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How to Pass the NCLEX-PN® Exam

Advance Your Licensed Practical Nurse Career by Earning NCLEX-PN Certification

Smiling group of medical students

If you’re a nursing student or thinking about becoming one, you’ll soon know the term NCLEX (pronounced en-clex). It’s the name of the nursing exam you will eventually need to pass to start working as a nurse. The NCLEX exam helps to verify that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to safely and effectively perform all of the duties of a nurse.

More specifically, the NCLEX-PN is the exam a candidate takes to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). LPNs are nurses who provide basic medical care, monitor patients and report patient status and any concerns to Registered Nurses (RNs) and doctors. LPNs made our list of the 17 Best Entry-Level Medical Jobs in 2023.

Studying for and passing the exam that will grant you your license to start working as an LPN can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. We’ve put together this guide to help you better understand and prepare for the NCLEX exam.

This NCLEX-PN study guide will:

  • Introduce you to the NCLEX exam and format
  • Provides tips on how to study for the NCLEX-PN
  • Help you understand how to pass the NCLEX-PN the first time
  • Explain how to register for the exam
  • Summarize what leads to a passing score

If you’re not yet enrolled in a nursing program, but want to know more about getting on the path to a career as a practical nurse, click here to learn How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse.

What Is the NCLEX-PN Exam?

NCLEX-PN is the abbreviation for National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses. It’s the nurse licensure and certification exam that entry-level nurses must pass before working in the field of nursing. The exam tests candidates on the clinical decisions they would make—and how they would prioritize multiple scenarios—when presented with real-world circumstances.

The NCLEX-PN exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. (NCSBN). NCSBN is a not-for-profit organization whose U.S. members include the nursing regulatory bodies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories.

What Is the Format of the NCLEX-PN Exam?

The NCLEX exam format is based on computer adaptive testing (CAT) technology. With this dynamic format, the computer re-estimates your abilities each time you answer a question before serving the next question. It then chooses the next question that you have a 50% chance of answering correctly.

The idea is that each progressive question should not be too easy or too hard. The computer decides if you’ve passed based on several rules. The exam can end at any point if the computer is 95% certain that your ability is clearly above or below the passing standard.

Is the NCLEX-PN Exam Hard?

Again, the unique format of this exam is based on a formula that will ask questions that are not too easy, yet not too hard. Although the questions are designed to be progressively more challenging each time you correctly answer, you shouldn’t be served a question that you don’t have at least a 50/50 chance of getting right.

The computerized test format is designed to determine your true ability level in making clinical decisions and correctly to prioritize multiple care decisions. When taking the NCLEX exam, you should expect to be constantly challenged but not overwhelmed.

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What is a Passing Score for the NCLEX-PN Test?

The NCSBN Board of Directors reevaluates the passing standards every three years when the test plans are reviewed. Effective through March 31, 2026, the passing standard is -0.18 logits. This means that you will have answered the questions correctly nearly 50% of the time.

Passing rates will vary from year to year. The 2022 NCLEX-PN pass rate for U.S.-educated candidates taking the test for the first time was about 79.9%.

What Is On the NCLEX-PN Exam?

The NCLEX-PN Exam includes questions for each Client Needs category and subcategory outlined in the NCLEX-PN Test Plan. The percentage of questions from each category and subcategory can vary. Below are the Client Needs subjects and the percentage of questions from each type that may appear when you take the exam.

Client Needs Percentage of Items from Each Category/Subcategory
Safe and Effective Care Environment
• Coordinated Care

• Safety and Infection Control



Health Promotion and Maintenance 6–12%
Psychosocial Integrity 9–15%
Physiological Integrity
• Basic Care and Comfort

• Pharmacological Therapies

• Reduction of Risk Potential

• Physiological Adaptation





How Many Questions Are On the NCLEX-PN Exam?

Because of the computer adaptive testing (CAT) format, the exam length can range from 75-145 questions. Of those, 15 are pretest questions that are not scored. The time limit for taking the exam is five hours, regardless of how many questions are administered during the exam. When answering, you can consider your answer and change it. However, once you select the ‘Next’ button, you can no longer change your answer for that item, and the next question is chosen for you to answer.

NCLEX-PN Exam Sample Questions

The NCLEX-PN Test Plan provides an overview of the responsibilities and tasks that LPNs perform in each Client Needs category. It also provides a sample question at the end of each summary. This is helpful because it shows you an example of how a question might be presented to make sure you have mastered the material in that category. Below are three NCLEX-PN exam sample questions provided in the test plan (see answers at the end of the article):

Sample Item 1:

The nurse in a long-term care facility is making client care assignments for unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP). Which of the following statements by the nurse would provide the UAP with the best directions about the assignment?

  1. “Encourage the client to increase daily fluid intake.”
  2. “Ambulate the client 20 ft (6.7 m) every 4 hours beginning at 0900.”
  3. “Assist the client in performing passive range-of-motion (ROM) exercises.”
  4. “Reinforce physical therapy instructions about the proper use of a walker.”

Sample Item 2:

The nurse is reinforcing teaching with a client about the signs of hunger in a newborn. Which of the following signs should the nurse reinforce? Select all that apply.

  1. open hands
  2. quivering bottom lip
  3. rooting movements
  4. sucking on the hands
  5. hand-to-mouth movements

Sample Item 3:

The nurse assists in evaluating the coping strategies of the spouse of a client who had a stroke five days ago. Which of the following statements by the spouse would indicate ineffective coping?

