New Nurse Graduates / NCLEX-RN vs. NCLEX-PN
Now that you’ve graduated from nursing school, there’s one last obstacle between you and your dream job: the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX.
The NCLEX is the final step to earning your nursing license. New grads and nursing schools refer to the this as “the board exam” because every state in the US requires nurses to pass this test before applying to the state board of nursing. There are two versions of the NCLEX that are called the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN.
The NCLEX-RN is for registered nurses and NCLEX-PN is for licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses.
Let’s look closer at each test and how to prepare for this final part of your journey.
- What is the NCLEX exam?
- What is the NCLEX-RN exam?
- What is the NCLEX-PN exam?
- What are resources for test-takers?
What is the NCLEX exam?
The NCLEX exam is a 5-hour timed, computerized adaptive test (CAT). It is designed to test the entry-level knowledge, skills, and abilities required to provide safe, effective nursing care. NCSBN updated the test design in October 2020 to improve exam efficiency.
Each exam is unique because questions adapt to the test taker. The next item will be easier when the examinee marks a question wrong. Conversely, the next will be harder when the right answer is chosen. Questions consist of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and drag-and-drop items.
After completing a nursing program, graduates must pass one version of the NCLEX (RN or PN) to obtain a nursing license.
|Assumes an understanding of social and biological sciences||NCLEX-RN covers concepts related to physical sciences (physics and chemistry)|
|Contains questions related to health promotion, psychosocial factors and physiological integrity||NCLEX-RN tests nurses on care management and assessment|
|NCLEX-PN evaluates a nurse’s ability to coordinate care|
What is the NCLEX-RN exam?
The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is the test nursing graduates must pass to be licensed as a Registered Nurse. It is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
To take the NCLEX-RN, you must have:
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
The NCLEX-RN is more advanced and requires more education. Most ADN programs require 18-24 months, while BSN programs take 3-4 years to complete.
What is the NCLEX-PN exam?
The National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) is the exam required to obtain a license as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). LVNs and LPNs are equal, with different state-specific titles.
To sit for the NCLEX-PN, you must have:
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Graduation certificate from a board-approved practical nursing program
Most practical nursing certificate programs require one year of education.
Expert advice from nurses like you
What are resources for test-takers?
Whether you’re taking the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN, you probably wonder how you should prepare. You will likely spend most of your time preparing for this final test from the last semester of nursing school to graduation. Here are a few helpful resources.
The first place to look for NCLEX test prep is at your nursing school campus. Most nursing programs offer help to their students. You can find practice tests, seminars on test-taking, and even free study guides. Always check with your school first!
Online Practice Tests
Another method to prepare for the NCLEX are practice tests. The official NCLEX practice exam gives candidates two full exams similar to the real thing. If you’re looking for budget-friendly resources, many test-prep companies, like Kaplan Nursing and Union Test Prep, offer free practice tests.
Printed Study Guides
NCLEX books are great for independent study. For visual learners, printed study guides are the way to go. Nursing graduates order books in print or access digital copies on mobile devices. Most guides contain full-length tests, detailed explanations, study plans, and practice questions.
Busy nursing graduates studying on the go should check their app stores. You can use every spare moment to prepare for the test by taking practice questions on your smartphone or tablet. NCLEX Mastery has a mobile app for study. A monthly subscription costs $20-30.
Now that you’re ready to take the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN, it’s time to apply through your state nursing board. You must send proof of education with your application. When the state board approves your application, they will send an Authorization to Test (ATT), which allows you to schedule your exam appointment.
All your test preparation and hard work will finally pay off when you pass the NCLEX. Then it will be time to celebrate your achievements and start looking for that dream job!
Nurses can find help with job searches in Incredible Health’s Nursing Career Resource Center.
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- “Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT)”. ncsbn.org. Accessed March 22, 2022.
- “NCLEX Mastery”. nclexmastery.com. Accessed March 22, 2022.
- “NCLEX Practice Exam Commercial”. youtube.com. Accessed March 22, 2022.
- “NCLEX RN On Demand Practice Test”. kaptest.com. Accessed March 22, 2022.
- “The Accuracy of State NCLEX-RN Passing Standards for Nursing Programs.” sciencedirect.com. Accessed March 22, 2022.
- “2022 NCLEX Candidate Bulletin”. ncsbn.org. Accessed March 22, 2022.
- “Union Test Prep”. uniontestprep.com. Accessed March 22, 2022.