NCLEX-PN vs NCLEX-RN: Differences, Preparation, and Career


NCLEX-PN vs NCLEX-RN: Differences, Preparation, and Career

Aspiring nurses have the option to become either a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN), each with its own pathways and exams. The NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN are crucial exams that determine a candidate’s readiness to enter the nursing profession. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the differences between the NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN, the meanings of LPN and RN, the scope of practice, salary comparisons, and which exam might be harder.

What is NCLEX-RN?

The NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) is an exam that assesses the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for entry-level registered nursing practice. It is a requirement for obtaining a nursing license to practice as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the United States and Canada.

What is NCLEX-PN?

The NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses) is an exam that evaluates whether a candidate is prepared to perform safely and effectively as a newly licensed practical/vocational nurse. Passing the NCLEX-PN is necessary to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), depending on the state.

LPN vs. RN: Definitions and Roles

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

An LPN, or Licensed Practical Nurse, provides basic medical care under the supervision of RNs and doctors. Their duties include monitoring patients’ health, administering basic patient care, and providing comfort to patients. The role of an LPN is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming an RN.

Registered Nurse (RN)

An RN, or Registered Nurse, has a broader scope of practice compared to an LPN. RNs are responsible for assessing patients’ needs, developing and implementing nursing care plans, and educating patients about health conditions. They may also supervise LPNs, nursing assistants, and other healthcare staff.

Scope of Practice: LPN vs. RN

The scope of practice for LPNs and RNs differs significantly:

  • LPNs: Typically provide basic care, such as checking vital signs, dressing wounds, and assisting with personal hygiene.
  • RNs: Handle more complex medical procedures, develop patient care plans, administer medications, and perform diagnostic tests.

NCLEX-PN Practice Questions

To prepare for the NCLEX-PN, candidates should focus on practice questions that cover areas such as:

  • Basic patient care and comfort
  • Safety and infection control
  • Pharmacological therapies
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Coordinated care

NCLEX-RN Practice Questions

NCLEX-RN practice questions generally encompass:

  • Management of care
  • Safety and infection control
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Basic care and comfort

NCLEX-PN vs. NCLEX-RN Exam Structure

NCLEX-RN Exam Structure

The NCLEX-RN uses a Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) format. This means the difficulty of questions adapts based on the test-taker’s performance. The exam includes:

  • A minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265 questions
  • A time limit of 6 hours
  • Questions covering a wide range of topics, from health promotion to pharmacological therapies

NCLEX-PN Exam Structure

The NCLEX-PN also uses CAT and includes:

  • A minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205 questions
  • A time limit of 5 hours
  • Questions focusing on the practical aspects of nursing care

PN vs. RN Salary

The salary difference between LPNs and RNs is significant due to the differences in their scope of practice and education requirements.

  • LPN Salary: The median annual salary for LPNs in the United States is around $48,000. This can vary based on location, experience, and workplace.
  • RN Salary: RNs earn a median annual salary of approximately $75,000, which also varies based on similar factors. RNs generally earn more than LPNs due to their higher level of responsibility and education.


Many candidates and educators agree that the NCLEX-RN is more challenging than the NCLEX-PN. This is because the NCLEX-RN covers a broader and deeper range of nursing concepts, including advanced critical thinking and management of care. The NCLEX-PN, while still rigorous, focuses more on the practical aspects of nursing care.

Preparing for the Exams

Study Strategies for NCLEX-PN

  1. Practice Questions: Regularly work through NCLEX-PN practice questions to become familiar with the exam format.
  2. Review Basic Nursing Care: Focus on fundamental nursing skills and patient care techniques.
  3. Study Guides and Resources: Utilize NCLEX-PN study guides, textbooks, and online resources.

Study Strategies for NCLEX-RN

  1. Comprehensive Review: Conduct a thorough review of nursing theories, patient management, and clinical practices.
  2. Advanced Practice Questions: Engage with NCLEX-RN practice questions that cover a wide range of topics.
  3. Simulation Exams: Take full-length practice exams to simulate the test day experience.

What is the difference between PN and RN

PN stands for Practical Nurse (or Licensed Practical Nurse, LPN), while RN stands for Registered Nurse. The main differences between the two include the scope of practice, education, and responsibilities. PNs provide basic nursing care under the supervision of RNs and doctors, whereas RNs have a broader scope of practice, including developing care plans, administering medications, and performing diagnostic tests. RNs typically have more advanced education, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing, compared to the one-year diploma or certificate that PNs usually earn.

Is the NCLEX the same for RN and LPN

No, the NCLEX is not the same for RNs and LPNs. The NCLEX-RN is designed for those seeking to become Registered Nurses and covers a wider range of topics with a higher level of complexity. The NCLEX-PN is for those aiming to become Practical Nurses and focuses more on basic patient care and practical nursing skills. Each exam has different content, structure, and difficulty levels to match the respective roles and responsibilities.

What does PN mean in NCLEX

In the context of the NCLEX, PN stands for Practical Nurse. The NCLEX-PN is the licensing exam for Practical Nurses (also known as Licensed Practical Nurses or Licensed Vocational Nurses), assessing their readiness to perform entry-level nursing tasks safely and effectively.

What is NCLEX-PN and RN

NCLEX-PN is the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses. It evaluates the competence of candidates to ensure they can perform the duties of a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN).

NCLEX-RN is the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. This exam assesses whether candidates have the knowledge and skills necessary to practice safely and effectively as Registered Nurses (RNs).

What’s higher than an RN

Several nursing roles are considered higher than an RN in terms of responsibility and specialization:

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs): This includes Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs), Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), and Nurse Midwives (CNMs). These roles require a master’s or doctoral degree.
  • Nurse Educators: RNs who teach in nursing schools or training programs.
  • Nurse Administrators: RNs who hold leadership positions in healthcare settings, such as nurse managers or directors of nursing.

Should I do LPN or RN

Whether to become an LPN or RN depends on your career goals, time commitment, and educational aspirations:

  • LPN: A shorter, often one-year program that allows you to start working in nursing sooner. Suitable for those looking to enter the workforce quickly.
  • RN: Requires a more extended educational commitment (two to four years) but offers greater career opportunities, higher salaries, and a broader scope of practice. Ideal for those aiming for advanced roles in nursing.

What is the meaning of NCLEX-RN

NCLEX-RN stands for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. It is a standardized exam that assesses the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for entry-level registered nursing practice. Passing the NCLEX-RN is required to obtain a nursing license and practice as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the United States and Canada.

Final Comments:

While both exams serve the same fundamental purpose of ensuring competence in nursing practice, the scope of practice, educational requirements, and difficulty levels differ significantly. The NCLEX-RN is more challenging and covers a broader range of topics, reflecting the advanced responsibilities of Registered Nurses. In contrast, the NCLEX-PN focuses on practical nursing skills, suitable for Licensed Practical Nurses.

Choosing between becoming an LPN or RN depends on your career goals, educational preferences, and desired salary. Both roles are essential in the healthcare system, providing critical care and support to patients. By thoroughly preparing for the respective exams through practice questions and comprehensive study, candidates can achieve their goal of becoming licensed and contributing to the nursing profession.

Hello! I'm Professor D, and I've been teaching at Nexus Nursing Institute for several years. My passion is helping students understand complex nursing topics, from heart disorders to mental health. I always aim to break down challenging subjects so they're easy for everyone to understand. I genuinely care about each student's success and often go the extra mile to ensure they grasp the concepts. As you browse through this blog, you'll come across many articles I've written, sharing my knowledge and insights. I'm thrilled to be a part of this community and to help guide your learning journey!

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