Have you just finished nursing school? Congratulations! You are one step closer to becoming a nurse, one of the most trusted professionals in the United States. But before you begin your career in nursing and go on to do great things, you will need to prepare for and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Don't worry; test stress is natural, but you've got this.
Whether you finished an accredited nursing program to become a registered nurse (RN) or have received a certification in practical nursing to work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you must pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN, respectively.
Below, we will look at the main differences between the NCLEX-PN vs. NCLEX-RN exams and offer tips to help you get through your test jitters and pass on the first try.
What Is the Difference between an LPN and an RN?
Before we dive into the main differences between the NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN, it's essential to understand the distinct roles of an LPN vs. an RN. Generally, LPNs—called licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) in Texas and California—are in charge of patients’ comfort and work under the supervision of a registered nurse. While LPNs offer primary nursing care, such as charting a patient's vital signs or assisting with toileting and bathing, LPNs are also in charge of more advanced nursing responsibilities such as the administration of medications and are often trained to be able to administer certain levels of IV-therapy. By contrast, an RN's scope of practice is more significant. It includes additional duties such as administering medications and treatments to patients, collaborating with physicians to determine treatment plans, and performing ongoing assessments of the patient’s condition. A comparison of the typical nursing duties of an RN and an LPN is shown below:
Regarding education and accreditation, licensed practical nurses must attend and finish an accredited practical nursing program, which typically lasts one year. Most LPNs who enroll in accredited nursing courses do so at community or technical institutions. Registered nurses, on the other hand, usually earn either an accredited Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). To be eligible for licensure and pursue a nursing career, LPNs and RNs must take the NCLEX exam.
What Is the NCLEX Exam?
All nurses in the United States must pass the NCLEX exam to acquire their nursing license. The NCLEX, therefore, is an exam that aims to evaluate and test the skills you learned in nursing school and discern whether you are now able to practice safe and effective nursing in real life. In simpler terms, the NCLEX exam tests your knowledge of basic nursing principles and your ability to apply sound judgment and reasoning to deliver outstanding patient care.
We know NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination, but what is the meaning of RN and PN? The RN in NCLEX-RN stands for registered nurses, and the PN in NCLEX-PN stands for practical nurses.
NCLEX-RN vs. NCLEX-PN Exam Content
The distinction between the NCLEX RN and PN exams is minor. Much of the material is the same. Both exams address the following topics:
- Basic care and comfort
- Health promotion and maintenance
- Psychosocial integrity
- Safety and infection control
- Physiological adaptation
- Pharmacological and parenteral therapies
- Reduction of risk potential
While the content for the NCLEX PN and NCLEX RN will be similar, the NCLEX RN will include more "Management of Care" questions that deal with overseeing others. In comparison, the NCLEX PN will consist of more "Coordination Care" questions dealing with how well an LPN can work while supervised by an RN. Additionally, the content and format of each exam differ slightly, as the RN exam covers more complex nursing concepts and skills and focuses more on clinical problem-solving.
In addition, the NCLEX-RN can have up to 74-145 questions, whereas the NCLEX-PN can have 85 up to 205. In general, both exams contain much of the same content and aim to test the skills and knowledge of new nurses. However, the RN exam tests individuals on their assessment and critical thinking skills to a higher degree than the PN exam.
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How Are NCLEX Exams Administered?
NCLEX tests use a computerized adaptive testing (CAT) approach. Most questions are text-based and multiple-choice but may include graphs, tables, and charts. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing's (NCSBN's) CAT technique can evaluate a candidate's capacity based on exam replies and will tailor the questions to the candidate's ability.
How Can I Prepare for the NCLEX Exam?
Whether you are an aspiring LPN or RN, you must prepare extensively to take the NCLEX exam. Kaplan Test Prep recommends that nurses who plan to take the NCLEX should take four to 12 weeks or more. Luckily, plenty of online resources can help you get a head start and feel confident when taking the NCLEX. Here are a few essential tips to use when preparing for the NCLEX exam:
- Understand the NCLEX format and develop a study plan
- Take an online mock exam that features NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN practice questions
- Take a prep course that prepares candidates to answer NCLEX questions correctly
- Block off study time that includes distraction-free spaces months before the exam
- Keep reviewing and practicing NCLEX test material up until a few days before the exam
Oh, and one more tip: Take deep breaths and be confident; this is what you have been preparing for. All your hard work will soon pay off after you pass the NCLEX exam.
What Happens After I Pass the NCLEX Exam?
Once you pass the NCLEX-RN, you'll need to obtain a nursing license in the state where you wish to practice. Since every state has different licensing requirements, you must contact the board of nursing in your planned state of residence. After you acquire your state license, you can start working as a registered nurse or a licensed vocational nurse as soon as possible. However, you should figure out what nursing specialty or type of healthcare facility you see yourself working in.
LPNs and RNs can work in hospitals, physicians' offices, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, and other medical settings. The opportunities are endless. So what are you waiting for? Whether you are about to take the NCLEX or just passed with flying colors, a promising nursing career is just around the corner.