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Nursing: NCLEX Prep Guide

This guide collects resources about the NCLEX as well as study and review materials. NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN test plans are covered in this guide.

About this Guide

black and white image depicts a certificateWelcome to the NCLEX resource and review guide for Western Technical College students! This guide collects a variety of free and/or open resources and study materials to help you prepare for your exam. Use the tabs on the left to navigate through the guide.

This guide is created by one of your librarians (Ellen Range). If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to get in touch using the contact information in her profile box on this page. She's happy to help you navigate this guide and find any other resources you need to be successful!

What is the NCLEX?

Developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is designed to test the competency of nursing school graduates.

NCLEX Test Plans

"The test plans serve as blue prints to outline the content to be tested and guide the item writing process ... [They] are updated every three years to reflect fair, comprehensive; current; and entry-level nursing competency. The test plan contains in-depth information regarding exam content, exam administration and item writing exercises." (from the NCSBN Test Plans page)

There are two different test plans: NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN. Both are variable length, computerized, adaptive tests that can be anywhere from 75-145 items and the time limit for the exam is five hours. 

Note that there is a new test plan coming in April 2023.

What's the difference between the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN?

As mentioned above, the NCLEX-RN (the exam for Registered Nurses) and NCLEX-PN (the exam for Practical Nursing) are very similar in structure and format. 

Both exams are organized into four major Client Needs categories. Two of the four categories are divided into subcategories. The following processes are integrated into all Client Needs categories of the RN and PN Test Plans: Nursing Process, Caring, Communication and Documentation, Teaching and Learning, and Culture and Spirituality.

Here are the major differences (information quoted from the Candidate Bulletin)

NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN Test Plan Comparison
2019 NCLEX-RN Test Plan   2020 NCLEX-PN Test Plan
NCLEX-RN Client Needs Percentage of Items from each category/subcategory   NCLEX-PN Client Needs Percentage of Items from each category/subcategory

Safe and Effective Care Environment


  Safe and Effective Care Environment  

Management of Care


Coordinated Care


Safety and Infection Control


Safety and Infection Control

Health Promotion and Maintenance 6-12%   Health Promotion and Maintenance 6-12%
Psychosocial Integrity 6-12%   Psychosocial Integrity 9-15%

Physiological Integrity


  Physiological Integrity  

Basic Care and Comfort


Basic Care
and Comfort


Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies


Pharmacological Therapies


Reduction of Risk Potential


Reduction of Risk Potential


Physiological Adaptation


Physiological Adaptation



How is the exam delivered?

"The NCLEX uses Computerized Adaptive Testing to administer the exam. CAT is a method that merges computer technology with modern measurement theory to increase the efficiency of the exam process." (from NCSBN CAT page)

What kinds of questions are on the NCLEX?

"Candidates may be administered multiple-choice items as well as multiple-response items. These formats may include, but are not limited to: multiple response, fill-in-the-blank calculation, and drag and drop/ordered response. All item formats, including standard multiple-choice items, may include exhibits and graphics." (from the Candidate Bulletin)

There is a brief tutorial provided by the exam creators to help you get familiar with the question types that may be offered.

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