NCLEX-PN® Prep: Your Guide to Acing the LPN Licensing Exam
By Robbie Gould on 10/05/2023
Attention nursing students and future licensed practical nurses (LPNs)! Before you and your nursing career can take to the skies, you'll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses, aka the NCLEX-PN® exam.
Standardized tests might not be your idea of a good time. But with some preparation, this one doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Use this guide to set strategies for the exam, make good study habits and rock your NLCEX-PN on the first go.
What is the NCLEX-PN?
The National Council Licensure Examination® for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) is a critical examination designed to evaluate the competence and preparedness of individuals seeking to become LPNs or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) in the United States.1
This standardized test is a vital step in the licensure process, ensuring that those who pass possess the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver safe and effective nursing care to patients in various healthcare settings.
The NCLEX-PN is a computerized adaptive test (CAT), which means that the number of questions – as well as the difficulty of the questions – adjusts in response to the test-taker's performance.1 (More on CAT below.)
To pass, candidates must demonstrate their nursing competency by answering questions correctly within a specified time frame.
Successful completion of the NCLEX-PN is required by state nursing boards and regulatory agencies to grant licensure, making it an essential milestone for aspiring practical nurses on their journey to becoming healthcare professionals.
Insights into the actual NCLEX-PN test experience
The length of the NCLEX-PN can vary depending on the test-taker's performance. It is an adaptive test, which means the number of questions a candidate receives is based on their answers. The minimum number of questions is 85, and the maximum is 205.
Most candidates receive between 85 and 145 questions.2
Topics covered on the NCLEX-PN
The NCLEX-PN covers a wide range of nursing topics, including but not limited to:3
- Nursing fundamentals
- Medical-surgical nursing
- Pediatric nursing
- Obstetric and gynecological nursing
- Psychiatric nursing
- Infection control
- Legal and ethical nursing practice
- Management of care
- Health promotion and maintenance
The NCLEX-PN is administered in a computerized format. You will take the exam on a computer at a Pearson VUE test center. The computerized format allows for efficient administration and scoring of the exam.
Many questions on the NCLEX-PN are multiple-choice questions (MCQs) with four possible answer choices. However, the exam also includes alternate item format questions, such as:
Multiple response questions: These questions have more than one correct answer, and candidates must select all correct options.
Fill-in-the-blank questions: Candidates may be asked to fill in a blank with a numeric value or a word or phrase.
Ordered-response questions: Candidates are asked to rank items in a specific order.
Hot spot questions: Candidates identify a specific area on an image or chart.
Chart and exhibit questions: These questions require candidates to interpret charts, tables, and exhibits.
The NCLEX-PN is adaptive. This means that the difficulty of the questions adapts to the test-taker's performance. If a candidate answers a question correctly, the next question may be more challenging.
Conversely, if a question is answered incorrectly, the following question may be easier. This adaptive process continues until the computer determines the candidate's level of competence with a high degree of confidence.3
How to prep for the NCLEX-PN exam
Preparing for the NCLEX-PN is crucial for passing it, so you'll want to approach your studies systematically with dedication and confidence. Here are some of the best ways to prepare.
Understand the test format
Familiarize yourself with the testing format and the types of questions you may encounter. You can try a free, example CAT or NCLEX-specific test online to practice.
Review content areas
Cover all topic areas outlined in the NCLEX-PN® Test Plan, including all topics listed above.
Use high-quality study resources
Invest in reputable NCLEX-PN review materials, textbooks and online resources. Consider review courses, study guides and NCLEX-PN prep books from trusted publishers.
Rely on the resources from your practical nursing program primarily, since a good program will prepare you with the material you need to take this exam.
Create a study schedule
Develop a structured study schedule that allocates sufficient time to each content area. Everyone has different needs for their schedule and routine—but whatever study arrangement you choose (with a friend? after dinner? during lunch breaks?) consistency is key.
Practice with NCLEX-PN questions
Practice answering NCLEX-style questions as much as you can. Utilize question banks, practice exams and other reputable online resources. Focus on rational explanations to understand why answers are correct or incorrect.
Simulate real exam conditions
Take full-length practice exams under timed conditions to simulate the actual exam experience – you could ask a family member or friend to stand-in as a proctor. This helps improve time management and test-taking stamina.
Focus on weak areas
Identify your areas of weakness based on practice test results and prioritize studying those topics. Ensure a well-rounded review but allocate extra time to areas that need improvement.
Learn from your mistakes on practice questions and exams. Analyze why you missed certain questions and use this feedback to improve.
Use study groups
Form or join study groups with classmates or peers. Collaborative learning can provide different perspectives and help reinforce your understanding of the material.
Take breaks and maintain your health
Don't overwork yourself. Take regular breaks to rest and recharge. Maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep.
Define your “Why”
What is motivating you to pursue this role? Who or what is this helping you to become, and how will it affect you and your future? Clearly define the reasons why you are on your mission. Write them down and periodically review them, they can be used as a simple reminder, a compass for realignment or jet fuel to light a fire under you.
How to sign up to take the NCLEX-PN
There are several important steps you'll need to follow to begin the registration process for the NCLEX-PN.
Step 1: Verify eligibility
Prior to registration, you’ll need to verify your eligibility in accordance with the state board of nursing or other nursing regulatory body (NRB) where you want to practice nursing. This information should be clear and available on their website, but if you have unusual circumstances or questions, contact the NRB directly.
Step 2: Submit your application and fees
Once you've met the prerequisites, submit an application for licensure to your respective nursing board or NRB complying with all necessary documentation and fees.
