When you are pursuing a career in nursing, you’ll always hear about the NCLEX… It’s just inescapable!

Whether you’re an aspiring LPN or an aspiring RN, you’ve most likely heard that you need to take the NCLEX after you graduate. 

One thing aspiring LPNs or RNs might wonder is, “What’s the difference between the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN?” 

Is this the same exam? Which one do I need to take? 

We’re here to answer those questions and more! We’ll also answer questions such as:

  • Which exam is harder?
  • Which exam is cheaper?
  • How do I qualify for the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN?
  • How do I prepare for the NCLEX?
  • What happens after I take the NCLEX?
  • What should I do if I fail?

If you’re ready, let’s explore more on the topic of NCLEX-RN vs NCLEX-PN! 

What is the NCLEX?

Before we can talk about the NCLEX-RN vs NCLEX-PN, we first need to know what the NCLEX is and why it’s so important.

NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. 

This is a national exam that ensures that all aspiring LPNs or RNs in every state meet the minimum requirements to practice as safe and effective entry-level nurses. 

Every aspiring LPN or RN, therefore, needs to pass this exam to become licensed in their state. 

You simply can’t practice as an LPN or RN in the US without it. 

Although this can be challenging for aspiring nurses, those who are taking care of other people’s health must be competent and qualified for the job. 

What are the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN?

There are two kinds of NCLEX exams – the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN.

The NCLEX-RN is for aspiring Registered Nurses.

The NCLEX-PN is for aspiring Licensed Practical Nurses (also known as Licensed Vocational Nurses in other states). 

Remember that, although the states may have different requirements for licensure, the NCLEX is required in all states. 

What are the similarities between the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN? 

Both exams are similar in terms of the types of questions, the main categories (or topics), and the way it is administered.

Let’s talk a little bit more about each one. 

The Types of Questions

As a nurse, you need to know a lot of basic information about the human body, health, medical terms, nursing procedures, etc. 

You also need to know your role in the healthcare team, the scope of your practice, how to coordinate with others, and how to make decisions that are best suited for your patients. 

The NCLEX, therefore, will test both your basic nursing information, as well as your higher cognitive thinking and decision-making. 

You may be given different scenarios where you will need to find the BEST solution for your patient. 

This may be tricky because the choices may all seem correct… but you are being evaluated as to how well you can apply nursing principles and how effective you are in decision-making.

The exam consists of different types of questions including multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, hot-spot, multiple responses, and ordered response items. 

The Main Categories 

Both the RN and the PN exams have 4 major categories or topics. These are:

  • Safe and effective care environment 
  • Health promotion and maintenance 
  • Psychosocial integrity 
  • Physiological integrity

The Way the NCLEX is Administered

The NCLEX is administered through the Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) method. 

This means that the computer will assess what question to give you based on how well you answered the previous question. 

If you answered the question correctly, then the next question will be harder. If you make a mistake, then the next question will be easier. 

This makes sure the level of difficulty is not too hard or too easy for an examinee. 

After answering the minimum amount of questions, they can determine whether you reach the minimum requirements of a nurse or not. 

If the minimum number of questions is not enough for them to determine your competence as a nurse, then they will feed you more questions until they can make a better assessment, or if you run out of questions or time. 

These exams are administered in authorized testing centers throughout the nation and even around the world. 

What are the differences between the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN?

We’ve already seen that both exams are very similar. 

However, there are also significant differences between the two. 

RNs have a wider scope of practice than LPNs and can also take management positions. 

The RN exam has components about the management of care and supervision, therefore, while the LPN exam focuses more on coordination of care and working under supervision. 

The RN exam also covers some topics that are not included in the LPN exam, such as the administration of Total Parenteral Nutrition and blood products. 

There is also a difference in the number of questions. 

The RN exam has a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265. The PN exam, on the other hand, has a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205. 

Which exam is harder?

Both exams are challenging and require a deep understanding of your chosen field.

It’s difficult to compare the two because each exam is tailor-made for either an LPN or an RN.

