Practical Nurses and the NCLEX-PN Exam

A practical nurse is a nurse who completed a course of a lower standard than those of the registered nurses, meaning a nurse who completed less than a Bachelor’s Degree in nursing. Some of the duties of an LPN, as practical nurses are also known as, are to administer oral and intravenous medications, chard medical record, take the patient’s vital signs, and change wound dressings. However, it all depends on what the state you are in allows the LPN to do.

Practical nurses can work in hospitals; rehabilitation centers; nursing homes; home care; medical office or urgent care clinic; and schools. The practical nurse can also choose an area of practice. Many would advise practical nurses to work in different areas of nursing over time to increase their marketability. You can choose from working in pediatrics; labor and delivery; neonatal; oncology; emergency room; as a rehabilitation nurse; and many other areas.

Before you can practice as any of these types of practical nurses, you have to become a licensed practical nurse. How do you become a licensed nurse?

To become a licensed nurse, you must apply for your license and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This exam is administered as a Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT), which means the test will be delivered by computer. This test will determine whether you are ready to practice as a nurse.

On your last semester of nursing school you will receive two applications: one for licensure and the application for the NCLEX-PN Exam. First, you will request your Authorization to Test (ATT), in which the board will determine whether you are ready to be licensed. Once you get your ATT, you may apply for your NCLEX-PN Exam.

The exam is based on the four major Client Needs across the life span in a variety of settings. The categories are as followed:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment – This category covers safety issues in patient care, to prevent further injuries and infection, safety for pediatric and psychiatric patients, and others.
    • Coordinated Care (16-22% of items)
    • Safety and Infection Control (10-16% of items)
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance (7-13% of items)- Questions in this category deal with pregnancy, labor and delivery; newborn infants; sexually transmitted infections, and many others.
  • Psychosocial Integrity (8-14% of items) – This category deals with patients with psychiatric problems and their issues.
  • Physiological Integrity – In this category you will get questions regarding adult medical and surgical care, pediatric and gerontology.
    • Basic Care and Comfort (7-13% of items)
    • Pharmacological Therapies (11-17% of items)
    • Reduction of Risk Potential (10-16% of items)
    • Physiological Adaptation (7-13% of items)

Day of test

The test includes 205 questions, from which you only have to answer a minimum of 85 questions. This means, that once you answer 85 questions, the computer will proceed to correct the exam. If it determines you have proven competence, you will pass the test. If it concludes you don’t have competence, it will continue on providing new questions until it is proven you have competence on the subjects.

You have a maximum of 5 hours to complete the exam. You are allowed to take two optional breaks; one after two hours of testing and another one after an additional 90 minutes of testing. The exam will end once you demonstrate competency by answering the minimum of 85 questions; once you have demonstrated a lack of minimum competency and answered the minimum number of questions; when you have answered the maximum of questions, or when you have used the maximum time allowed.

If you do not pass your test, you can retake it as many times as you wish. You are permitted to take the exam 45 to 90 days after the initial administration.


For more information on the NCLEX-PN Exam please visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing,

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