What Is the NCLEX-PN®?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2018
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The National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN®) is an exam an individual takes to be licensed as a practical nurse in the United States. The examination, which is developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, evaluates whether an individual should be licensed to provide basic care for individuals who are ill, have suffered injuries, or have difficulty meeting their own care needs. The examination is multiple choice, and a person must qualify to take it. In many jurisdictions, a person must complete an accredited nurse education program, complete an application, pay a fee, and submit to a background check to qualify. Other requirements may apply as well.

In order to work as a practical nurse in the United States, a person must secure a nursing license. A candidate who wants to become a practical nurse takes an examination called the NCLEX-PN®. Completing this examination with a passing score means a person can be licensed as a practical nurse in his jurisdiction and begin work under that title. An individual may pass a similar test called the NCLEX-RN® if he wishes to become a registered nurse instead of a licensed practical nurse.


An individual must meet certain eligibility retirements to take the NCLEX-PN®, and these requirements vary somewhat from state to state. Generally, however, a person must complete an accredited nursing program in order to be eligible to take this examination. He must also complete a state-specific nurse licensing examination, pay a fee, and meet any other requirements that are specified by his state. For example, an individual will likely have to submit to a check of his criminal background in order to be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN®.

The NCLEX-PN® is a computer-administered test that is multiple-choice, which means a person must choose the best answer out of those that are presented. The test is also adaptive, which means the questions become easier or harder depending on the candidate’s previous answers. For example, if an individual is answering the majority of the questions correctly, the questions become progressively more difficult. Incorrect answers have the opposite effect — as an individual answers questions incorrectly, the test becomes progressively easier.

Depending on the test taker's progress, the test includes a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205 questions. An individual has a maximum of five hours to complete the exam. If a nurse candidate fails the test, he can retake it.


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