Get Licensed: NCLEX-PN Preparation Guide

The NCLEX-PN is a licensing examination for practical nurses who have graduated from nursing school. Before starting on their nursing careers, practical nurses, known as vocational nurses in California and Texas, would first have to acquire a license from the state nursing board.

Upon receiving their licenses, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are then allowed to provide basic bedside care to patients under the supervision of registered nurses. Nurses who did not succeed in passing the NCLEX-RN, the exam for registered nurses, are also eligible to take the NCLEX-PN, as the criteria for the two examinations are rather similar.

Both examinations test a new nurse’s level of competence before allowing them the freedom to practice nursing. Examination fees are $200, while additional fees may be charged if the examination is taken at an international test center.

The Examination

In preparation for the NCLEX-PN, it is important to understand how test scores are tabulated. This examination utilizes a computerized adaptive testing (CAT) system where each correct answer provided by the candidate will trigger the system to reveal a more difficult question the second time around. On the other hand, if a candidate got the question wrong in the first place, the second question will be of an easier level.

The cycle repeats itself until the system reaches a 95% level of confidence before the candidate is passed or failed. In order to proceed to the next question, the current question must be answered. If candidates do not know the actual answer, they are advised to make educated guesses for each multiple-choice question instead of making a random selection. This examination lasts up to five hours and includes a tutorial at the beginning of the test and two 10-minute breaks.

The Components

In this examination, candidates are tested on areas pertaining to four major client needs — Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity and Physiological Integrity.

Nurses are tested on their skills, knowledge, understanding, and abilities in dealing with their potential clients within each of these four aspects. However, there is a slight difference between this and the NCLEX-RN examination in the sense that the latter would incorporate questions that touch upon matters of delegation.

As practical nurses are required to work under the supervision of registered nurses and required to work within their license scope, questions pertaining to the safety levels of a nursing job are regularly slipped in to test a candidate’s view on this particular aspect. Candidates are also tested on their sense of prioritization, and also provided with case studies to test on their abilities in handling uncooperative patients.

Certain issues regarding legality and ethics are also part and parcel of the test. Other concepts and processes that are integrated within would include areas such as clinical problem-solving, teaching and learning, and also communication skills as well as documentation.

One of the apparent differences between a practical nurse’s licensing examinations to that of a registered nurse’s is the number of questions to be answered. The NCLEX for registered nurses lasts six hours and candidates are required to answer a minimum of 75 questions, with the maximum limit of questions being 265.

On the other hand, the NCLEX for practical nurses comprises at least 85 questions answered to make a correct assessment. The maximum limit, however, is only 205 questions with the entire examination taking only five hours. Thus, candidates should time themselves well, never spending more than 2 or 3 minutes on each question. The test will conclude when maximum examination time has been reached, when the maximum limit has been reached or when the system has determined whether the candidate has achieved the passing standard.

In the event that the candidate’s score has yet to reach a 95% confidence level at the end of the examination, the system will compensate by checking on the consistency of the answers in order to determine whether a candidate has passed or failed. If the candidate’s answers are consistently above the passing mark, then the chances are that he or she has made the grade.

Tackling the Examination Questions

There are many sample tests that candidates can undertake to prepare for the real NCLEX examination. In fact, it is best to attend a review class to acquire a big picture of what the NCLEX is really all about. In essence, the safety of the patient is always the primary concern and as a nurse, the candidate should always portray a caring nature and be professional at all times.

When answering questions, candidates should always read the question in its entirety and focus more on critical thinking as opposed to relying on memory. Randomly breezing through the questions in fear of time running out should be avoided, as this would severely lower the chances of passing the examination. Giving a wrong answer to an easy question and another wrong one on the following question which is even easier won’t look good.

The old adage — practice makes perfect — holds true even when it comes to licensing examinations. There is also an abundance of online sample tests assist candidates in acquainting themselves with the examination style and format.

This is critical to ensure that candidates do not panic and lose sense of what is right or wrong in the midst of an examination. Also, the NCSBN provides test plans and sample practices for potential candidates and also other related information pertaining to the examination. Testing candidates can also obtain practice examinations from test books. The best NCLEX-PN study book available is Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-PN Examination.

A few other sites to look up are Kaplan, NCLEX Excel and Delmar’s Online NCLEX Review. There is no need for worry if candidates don’t pass the test during their first time, as they can always retake the examination held once every three months.

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