Essential Test Prep Tips to Help You Pass the NCLEX-PN the First Time
In a previous blog post, we outlined how you can become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). This profession has several benefits, including job stability, varying specialties, and personal fulfillment. If you’re interested in helping others, then you might find your calling as an LVN.
One important milestone for aspiring nurses, however, is the LVN licensing exam. In order to become an LVN, or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).
If you are considering a career in Vocational Nursing, this post will be a great resource for you as you prepare for this test.
How to Study for the NCLEX-PN
Our comprehensive NCLEX-PN study guide will cover:
- What is the NCLEX-PN exam?
- The Difference Between the NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN
- What is on the NCLEX PN?
- How to pass the NCLEX-PN exam
- The NCLEX-PN exam requirements
- NCLEX-PN exam sample questions
- General tips and test strategies for passing the NCLEX-PN exam
- Information on NCLEX-PN results, and
- What to do before, during, and after exam day
But first, let’s begin with a brief refresher…
What Are the Requirements to Become an LVN?
In the U.S., there are two primary LVN requirements:
- An approved-educational program and
- State licensure
As for the approved-educational programs, there are numerous colleges, universities, and technical schools that offer them. The curriculum for these programs may include a combination of on-campus instruction as well as online or hybrid classes.
Graduates of these programs become eligible to sit for the licensing examination. To obtain your license, your state will require you to:
+ Prove that you have graduated from an accredited PN or VN program.
+ In some states, pass a background check and provide fingerprints.
+ Pass the NCLEX-PN exam.
You will need to renew your license every few years, and your employer will likely ask you to provide documented proof of your license.
LVN Educational Requirements
What Education Is Needed for LVNs?
In some cases, a student’s Vocational Nurse training can be completed within the span of a year. However, the timeline depends on your chosen educational path. For instance, one of the most common routes is a diploma program.
If you don’t want to spend years in school, then a Vocational Nursing diploma might be your preferred choice. For instance, the VN program at Unitek can be completed in as little as 12 months. The goal is to equip you with the right skillset so that you can advance your career. Unlike a degree program, your coursework typically won’t include general education courses. Rather, the curriculum tends to focus more on nursing tasks. This is why these programs take much less time to complete.
Bonus Option: Associate Degree
If you’d like to build on your education in the future, then you might want to go the extra mile by pursuing an associate degree. In California, you can typically earn a Vocational Nursing degree within the span of year, though you must complete a VN program first. For instance, the ASVN program at Unitek College can be completed in as little as 10 months (again, you must complete a VN program first). This path can lay the groundwork for a higher-level degree, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing.
What Is the NCLEX-PN Exam?
The NCLEX-PN exam is issued by a governmental entity, which provides the public with an assurance of safety and competence. Nurses perform a critical service, and they are the second-largest group of licensed professionals in the U.S. Therefore, it’s vital they receive the proper credentials.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) developed two exams to test the competence of aspiring RNs and LPNs/LVNs.
Steps for Applying for the NCLEX-PN
A graduate (or soon to be graduate) of an approved nursing program would need to:
- Complete an application form—which may include a criminal background check
- Submit the application and licensure fee, and
- Apply for the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN exam.
Passing the NCLEX is an important step toward licensure, but it’s not the only requirement. For instance, some states require proof of English language proficiency, no felony conviction or criminal behavior, sound physical/mental health, and good moral character.
NCLEX-PN vs RN
What Is the Difference Between NCLEX-PN and RN?
A common question we hear from nursing students is if the NCLEX-PN is harder than NCLEX (for RNs)? The answer is no.
The NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN exams both fall under the general NCLEX umbrella. However, the NCLEX-RN exam is the more challenging of the two. This is because Registered Nurses are required to address more complex healthcare needs for their patients. They have greater responsibilities and are required to complete more years of school.
Is the NCLEX-PN Exam Hard to Pass?
The level of ease or difficulty for passing the NCLEX-PN depends on your nursing program and the time you set aside to study. The exam is administered using CAT, or computerized adaptive testing. You’ll have up to 5 hours to complete it, but that includes a short tutorial and two optional breaks.
You should feel encouraged to know that most people pass the exam. For example, in 2019, 86% of first-time test takers in the U.S. passed the test. You can also retake the exam if you don’t pass (we’ll delve more into that later).
What Is on the NCLEX-PN?
What Do I Need to Know for the NCLEX-PN?
This NCLEX-PN is critical to your LVN career, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you plan ahead and set aside time to study, you’ll likely be prepared for the exam.