  1. “I sleep only for short periods of time since my spouse became ill.”
  2.  “I feel frustrated when my spouse turns away and will not talk with me.”
  3.  “I eat meals in my spouse’s room so my spouse will not have to eat meals alone.”
  4.  “I have been performing a few household chores each day before visiting my spouse.”

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How Do I Study for the NCLEX-PN Exam?

Now that you know a little more about what the NCLEX exam looks like, the next step is to study to pass it. Fortunately, you’ll find plenty of materials to help you study for the exam, including test plans, study resources, and practice exams. Following are a few tips on how to prepare for the NCLEX-PN exam.

1. Create an NCLEX-PN Study Plan

When you think about NCLEX-PN test prep, don’t let yourself feel like you have to tackle everything at once. Make a study plan and decide what your focus will be each day or week. Decide which topic(s) or study help you will review. Identify the blocks of time when you will study each day, and stick to that plan. You don’t always need to be studying, but spending quality, uninterrupted time each day will help you stay on track.

2. Become Familiar with The Exam Structure

Use the NCLEX Candidate Tutorial to become more familiar with the Pearson VUE exam software. The tutorial shows you the types of questions you may encounter, also called “item types.” The examples are interactive, and you’ll be guided on how to interact and respond to each type of problem. For instance, you’ll learn how to answer multiple-choice questions, drag-and-drop, charts/exhibits, and hot spots.

3. Read Through the NCLEX-PN Test Plan

The test plan gives you a foundation of the exam structure, informs you about the exam content, and details about the exam administration. It also includes item writing exercises you can complete for multiple case scenarios. Just go to the Test Plans page and select the PN Test Plan to get started.

4. Consider Taking a Prep Course

If it’s been a while since you finished your nursing program and you’re not as confident as you were right after graduation, an online or in-person prep course might be a good idea. If you are a recent graduate, the knowledge you’ve picked up while completing your program will serve as a solid foundation for your NCLEX studies.

Additionally, several NCLEX study tools and practice tests are available as apps for your smartphone or tablet. For example, NCLEX PN Mastery is an app available on the App Store for iPhone or iPad that features more than 2,300 exam-like questions, in-depth explanations, and must-know strategies.

5. Take the NCLEX Practice Exams

Perhaps the best NCLEX-PN prep is taking the NCLEX Practice Exam. That’s because it’s put together from previously used exam questions. It’s the closest thing to taking the actual exam, and it includes 125 questions that you’ll have five continuous hours to complete. Two practice exams are available so that you can take both of them within 45 days of your purchase date.

6. Don’t Lose Sleep Preparing for the Exam

Study diligently as you approach your test date, but don’t skip sleep or push yourself too hard. Getting plenty of rest, exercising, and keeping yourself mentally fresh can perhaps do more for you than constantly cramming the week before your exam.

When test day arrives, stay calm and focused. Remember, you have plenty of time to answer the questions, so don’t worry if you’ll finish or second-guess your answers. Focus on the question you’re on, and solve it to the best of your ability. Rely on what you’ve learned, and your preparation is sure to pay off.

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How Do You Register for the NCLEX-PN Exam?

The NCLEX-PN registration process consists of two parts when applying to nursing regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Canada.

  1. First, you need to contact your Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB) and request a licensure/registration application. You will need to pay the licensing/registration fee when you submit your application. Note that you must obtain your application in the state/province/territory where you seek licensure/registration.
  2. Next, you must register with the Pearson VUE (testing vendor) online or by calling Pearson VUE Candidate Services at 866-496-2539. You will need to pay the exam fee at the time you register.

Where Can You Take the NCLEX-PN Exam?

Once you have completed the steps above and are eligible, you’ll receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) email. It’s essential to watch for it because you’ll need this email to schedule an appointment to take the exam.

Once you receive it, you can choose your testing location. The NCLEX is offered at both domestic and international locations, and you can locate a test center near you. After you select a testing location, you can schedule your exam appointment through Pearson VUE Candidate Services using the site phone number listed in step 2 above. First-time test takers are offered NCLEX-PN test dates within 30 days of their request for an appointment.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the NCLEX-PN Exam?

The cost of the NCLEX-PN exam is $200.00 in the U.S. and $360.00 in Canada. Additional NCLEX-PN costs may also apply for international scheduling, changing the nursing regulatory body, changing the exam type (RN/PN), or changing the exam language.

You’ll need to pay for your exam and complete your registration using a credit, debit, or prepaid card. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are all accepted. You should plan carefully since refunds of registration fees are not offered for any reason.

How Many Times Can You Take the NCLEX-PN Exam?

The NCSBN retake policy allows candidates to take the NCLEX-PN exam eight times a year, with 45 test-free days between each examination. However, some jurisdictions may offer fewer exams per year.

To retake the exam, contact the NRB and let them know you plan to retake it. They will inform you of any additional fees or materials that will be required. They’ll also send you a new ATT email so you can review the NCLEX-PN test dates and schedule your exam again, as described earlier in this article.

Still Exploring a Career as an LPN?

We hope this NCLEX-PN study guide has provided valuable tips on how to pass the NCLEX exam and start working as a Licensed Practical Nurse. But if you are still just considering a career as an LPN, you’ll want to enroll in an accredited practical nursing program that will give you the foundation to prepare to pass the NCLEX-PN exam.

Start by learning more about the Practical Nursing Program at Brookline College and how this program can help prepare you to pass the NCLEX-PN exam and start a rewarding and successful nursing career.


Answer Key:

Sample Item 1: 2

Sample Item 2: 3, 4, 5

Sample Item 3: 1