NCLEX-PN: An Overview of the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses

To become a licensed vocational or practical nurse, you'll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The test is based on specialized knowledge that you should have, and it tests the skills necessary to contribute meaningfully to the nursing process. Because this is a test of basic competency, your are required only to demonstrate your abilities as an entry-level nurse in this exam.

The NCLEX-PN uses Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) technology (no pencil-and-paper versions of the NCLEX-PN are available). This means that the computer adapts to your responses. You begin with a moderately difficult question, and if you answer correctly, the next question is slightly harder. If you answer incorrectly, the next question is slightly easier. Essentially, the computer selects questions based on your abilities. The more questions you answer, the more the computer understands your responses and can tailor the questions for you.

You'll have to answer at least 85 questions, but you may have to answer up to 205. The number of questions it takes for you to finish the test is not an indicator of your overall score. For example, if you were to answer the first 85 questions correctly, you won't be asked anymore, but the same applies if you were to answer all of the first 85 questions incorrectly.

You cannot skip questions as you work through the test because each new question is predicated on the previous response. You need to read carefully and answer each question. However, if you cannot decide on an answer to a specific question, you have to select any answer to move on to the next question.

The questions on the exam cover four basic categories of client needs, two of which are subdivided into six subcategories:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment (Coordinated care; Safety and infection control)

  • Health Promotion and Maintenance

  • Psychosocial Integrity

  • Physiological Integrity (Basic care and comfort; Pharmacological therapies; Reduction of risk potential; Physiological adaptation)

Certain important concepts are integrated throughout the client needs categories and subcategories:

  • Clinical Problem-Solving Process (Nursing Process). This is the scientific approach to client care that includes data collection, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

  • Caring. This is the interaction between you and the clients, their families, or their significant others. It requires mutual respect and trust.

  • Communication and Documentation. You must be clear and concise in your interactions with clients, their families, and members of your healthcare team. This requires the ability to communicate both verbally and nonverbally and to be accountable in maintaining records and client charts.

  • Teaching and Learning. You must demonstrate the appropriate skills and attitudes that promote change in yourself and others by learning and teaching.