Furthermore, there are lots of test plans and content provided by the NCSBN. They want to help prospective nurses succeed, so it’s best to take advantage of their website.
According to the NCLEX-PN Test Plan, the exam is broken down into four major categories:
- 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
Your NCLEX-PN study plan should include all of these categories. To give you a better idea, the NCSBN even reveals the approximate percentage of questions from each category/subcategory.
How to Pass the NCLEX-PN the First Time
What Is the Best Way to Prepare for the NCLEX-PN?
Let’s chip away at this by answering some other frequently asked questions.
- What does the NCLEX-PN exam consist of? Candidates might be given multiple choice questions, or questions delivered in alternate formats. These can include but are not limited to multiple-response, fill-in-the-blank calculation, ordered response, and/or hot spots (think a picture or diagram that requires analysis). Some questions may also provide aides, such as charts, tables, graphics, sound, or video.
- How many questions are on the NCLEX-PN? The test can include anywhere from 85 to 205 questions. Since it uses a CAT format, no single exam will be identical to another.
- How many questions can you miss on the NCLEX-PN? According to the NCLEX-PN requirements, there isn’t a clear number of questions you can miss. The NCLEX isn’t like most other exams. The computerized adaptive testing (CAT) format is used to measure the difficulty level of each question and based on your answer, will vary the difficulty level accordingly.
This means that the difficulty level will increase if you answer questions correctly (the opposite is also true). After you’ve completed the minimum 85 questions, the computer can start applying its pass/fail rules to determine if you passed, failed, or need to be asked more questions. This process will continue until it determines if you have passed or failed the exam overall.
- What is the passing score for the NCLEX-PN? This exam is all about endurance. A candidate will pass the test after they have answered enough questions correctly to stay above the pass line with a 95% confidence interval.
- How many people pass the NCLEX-PN on their first try? The national NCLEX-PN pass rate for first-time test takers in the U.S. is currently around 86% (July 2019). This is proof that most people who take the test will pass it.
- How much is the NCLEX-PN exam? The cost of the NCLEX-PN exam is around $200. Of course, the cost can vary depending on your individual situation. For instance, there’s an additional international scheduling fee of $150 if that applies to you. See Fees & Payment for more information. The NCSBN only accepts paying the form of credit card, debit card, or prepaid card.
- How long should you study for the NCLEX-PN? It really depends on you. Some people require more time to study, while others prefer to take the exam right after they graduate from their vocational nursing program. In general, you should set aside at least one month to study for the exam, with several hours committed each day.
NCLEX-PN Test Prep
Examples of NCLEX-PN Questions
Your NCLEX-PN prep should include a test plan as well as plenty of practice tests. Remember to check out this page on the NCSBN website for a more detailed NCLEX-PN review. These “PN Test Plans” are specifically for the NCLEX-PN, and they’ll help you study by covering the content and scope of the exam.
You can also find lots of great information at the Candidate Bulletin.
We also compiled a few NCLEX-PN sample questions below to help out:
- Select the member of the healthcare team that is paired with one of the main functions of this team member.
a) Occupational therapist: Gait exercises
b) Physical therapist: The provision of assistive devices to facilitate the activities of daily living
c) Speech and language therapist: The treatment of swallowing disorders
d) Case manager: Ordering medications and treatments
- The recommended daily caloric intake for sedentary older men, active adult women and children is:
a) 2400 calories
b) 1600 calories
c) 2800 calories
d) 2000 calories
- Ill health, malnutrition, and wasting as a result of chronic disease are all associated with:
a) Surgical asepsis
d) Venous stasis
- Select all the possible opportunistic infections that adversely affect HIV/AIDS infected patients.
a) Visual losses
b) Kaposi’s sarcoma
c) Wilms’ sarcoma
e) Peripheral neuropathy
f) Toxoplasma gondii
- What can help reduce a patient’s anxiety and postsurgical pain?
a) Preoperative teaching
b) Preoperative checklist
c) Psychological counseling
d) Preoperative medication
- Which disease decreases the metabolic rate?
c) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
d) Cardiac failure
- When caring for an infant during cardiac arrest, which pulse must be palpated to determine cardiac function?
