expected to increase by 6%, which is considered an average rate of demand.

When is it available?

The NCLEX-PN exam is given year-round. In order to take the exam, you must contact the Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB) in your state to request a Authorization to Test (ATT).

What are some Tips & Tricks

  • Do not rely on hospital experience or “reality” to answer a question. On the NCLEX-PN exam, you always have enough staff, equipment, and time, and answers should be based on textbook nursing.

  • The test will ask you the generic names of a drug, so focus on learning those rather than brand names.

  • You may have to guess at some answers because you cannot get the next question until you have selected an answer to the current one. Just be careful not to randomly guess. Read carefully and try to make an informed choice. Remember that the computer assesses each answer to determine your ability for scoring purposes.

How much time is allowed?

You have 5 hours to complete the questions given to you. There are optional break opportunities, but both count toward the 5-hour testing limit, as do a tutorial and sample questions. There is no time limit placed on answering each individual question, so you’ll need to monitor how much time you spend on each.

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