If you were trained to be an LPN, the NCLEX-PN will evaluate your readiness and competence in that field. The same goes for RNs and the NCLEX-RN. 

In other words, an LPN will find the NCLEX-PN challenging, and an RN will find the NCLEX-RN challenging. 

However, since RNs receive more years of training than LPNs, the NCLEX-RN reflects the wider scope of practice that RNs can engage in. 

Which exam is cheaper?

Both exams, whether the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN, cost $200. 

How do I qualify for the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN?

The requirements to qualify for the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN may differ from state to state. Make sure to check your specific state’s requirements. 

Some general requirements are common to all states, however.

Educational Background

If you are an aspiring LPN, then you will need to pass an approved LPN nursing education program in your state. This takes about a year. 

There may be some alternative educational routes for LPNs in some states, but make sure to check with your state’s nursing regulatory board. 

If you are an aspiring RN, there are two nursing programs you can choose from – an Associate Degree in Nursing (2 years) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (4 years). 

Either an ADN or a BSN will qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN, but many hospitals prefer hiring BSN-RNs. 

Application with Your State’s Nursing Regulatory Board

Usually, after graduating from your nursing education program, the next step is to send an initial application to your state’s nursing regulatory board. 

This usually involves submitting:

  • an application form
  • your transcript of records from your nursing program
  • a criminal background check
  • an application fee

Other states may require more documents, but these are some of the basic ones you will be required to submit.

Your state’s board will then evaluate your application. If you qualify for the next step, then you will receive the NCLEX Examination Candidate Bulletin in the mail, which includes an Authorization to Take the Test (ATT), a list of testing centers, and instructions on how to register for your exam.

Registering and Scheduling for the NCLEX

Before you receive your Authorization to Test (ATT), you can already start the registration process for the NCLEX. 

You can register through Pearson Vue, which is a third-party testing vendor. 

However, you can only schedule and finalize the exam details once you receive your ATT. 

You can choose the time and day of your exam, as well as the testing center.

You will also need to pay an exam fee of $200. 

You should schedule your exam within 90 days of receiving your ATT. Otherwise, it will expire and you will need to register and pay the fees all over again. 

How do I prepare for the NCLEX?

Just like other important milestones in your life, you shouldn’t cram for the NCLEX.

Even when you are a student in your nursing education program, your instructors will already be preparing you for the NCLEX. 

Pay attention to their tips and advice and be a good student throughout the program. That’s the best way to prepare for the NCLEX. 

After graduation, however, you still have a review period where you can collate and recall what you’ve studied in the past years. 

You can do this formally by enrolling in a formal review center. You can also do this through self-study. Just make sure you have a structured and planned-out approach to your review. 

There are many online resources as well that give you tips and advice on taking the NCLEX, as well as a lot of practice exams. 

Make sure to keep practicing and analyze your results after each exam. 

What happens after I take the NCLEX?

If you pass the NCLEX… Congratulations! That is a BIG accomplishment!

All you need to do is wait for your official results to be sent to you, as well as your official LPN or RN license. 

Once you get a hold of your license, then you can start applying for your first job. 

The good news is that nurses are in demand!

However, if you don’t pass the NCLEX, your results will still be sent to you, as well as a diagnostic report on your performance. 

This is a very important document because it will help you see where you went wrong and what you need to improve. 

What should I do if I fail the NCLEX?

If you fail the NCLEX, then don’t despair… and don’t give up! 

You should try to retake it! 

The diagnostic report from your previous exam will help you determine your weaknesses and where you need to focus your review. 

The experience may also be an advantage since you already know what to expect and won’t be too unfamiliar with the experience. 


And that concludes it!

We’ve covered a lot! 

We talked about what the NCLEX is; the definition, similarities, and differences between the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN; the difficulty and cost of both exams; how to qualify for both exams; as well as tips on how to pass the NCLEX and what to do if you pass or fail. 

We hope that you found this article helpful and that it will help you on your journey as an LPN or RN. 

Enjoy the ride!

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