NCLEX

What Is the Difference Between the NCLEX-PN® and the NCLEX-RN® Exam?

What Is the Difference Between the NCLEX-PN® and the NCLEX-RN® Exam?

Any student looking to gain nursing licensure must pass the NCLEX exam. Whether your career plan is to become a practical nurse (PN) or a registered nurse (RN), you will need to take and pass the NCLEX. However, there are significant differences in the testing for these two career tracks. Let’s explore those differences:

First of all, what is the NCLEX exam?

NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. It is a licensure exam that every state regulatory board uses to test knowledge, skills, and abilities essential to the safe and effective practice of entry-level nursing. The exam is required for initial recognition as a nurse in the United States.

Depending on the level of nursing you wish to practice, there are two different NCLEX exams: 

  • NCLEX-PN: This exam is taken by students looking to become licensed as a practical (LPN) or vocational nurse (LVN). 
  • NCLEX-RN: This exam is taken by students looking to become licensed as a registered nurse (RN).

What are the prerequisites for taking either the NCLEX-PN or the NCLEX-RN?

There are educational requirements that must be met before taking either the NCLEX-PN or the NCLEX-RN exam.

The NCLEX-PN may be taken by those who obtain a diploma in licensed practical nursing or licensed vocational nursing. 

The NCLEX-RN may be taken by graduates of a diploma program for RN licensure or a nursing program resulting in either an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

Who administers the NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN exams and what is the cost for registration?

Both the NCLEX-PN and the NCLEX-RN are administered by Pearson Vue, a third-party organization, and the current registration fee for both exams is $200.

How are the exams different in content?

The content is similar for the NCLEX-PN and the NCLEX-RN; however, the NCLEX-RN focuses on the management of care and supervision of others, while assisting RNs and working under supervision is more central to the NCLEX-PN.

The NCLEX-PN tests that the candidate demonstrates knowledge in these two bodies of knowledge: Social Sciences (psychology and sociology) and Biological Sciences (anatomy, physiology, biology and microbiology). 

Furthermore, clinical problem solving is tested in the following areas: Caring, Communication and Documentation, Teaching and Learning, and Culture and Spirituality.

For the NCLEX-RN exam, candidates must display competency in these bodies of knowledge:

  • Social Sciences (psychology and sociology)
  • Biological Sciences (anatomy, physiology, biology, and microbiology)
  • Physical Sciences (chemistry and physics)

Throughout the NCLEX-RN exam, in each category and subcategory, the following critical problem-solving concepts are tested:

  • Nursing process
  • Caring
  • Communication and documentation
  • Teaching and learning
  • Culture and spirituality

How many items are on each test?

The NCLEX-PN is a variable length computerized adaptive test and can range from 85 to 205 items. Of these items, 25 are pretest items that are not scored.

The NCLEX-RN is a variable length computerized adaptive test and can range from 75 to 265 items. Of these items, 15 are pretest items that are not scored. 

(Click here to see the current adjustments on questioning to COVID-19)


If you are a nursing student preparing for either the NCLEX-PN or the NCLEX-RN, proper preparation is the key for testing success. UWorld is the industry leader for NCLEX preparation. With NCLEX-style questions, detailed rationales for correct and incorrect answer choices, and accurate self-assessments, UWorld will have you ready for success on test day. Check us out to begin your NCLEX prep today.