- The patient should be sitting when deep breathing and coughing because this position:
a) Is physically more comfortable for the patient
b) Helps the patient to support their incision with a pillow
c) Loosens respiratory secretions
d) Allows the patient to observe their area and relax
- Which procedures necessitate the use of surgical asepsis techniques? Select all that apply.
a) Intramuscular medication administration
b) Central line intravenous medication administration
c) Donning gloves in the operating room
d) Neonatal bathing
e) Foley catheter insertion
f) Emptying a urinary drainage bag
- What is the ultimate purpose and goal of performance improvement activities?
a) To increase efficiency
b) To contain costs
c) To improve processes
d) To improve policies
Answers: 1)C 2)D 3)C 4)B,D,F 5)A 6)B 7)B 8)B 9)B,C,E 10)C
What to Do Before the Exam
Many first time test-takers will ask us “when can I take the NCLEX-PN?” or “when should I take NCLEX-PN?” Many of those students put a lot of time and energy into their education. It’s only natural for them to feel eager to kick-start their careers.
First, check to see when your program ends. NCLEX-PN test dates not only depend on the completion of your degree or diploma program, but on the start of the registration process for the NCLEX-PN exam.
Here is a summary of the steps you’ll need to follow before you take the NCLEX.
- Learn about eligibility and then apply for NCLEX-PN registration with a nursing regulatory body (NRB).
- Register and pay the exam fee to Pearson VUE.
- Wait to schedule your exam date until you receive the following from Pearson VUE: Acknowledgement of Receipt of Registration and Authorization to Test (ATT).
- Schedule your exam with Pearson VUE.
What to Do on Exam Day
Thanks to the NCSBN, below are a bunch of NCLEX-PN tips for you on exam day. Remember to be prepared, and take deep breaths—you’re going to do great!
- First and foremost, bring your ID with you. Candidates without a proper ID won’t be allowed to take the exam.
- Familiarize yourself with the NCLEX Candidate Rules. They cover what personal items you can bring, break procedures, etc.
- Dress comfortably. Of course, things like hats, scarves, gloves, and coats have to be left outside of the testing room.
- Arrive early. Make sure you set aside plenty of time the morning of your exam. You’ll want to arrive 30 minutes beforehand, and you don’t want to add any extra stress.
- Provide your biometrics. In other words, you’ll need to provide the following: your signature, photograph, and palm vein scan.
- Don’t bring in paper or writing instruments. This is a computer-administered Instead, you’ll be able to use an on-screen calculator, and you’ll be given a note board/marker for any notes.
- Set your pace. Again, you’ll have up to 5 hours to complete the NCLEX-PN exam. This includes a short tutorial and two optional breaks. Review each question carefully—once you submit an answer, you won’t be able to return to that question.
- How to finish up. The exam will conclude with a short, computerized survey. After you’ve completed it, raise your hand and wait to be dismissed.
What to Do After the Exam
According to NCSBN, official results are only available through your nursing regulatory body. They won’t be sent to you for about six weeks after the exam. It can be hard to wait, but it’s usually worth it!
How to Retake the NCLEX-PN Exam
If you don’t pass the exam on the first try, you can always retake it. In fact, those who didn’t pass will be provided with a performance report. This can act as a great study guide if you choose to retake the exam. Here’s what to do if you’d like to try again:
- Contact your NRB and notify them that you plan to retake the exam.
- Reregister with Pearson VUE and pay the fee.
- Wait to receive your new ATT.
- Schedule your new exam.
Note: You’ll need to wait a minimum of 45 days between each exam.
How Many Times Can You Fail the NCLEX-PN
According to NCSBN, candidates can take the NCLEX up to eight times a year (remember that 45-day rule). To be absolutely certain, contact your desired nursing regulatory body to learn more about their policy for NCLEX retakes.
How to Renew Your LVN License
Requirements can vary from state to state. In California, LVNs must renew their license every two years. This process includes completing a number of continuing education courses, possessing a social security number, and certifying whether you have been convicted of a crime since you last renewed your license.
You can submit your renewal online at DCA BreEZe Online Services.
About Continuing Education
- Active Licensure. To maintain an active license, you must complete 30 hours of continuing education. Make sure you pass the course(s) in the two-year period before your license is due to be renewed.
- First Renewal. If this is your first license renewal, then you are not required to complete 30 hours of continuing education.
Advance Your Nursing Career as an LVN
Our goal for this article was to provide you with practical tips on how to pass the NCLEX-PN. We hope it gives you the knowledge and confidence to take that next step toward your future.
The nursing field is full of wonderful specialties and careers. There are a number of paths you can choose, and nurses will always fill a vital role in healthcare.
Another rewarding aspect of becoming a Vocational Nurse is the ability to advance within the nursing profession. Some enjoy lifelong careers as LVNs, while others use their experience to apply to RN programs. For example, Unitek offers an advanced placement option for LVNs, called “LVN to BSN.” As an RN with a BSN degree, you could receive more job opportunities and management positions.
The possibilities are practically limitless. Good luck!