Healthcare

The NCLEX: Everything You Need to Know

NCLEX-exam
Written by Kate Lopaze

If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, that’s great news. Nursing is a healthcare field that can always use more great, qualified professionals to keep up with ever-increasing demand.

How Do I Become a Nurse?

Your first move will be completing a nursing education program. At a minimum, you’ll need certificate in Nursing (which takes about a year to complete) from an accredited school, but depending on your long-term nursing goals, an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree might be the right first step.

Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN): This is typically a two-year program offered by an accredited college or university. The program is targeted directly at the science and clinical skills you’ll need to get started as a licensed nurse.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BS/BSN): This is a four-year degree offered by an accredited college or university. This degree provides a comprehensive background in the sciences (biology, chemistry, human growth and development, anatomy and physiology, psychology, and nutrition, among others), as well as nursing theory and humanities. Students also learn the necessary clinical skills.

After practicing in the field, some nurses opt to pursue a Master of Science degree in Nursing (MS/MSN), Doctor of Philosophy degree in Nursing (PhD), or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree to prepare for advanced, research, or leadership roles.

As you finish your education, you’ll also need to decide whether you’d like to become a licensed Registered Nurse (RN) or Practical Nurse (PN). What’s the difference between those, you ask?

RNs typically have an AS degree or a BS degree in nursing. RNs are found anywhere there are nurses, but are usually employed in hospital or clinical settings. Their many duties include:

  • Administering medications and treatments to patients
  • Coordinating care plans
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients on care
  • Overseeing medical teams

The median annual salary for RNs is $66,640, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

LPNs typically have a one-year certificate in nursing, and tend to work more in long-term care roles (nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and the like). Their many duties include:

  • Checking vital signs
  • Inserting catheters
  • Assisting patients with daily tasks and self-care

The median annual salary for PNs is $42,490, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Depending on your career path choice (RN or PN), there are different requirements for licensing.

How Do I Get Licensed?

Every state requires its nurses to be certified and licensed, so once you’ve got your completed degree in hand, you’ll need to go through the certification process. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) requires prospective nurses to pass one of two National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX): the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN.

The NCLEX-RN Test

The NCLEX-RN is a test required for Registered Nurse (RN) candidates. The NCLEX-RN is designed to test the knowledge, skills and abilities essential for entry-level nurses. It is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), meaning there are no pencil-and-paper test booklets to be found. Test takers sit for the exam at dedicated testing centers, and answer questions entirely on screen. Most questions are multiple-choice, though there may also be questions that call for multiple responses, responding to a chart or other visual element, fill-in-the-blank, or responding to an audio clip. The questions are drawn from a bank that covers these areas:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
    • Management of Care
    • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity
    • Basic Care and Comfort
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
    • Reduction of Risk Potential
    • Physiological Adaptation

It’s important to note that every test-taker’s exam is different: the candidate may see anywhere from 75 to 265 questions on the NCLEX-PN. The average candidate answers 119 questions per exam, though all candidates have a full six hours to complete the test. (Most people take about two and a half hours.)

And unlike most standardized tests, you won’t receive a numerical score at the end. The test ends when the candidate is determined to be above or below the pass/fail point, with 95% certainty. If you’re above that line, great—you’ve passed your NCLEX-RN! If you’re not, well, you’ll get ‘em next time!

[via Elsevier]

The NCLEX-PN Test

The NCLEX-PN is a test required for Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) candidates. The NCLEX-PN is designed to test the knowledge, skills and abilities essential for entry-level nurses. Like the NCLEX-RN, it is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), so you can toss your number 2 pencils.

Also like the NCLEX-RN, most questions are multiple-choice, though there may also be questions that call for multiple responses, responding to a chart or other visual element, fill-in-the-blank, or responding to an audio clip. The questions are drawn from a bank that covers these areas:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
    • Coordinated Care
    • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity
    • Basic Care and Comfort
    • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
    • Reduction of Risk Potential
    • Physiological Adaptation

It’s important to note that every test-taker’s exam is different: the candidate may see anywhere from 85 to 205 questions on the NCLEX-PN. Regardless of how many questions you’re asked, all candidates have a full five hours to complete the test.

For the NCLEX-PN, you won’t receive a specific score at the end. The test ends when the candidate is determined to be above or below the pass/fail point, with 95% certainty. If you don’t complete the exam or don’t pass the exam, you can retake it as necessary.

How Do I Register for My NCLEX?

The NCLEX has a two-step registration process.

  1. Submit a licensing application to your state’s Board of Nursing. This step is necessary for you to be eligible to sit for the NCLEX. If you register for the test but forget to first submit your application, your registration will be active for a
  2. Register online with the test maker’s site, or by phone.

For more information about registering for the NCLEX, see the NCSBN’s website.

If you’re thinking about the NCLEX getting ready to take those essential steps toward a challenging, rewarding career as a nurse, that’s fantastic! We here at the Job Network are here to support your career every step of the way. Good luck!

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