The NCLEX-PN exam is known for being extremely challenging, which is partly due to the exam's format. Like the NCLEX-RN, it is a progressive, multiple choice, computer-based exam that tests all areas of nursing knowledge. The test content is re-evaluated every three years by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing so that the integrity of the exam's standards are never compromised.
Although the content covered in the NCLEX-PN exam is categorized by subject area, the computer adaptive testing, or CAT, system that administers the exam ignores content boundaries and fully integrates all of the content under the single heading of "Client Needs." Furthermore, the CAT system doles out each new question based only upon how you answered the preceding question, without regard for content dispersal, so you can't predict the percentage of questions you'll encounter that pertain to one subject area as opposed to another. This means that when you study for the exam, you will have to study all of the content equally, because the content organization of your exam is completely unpredictable.
The CAT system is used to estimate your ability level and then to give you new questions based on your estimated ability. Every time you answer a question, the CAT system re-evaluates your competence level and then selects your next question so that you should have a fifty percent chance of getting it right. Because every question has four possible answers, this progressive difficulty standard eliminates the effectiveness of common multiple-choice test-taking strategies. Once you answer that question, the computer evaluates your ability again, and then gives you a new question based on your newly estimated ability level. This process then continues for the entire test.
The other purpose of the CAT system is to grade your exam as you progress through it. The NCLEX-PN does not have a fixed number of questions. The maximum number of questions is 205, but you may encounter far fewer. The reason for this is that the CAT ends the exam as soon as it determines to 95 percent certainty that you either meet or fail to meet the competency requirement. The CAT program can attain certainty anytime after you've answered 85 questions, depending on how you fare. In fact, there are only three reasons that the exam will terminate: the CAT system determines that your competence level is adequate, you answer all 205 questions before the CAT system attains certainty or you reach the five hour time limit.
Many questions on the exam will appear to have several answer options that are correct. However, each question has only one correct answer, and you can't earn partial credit. When discriminating between answer options, focus on which answer is most appropriate for the situation offered by the question. As for strategies, try to eliminate inappropriate answers. Use Maslow's hierarchy of needs with questions of priority: answers that represent physical needs always take precedence over psychosocial needs. For questions concerning process, use the assessment and implementation steps of the nursing process to determine the treatment phase of each question. For procedural questions, rank answers in terms of client safety. However, keep in mind these strategies should only be used to supplement your knowledge, not to replace it.
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing: Passing Standard
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing: Test Plan for the National Council Licensure Examination for Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing: Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT)
- Inkling: Strategies for Priority Questions
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