What you need to know about the NCLEX-PN exam

Student taking the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse.

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.

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 205. Twenty-five 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 4 option-multiple choice format. Within this format, you may encounter questions that utilize audio, charts, or graphics. Beyond multiple-choice, there are also three types of alternative format questions. These include drag and drop/ordered response questions, fill-in-the-blank, and “hot spot” questions that require you to locate an area on a graphic image. 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.

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:

Safe and Effective Care Environment

  • Coordinated Care (18%–24%)

  • Safety and Infection Control (10%–16%)

Health Promotion and Maintenance (6%–12%)

Psychosocial Integrity (9%-15%)

Physiological Integrity

  • Basic Care and Comfort (7%–13%)

  • Pharmacological Therapies (10%–16%)

  • Reduction of Risk Potential (9-15%)

  • Physiological Adaption (7%–13%)

The actual test does not divide the questions into topic areas, though. All areas are mixed into the entire test.

For the purpose of providing sufficient practice, we have divided our questions, flashcards, and study guides into manageable sections. They cover all the topics listed above, but you’ll notice that we have divided the first and fourth bolded headings into the subtopics listed under them, above. These are our sections:

  • Coordinated Care
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaptation

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 this page from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

What should I bring?

The only thing you need to bring with you on testing day is an acceptable form of picture ID. 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 Authorization to Test (ATT) email. For more information on acceptable forms of ID, click here.

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.

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 205 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 205-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.

Each item is scored as either right or wrong. No “partial credit” is given.

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 patient care. Duties vary from setting to setting, and can range from taking vitals and administering injections to maintaining patient 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 the only 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 2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook data, the median pay for an LPN/LVN was around $45,030 a year, or $21.65 an hour. Because of a rapidly aging “baby boom” population, demand for these types of healthcare jobs is only expected to grow. From 2016-2026, the demand for LPNs/LVNs is expected to increase by 12%, which is a much faster rate than that for many other jobs.

When is it available?

The NCLEX-PN® exam is given year round. In order to take the exam, you must contact your State Board of Nursing to request a licensure/registration application. You also must register and pay for the exam with the testing vendor, Pearson VUE. Check out the NCLEX Pearson VUE website for more information regarding availability and official testing sites.

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 is assessing each answer to determine your ability, for scoring purposes.

Time Allowed

You have 5 hours to complete the questions given to you. There is an optional 10-minute break after the first two hours and another break available 90 minutes after that, both of which count toward the 5 hours, as do a tutorial and sample questions. There is no time limit placed on answering individual questions.

Practice using our expertly crafted questions!