Step 3: Use your ATT letter to register for the exam with Pearson VUE
After your application is processed and approved, you'll receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) letter containing detailed instructions on how to proceed.
Step 4: Select a test center and date and pay the fee
This is when you select your examination date and time and choose a preferred test center – it's also when you need to pay the $200 exam fee.4 You will receive a confirmation notice that includes details about your test date, time and the location of the test center. This will complete your registration.
Step 5: Receive confirmation
After registering, you will receive a confirmation notice that includes details about your test date, time, and the location of the test center.
Please note that specific requirements and processes may vary slightly depending on your location, so again, it's important to check with your state nursing board for any unique instructions.
Who needs to take the NCLEX-PN?
This exam is typically taken by individuals who aspire to become LPNs – passing the exam is a mandatory requirement to obtain a licensure to practice. These are the key groups of individuals who need to take the NCLEX-PN:
- Nursing students
- Foreign-educated nurses
- Nursing graduates
- Nursing license applicants
Who administers the exam and where do you take it?
The NCLEX-PN is administered by two organizations: the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Inc. (NCSBN®) and Pearson VUE. Basically, NCSBN develops the examination and Pearson VUE handles the logistics of exam registration, scheduling and test delivery.
The NCLEX-PN examination is available at test centers both within the country and abroad. To secure an appointment, you have the option to schedule it either online or by contacting Pearson VUE Candidate Services.
How long do you need to wait for your exam results?
The time it takes to receive your NCLEX-PN examination results can vary, but in most cases, you will get your results relatively quickly. Here's how it typically works:
Computerized results at the test center: After completing the NCLEX-PN at the Pearson VUE test center, you will promptly receive an initial outcome displayed on the computer screen, indicating either a "pass" or "fail." Typically, this preliminary result becomes accessible mere minutes after the exam's conclusion.
Official results from the nursing board: While you receive the preliminary result at the test center, your official NCLEX-PN® results are typically sent directly to your state or provincial nursing board. These official results include a detailed score report. The processing time for official results varies by jurisdiction and can take several weeks.
Notification from your nursing board: Once your nursing board receives your official NCLEX-PN® results, they will notify you regarding your pass or fail status. This notification may be provided through mail, email or an online portal, depending on your board's practices.
Some states participate in the Quick Results Service® offered by Pearson VUE, which allows test-takers to access unofficial results for a fee within 48 hours of completing the exam. However, these unofficial results are not considered official until confirmed by your state or provincial nursing board.
To get the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the processing time for NCLEX-PN® results in your specific location, contact your state or provincial nursing board or visit their official website. They can provide you with detailed information on how and when you will receive your official results.
How many times can you retake the NCLEX-PN?
Candidates who do not pass the NCLEX-PN are required to wait 45 days before another test attempt. This means you can have a maximum of eight tests annually. Nevertheless, there is no overall limit on the total number of retests.
However, some jurisdictions have stricter limits on the number of NCLEX exams a candidate can take annually. You are always encouraged to contact the NRB in your area for their NCLEX retake policy.
Candidates who do not pass the NCLEX will receive an NCLEX Candidate Performance Report (CPR), which serves as a guide to prepare them to retake the exam.
What should you do if you need to retake the exam?
Here are some steps to take if you need to retake the NCLEX-PN.
Analyze your score report: Carefully review the detailed score report provided to you by your state or provincial nursing board. This report will highlight your performance in different content areas, helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Reflect and regroup: Take some time to reflect on your exam experience. Consider the areas in which you struggled and where you felt confident. Use this reflection to develop an NCLEX-PN test plan that focuses on your weaknesses.
Prepare thoroughly: Enhance your test-taking strategy and dedicate more time to comprehensive exam preparation. Utilize study resources, such as review courses, textbooks, practice questions and study guides to reinforce your knowledge and skills.
Don't hesitate to seek support from peers, instructors or mentors who can offer guidance, share study strategies and provide emotional support. Engage in practice questions and simulated exams to get comfortable with the exam format and to gauge your progress.
Enrolling in an NCLEX-PN review course is also an option to consider.
Are you prepared for the NCLEX-PN?
Future nurses, you’ve got this! Your perseverance, preparation and commitment to your nursing career are your strongest allies, lean on these x-factors when you're feeling challenged while prepping for the NCLEX-PN (and when you're in the clinic practicing).
Remember what you are doing this for, remember you why — the NCLEX-PN is the last hurdle to clear before you can start your LPN career. To learn more about their job details, like an LPN's salary, read our article " How Much Do LPNs Make? And 5 Other Questions You Want Answered."
NCLEX-PN is a registered trademark of The National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.
NCSBN is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.
Pearson VUE is a registered trademark of Pearson Education, Inc.
Quick Results Service is a registered trademark of Pearson Education, Inc.
1National Council of State Boards of Nursing. ABOUT THE NCLEX. A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exam. Date accessed 9/18/2023. https://www.nclex.com/About.page
2S. Lindenmuth. Study.com. How Many Questions Are on the NCLEX? Date accessed 9/18/2023. https://study.com/academy/popular/how-many-questions-are-on-the-nclex.html
3National Council of State Boards of Nursing. COMPUTERIZED ADAPTIVE TESTING (CAT). A Look into the NCLEX Scoring Method. Date accessed 9/19/2023. https://www.nclex.com/computerized-adaptive-testing.page
4National Council of State Boards of Nursing. FEES & PAYMENT. Breakdown of Licensure & Registration Costs. Date accessed 9/19/2023. https://www.nclex.com/fees-payment.page